Catholic Congregations of Men

By: Robert E. Wright, O.M.I.

Type: General Entry

Published: August 1, 1995

Updated: October 11, 2016

From the initial foundations of Christianity within the present borders of Texas in 1682 until the present time, Catholic societies referred to as "religious congregations" or, in certain cases, "religious orders," have been present to provide important services to Catholics and others. The members of a religious congregation vow life-long commitment to God and to each other for the sake of their shared calling or "charism," through a lifestyle patterned after the evangelical counsels of celibacy, simplicity of lifestyle, and spiritual obedience. Each congregation has a certain degree of autonomy within the Catholic Church, places its resources in common, and determines the places and ways its members will minister. Due to the way they are constituted as corporate bodies sharing a specific calling, religious congregations can promptly respond to pastoral situations that demand a considerable commitment of personnel and organizational resources. These same characteristics can help provide continuity in a certain ministry. On the other hand, the relative autonomy of religious congregations in relation to diocesan authorities can also allow those congregations to withdraw from a location or ministry, leaving diocesan authorities to look for replacements. Whereas discontinuity was more prevalent among the religious congregations of men in Texas in the nineteenth century, continuity has been more the norm in the twentieth century.

Franciscan (O.F.M.) men from Spain and Mexico were the first and only religious congregation of either men or women to labor within what is now Texas during the entire century and a half of Spanish and then independent Mexican direction from the 1680s up through the 1830s. After establishing missions for Indians (see SPANISH MISSIONS) as well as providing pastoral care for the Hispanics, the friars were gradually aided or even replaced by secular priests, who were directly under episcopal authority. By the time of the Texas Revolution in 1835–36 the only Franciscans left in Texas were in the Rio Grande settlements of far west Texas (see CATHOLIC DIOCESAN CHURCH OF SPANISH AND MEXICAN TEXAS). The Catholic hierarchy responsible for the church's direction in post revolutionary Texas sought out, among others, religious congregations whose communal resources, ethnic backgrounds, or special ministerial emphases made them particularly suitable for various urgent needs among Texas Catholics. Among the most pressing needs were the pastoral care of vast geographical districts and various linguistic or ethnic (or multiethnic) populations, and the establishment of educational institutions.

The Vincentian Fathers (C.M.) accepted responsibility for the Catholic Church in Texas above the Nueces River during the crucial decade of the 1840s. Led by Jean Marie Odin, who was soon named the first bishop of Texas, they and a handful of immigrant diocesan priests did an admirable job in spite of their insufficient numbers in attending to both the Mexican and new immigrant Catholics scattered throughout the country. But Bishop Odin's Vincentian colleagues were all withdrawn by the end of 1852, leaving him the task to find helpers elsewhere. While the bishop actively recruited secular clergy for his diocese, he and his successors also importuned religious congregations of various nationalities-German, Irish, Polish, Italian, and especially French-to come to their aid. The first to do so (after the Vincentians) were the Oblates in 1849 and the Marianists in 1852. Both have remained ever since. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate (O.M.I.) rapidly expanded from their nineteenth-century base in Mexican South Texas into almost every area of the state during the twentieth century. They have worked in parishes, renewal ministry, foreign missions, ministry formation, shrines, institutional chaplaincies, and communications media. The Marianists (S.M.) have maintained a strong educational presence in San Antonio along with some parish ministry, and in this century directed schools in Victoria and Fort Worth. The 1870s brought two other groups that remained in Texas. The Holy Cross Fathers and Brothers (C.S.C.) established a strong educational and pastoral presence in Austin and the surrounding area, and entered San Antonio's Westside in 1957. One group of Jesuits (S.J.) temporarily ministered in the San Antonio area from 1874 to 1884, and a separate group worked in Galveston from 1884 to 1924. A third group that arrived in far west Texas in 1881 made the first permanent Jesuit foundation in the state. After 1930 Jesuits gradually developed new pastoral and educational establishments in the principal Texas cities.

Three religious congregations that remained in Texas only a decade or two provided crucial leadership to their immigrant minority groups during trying times. The Conventual Franciscans (O.F.M.Conv.) worked among their fellow German and Polish-speakers in the San Antonio area during the nativist 1850s. The Benedictines (O.S.B.) replaced the Conventuals among the German-speaking during the tense Civil War years. The Polish Resurrectionists (C.R.) gave strong leadership to their people during the Reconstruction period. When the railroad opened West Texas to settlement in the 1880s, Carmelite Fathers (O.Carm.) pioneered the parishes from Colorado City to the Davis Mountains and even reached out to the vast Big Bend area before they withdrew in 1901. Benedictines returned to the state in 1893 to serve rural German communities in North Texas, added Italian ministry in Bryan in 1922, and entered the Corpus Christi area in the 1950s. The twelve religious congregations of men who worked in Texas from 1847 to 1897 provided anywhere from 30 to 54 percent of the Catholic priests in Texas during those years. They provided much-needed ministry to speakers of various languages and developed the first Catholic institutions of higher learning for young men in Texas. In 1897 there were forty-six religious priests and sixty-three religious brothers in the state.

