Claudia (Mother Mary Angelique) Ayres, teacher and cofounder of Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, the daughter of Eli Snow and Nan Elizabeth (Lowry) Ayres, was born on April 12, 1882, in Kosciusko, Mississippi. Eli Ayres, who was employed building bridges for the International-Great Northern Railroad, moved his family to Palestine, Texas, in 1883 and in 1884 to Troup, where his in-laws had settled. Although the family was not Catholic, Claudia was enrolled in St. Mary's Academy in Austin in 1896. At the end of her second year there she received Catholic baptism with her father's approval. He objected, however, when soon afterward she expressed a desire to become a member of a religious order, and he did not allow her to return to St. Mary's for her senior year. In the summer of 1899 the family moved to New Braunfels, where two younger Ayres children were enrolled in the parochial school, which was staffed by members of the Sisters of Divine Providence. Eli Ayres's contact with these women, and with a sister who helped nurse his young son during a fatal bout of typhoid fever, softened his opposition to Claudia's vocation. In 1900 she became a postulant with the Sisters of Divine Providence in San Antonio. In July 1902, at the beginning of her second novitiate year, she took the name Mary Angelique, and in August 1904 she made her first vows.
Claudia finished her senior year of high school at Our Lady of the Lake Academy, which was staffed by her congregation, and in 1901 began teaching at the academy. From 1901 to 1910 she attended summer schools for teachers; she received her first-class teaching certificate in 1906 and her permanent certificate in 1909. She also took correspondence courses from the University of Texas and in 1911 and 1912 attended summer school at Catholic University of America. After examining her record of coursework, a Catholic University professor instructed Our Lady of the Lake College to award her a B.A. degree in 1912. Sister Angelique remained at Catholic University during the 1912–13 academic year, at the end of which she received an M.A. in English. Although her duties at the college prevented her from completing the Ph.D., she did doctoral work at Columbia University during the summers of 1925, 1926, 1927, and 1930. In 1911 she and Mother Philothea Thiry established Our Lady of the Lake College, a junior college devoted mainly to teacher training. Sister Angelique taught English and math at the school in 1911–12 and English from 1914 to 1943. In 1913 she became the school's first registrar, an office that included the duties of dean. She assumed the office of academic dean in 1923, when that position was officially established, and served in that capacity until her retirement in 1960. She was convinced that accreditation by secular education agencies would strengthen the college and continually sought to raise standards and secure certification. Our Lady of the Lake received state accreditation as a junior college in 1918 and as a senior college in 1919. In 1920 the school became a member of the Association of Texas Colleges (later the Association of Texas Colleges and Universities), in 1923 of the Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools for the Southern States, in 1924 of the American Council on Education, and in 1925 of the Association of American Colleges. It was placed on the approved list of colleges by the Association of American Universities in 1927. Under Sister Angelique's leadership Our Lady of the Lake developed a strong program in education, the first school of social work in Texas, and the first speech and hearing center in the state to combine professional training with clinical service. The school also offered early programs in librarianship, medical technology, and dietetics. During this time the school's enrollment grew to 1,500 and the number of buildings on its campus increased to seventeen.
Sister Angelique Ayres was elected superior of her congregation in 1925 and served in that office until 1937. In 1943 she became the first American-born woman to serve as superior general of the Sisters of Divine Providence, a position in which she held two consecutive six-year terms. She was a frequent contributor to educational journals and also collaborated with Sister M. Generosa Callahan on The History of the Sisters of Divine Providence in Texas (1955). She held offices in various professional associations, including the Southern Conference of College Deans and the Southern Association of Colleges for Women. She was a member of the National Association of Modern Language Teachers and the American Poetry Association; a member and officer of the American Association of University Women and the National Education Association; an honorary member of Delta Kappa Gamma, an honor society for education professionals; and a cofounder and member-at-large of Delta Epsilon Sigma, a nationwide Catholic honor society. Mother Angelique died on September 13, 1968, and was buried in Providence Cemetery in San Antonio. Ayres Hall, a women's residence hall at Our Lady of the Lake University, was named in her honor.
The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.
Sister Mary Generosa Callahan, C.D.P., Mother Angelique Ayres, Dreamer and Builder of Our Lady of the Lake University (Austin: Jenkins, 1981). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Mary M. Standifer,
“Ayres, Claudia [Mother Mary Angelique],”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed October 21, 2021,
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