Brennan, Thomas Francis (1855–1916)

By: Steven P. Ryan, S.J.

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: November 1, 1994

Thomas F. Brennan, first bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, the son of James and Margaret (Dunne) Brennan, was born at Bally Cullen, Tipperary, Ireland, on October 10, 1855. His family immigrated to the United States when he was eight years old. Brennan began his studies for the priesthood at St. Bonaventure's in Allegheny, New York, subsequently went to the University of Rouen, France and, from there, to the University of Innsbruck in Austria, where he was awarded a doctor of divinity degree in 1876. He was ordained a priest on July 4, 1880, in Brixen, Austria, by the local bishop, John de Leiss. Soon afterward Brennan began studies in canon law. His early career included a number of pastoral assignments in the Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania. In July 1890 the Vatican established Dallas as the third diocese in Texas. The new diocese covered 109 counties in northern and northwestern Texas and El Paso and Culberson counties in the far west–a total area of 118,000 square miles. Brennan was named the first bishop of the new see, and on April 5, 1891, Tobias Mullen, bishop of Erie, consecrated him to the episcopacy. At age thirty-five, Brennan was the youngest Catholic bishop in the United States at the time.

A dynamic, handsome gentleman, Brennan was blessed with gifts for conversation, languages, and public speaking. Various reports tally the number of languages at his command from seven to twenty. During his early months as bishop he traveled widely, spoke publicly at every opportunity, and established himself as an exceptional orator. His addresses were often reprinted in major newspapers. In his brief tenure he built churches in Texarkana, Forney, Pilot Point, Muenster, Windthorst, Lindsay, Wichita Falls, Clarendon, Fort Worth, Waxahachie, and Denton. He also began publication of the Texas Catholic. He had inherited, however, the taxing responsibility of an extensive diocese, short on personnel and in considerable debt. While on a visit to the Vatican in 1892, Bishop Brennan was relieved of his Dallas post and transferred to St. John's, Newfoundland, where he spent several years. In 1904 he went to Rome, where he retired to the monastery of Grottoferrata and remained until his death, on March 21, 1916. He is buried at Frescati.

Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). Catholic Archives of Texas, Files, Austin.
  • Peoples
  • Irish
  • Religion
  • Catholic
Time Periods:
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Steven P. Ryan, S.J. , “Brennan, Thomas Francis,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994

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