Basilian priests moved to Texas from Toronto, Ontario, in 1899. Subsequently, they became the largest men's religious order in the Catholic Diocese of Galveston-Houston. They have been primarily committed to teaching, although they also maintain parishes and do mission work.
The Congregation of the Priests of St. Basil was founded in France around 1799 by a group of priests who, when they came out of hiding after the French Revolution, moved to Annonay, a small city on the Rhône, and devoted themselves to education. They became a religious community in 1822 and took St. Basil (330-379), bishop of Caesarea, as their patron. Patrick Moloney, the first Basilian to come to North America, arrived in Toronto in 1850 and, by 1852, had convinced his superiors in France of the need for schools and seminaries in the New World. The Basilians opened a minor seminary, St. Michael's College, in Toronto in 1865. From Toronto they spread their work to Owen Sound, some 140 miles northwest, where they staffed the eight Owen Sound Missions; and to Detroit, where they took over St. Anne's parish for French-speaking Catholics, as well as Assumption College and parish.
In 1899 the fathers of St. Basil established a college preparatory school in the district of Waco known as Provident Heights, their first Texas school, and named it St. Basil's College. The founder was Father Peter James Clancy, and presidents included fathers Thomas Hayes, Francis Forster, and Thomas Gignac. The catalog of 1906-07 reveals the study program as an impressive collection of subjects to be mastered by youngsters from rural backgrounds. The school offered a program in commercial subjects as well and had a heated swimming pool. An unexpected drop in enrollment made the institution financially nonviable, and the Basilians withdrew in 1915. In 1900 Basilians had established a similar school in Houston, St. Thomas College.
From 1901 to 1911, at the request of Bishop Nicholas Gallagher, the Basilians operated St. Mary's Seminary in La Porte for the Diocese of Galveston. In a former resort hotel Father James T. Player, the rector, began with one other Basilian to teach classes of about a dozen students. The enrollment increased steadily under Basilian guidance, which continued until December 1911, when the seminary was taken over by the diocese. Subsequent Basilian rectors were E. Albert Hurley (1903-07) and Thomas F. Gignac (1907-11).
Basilian operation of parishes began in Houston in 1928 when Bishop Christopher Byrne asked the order to take charge of the fledgling St. Anne's at Westheimer and Shepherd. The Basilians had long maintained parishes in Canada and France before that; they were thus able to fulfill this role when called upon. Byrne also requested help in seeing to the spiritual needs of Mexican people in his diocese, and so from the mid-1930s Basilians began missionary parishes in Fort Bend and Brazoria counties. In Rosenberg they assumed management of Our Lady of Guadalupe mission, which became the Basilians' center for work among the Spanish-speaking population of the Diocese of Galveston. Later, the priests expanded this work to Angleton, Sugar Land, Missouri City, Manvel, Richmond, Wharton, Bay City, and Freeport. Many of these missions were subsequently turned over to the diocesan clergy.
In 1945 the Basilian fathers accepted Bishop Byrne's invitation to establish a coeducational Catholic university in Houston. Thus began the University of Saint Thomas. The Basilians have worked for over eighty-five years in education in the Diocese of Galveston-Houston. The congregation is committed to the academic and spiritual instruction of the young and to the performance of their duties as priests.