Texas entered its modern era around the turn of the century as the result of an expanding railroad network, massive irrigation projects, oil production, and a concomitant strong immigration from the midwestern United States and Mexico. Many new religious congregations of men joined the five pioneer groups still remaining to help respond to the changing needs. Eight congregations that arrived in Texas during the pre-World War I years (1899–1913) are still active in the state today. The Josephite Fathers (S.S.J.) dedicated themselves to ministry to African Americans throughout the state. The Basilian Fathers (C.S.B.), Marist Brothers (F.M.S.), and Paulist Fathers (C.S.P.) came primarily as teachers in urban settings. The Basilians later developed extensive Spanish-speaking ministry to the west of Houston. The Claretians (C.M.F.) and Redemptorists (C.Ss.R.) worked with the Spanish-speaking in the San Antonio vicinity. The Claretians later entered North Texas and El Paso. The Redemptorists also preached missions (revivals) and later engaged in multiethnic ministry in Houston and other cities. The Vincentians returned to Texas after a fifty-year absence to engage in educational and parish ministry in the northeast part of the state. They gradually took on parish work in other sections, and for a few decades directed the major diocesan seminaries in San Antonio and Houston. The Dominicans (O.P.) engaged in parish work and college chaplaincies in Houston, South Texas, and later in other areas of the state.

From 1914 to 1930 the Catholic Church in Texas experienced not only the nationwide effects of World War I, but also the impact of the ongoing civil strife and serious church-state conflict in neighboring Mexico. Thousands of Mexican refugees and immigrants crossed the border. Among them were Spanish and Mexican exiles belonging to male religious congregations who temporarily or permanently began working among Hispanics in Texas. Most were from religious congregations already represented in the state, such as the Franciscans, who had just returned in 1924 and who were soon working in various areas of Texas. On the other hand, the exiled Discalced Carmelites (O.C.D.) who moved to Dallas and San Antonio were the first of their congregation to establish themselves in the state. Other congregations whose first members arrived in Texas at this time to help in Spanish-speaking ministry were the Spanish Third Order Franciscans (T.O.R.) in central and north central Texas, the Spanish Augustinians (O.S.A.) originally in the San Angelo and Beaumont areas and eventually also in North and South Texas, and the Holy Family Missionaries (M.S.F.) in South Texas. At least four more congregations arrived during these same years in response to varying needs. The Passionists (C.P.) served parishes in South Texas from 1914 to 1928 before withdrawing; two decades later they returned to work in renewal ministry in Houston and San Antonio. The Atonement Friars (S.A.) accepted parishes in the Panhandle, and later moved to the South Plains. The La Salette Fathers (M.S.) ministered in East Texas and later in Houston. The Brothers of the Christian Schools (F.S.C.), who had attempted foundations in Texas in the 1860s, returned to direct schools at opposite corners of the state from each other, at El Paso, Galveston, and Amarillo.

In 1930 there were around 270 religious priests in Texas, forming 43 percent of the total number of Catholic clergy in the state. In the next four decades, mostly after World War II, at least twenty-two more religious congregations of men entered the Texas field. In 1970 there were 886 religious priests, forming 48 percent of the total number of Catholic priests, and 258 religious brothers. The number of religious brothers in the state reached an all-time high of around 440 in the mid-1960s, only to experience a sharp drop soon thereafter. The number of religious priests reached a plateau of around 900 to 1,000 during the same period. Almost all of the new congregations came to help pastor the growing number of local Catholic churches or parishes, which doubled during these years. Specializing in Spanish-speaking ministry were the Spanish Capuchins (O.F.M.Cap.) in Dallas-Fort Worth, South Texas, and Houston; the Trinitarians (O.SS.T.) in the Victoria area; the Mexican Servites (O.S.M.) and Augustinian Recollect Fathers (O.A.R.) in El Paso; and the Missionhurst (C.I.C.M.) and Sacred Heart Fathers (SS.CC.) in South Texas. The Sacred Heart Priests (S.C.J.) and Holy Ghost Fathers (C.S.Sp.) served in Southeast and South Texas. The Sacred Heart Missionaries (M.S.C.) scattered their members thinly across the state. The Pallottines (S.A.C.) covered much of Northwest Texas, while the Glenmary Home Missioners (Glmy.) served in the Northeast. The Divine Word Fathers (S.V.D.) came to Central Texas and Houston. The Carmelites returned to Texas to work in both educational and parish ministry in the Houston area. Refugee Hungarian members of another monastic order, the Cistercian Fathers (O.Cist.), helped refound the University of Dallas.

Between 1970 and 1993 at least eighteen more religious congregations of men entered Texas, several of recent foundation. However, none of them had more than a few members in the entire state, and thus they had a very limited impact, even if they were quite helpful in the localities where they served. Most engaged in parish ministry. Those having at least a half dozen members in Texas were the Precious Blood Fathers (C.PP.S.) in the Abilene-San Angelo area; the Blessed Sacrament Fathers (S.S.S.) in San Antonio and Houston; the Conventual Franciscans (who returned to Texas after more than a century's absence) in San Antonio, Austin, and El Paso; the Nigerian Missionaries of St. Paul (M.S.P.) in Southeast Texas; the Vietnamese Congregation of the Mother Coredemptrix (C.M.C.) in Southeast Texas, the Panhandle, and around Fort Worth; the Marianist Fathers (S.M.) scattered in South, Central, and West Texas; the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (S.O.L.T.) in Robstown (dedicated to international missionary work among the poor); and the Blessed Sacrament Missionaries (M.S.S.) in Corpus Christi, who concentrated upon preaching devotional missions.

Almost all of the religious congregations of men who came to Texas at one time or another in its history, even those who left for a certain period, were active in the state in 1993. In that year members of sixty-nine different religious congregations of men-946 priests and 256 brothers-worked in parishes (in general or special ethnic ministry), schools, ministerial formation, renewal ministry, hospital and prison chaplaincies, and other specialized ministries. They still contributed 45 percent of the total number of Catholic priests working in Texas. The members of those congregations, however, which have traditionally provided the great majority of the religious priests and brothers in Texas are all aging, while their congregations have insufficient new recruits to prevent a rapid decline in numbers for at least a decade or two. Consequently many are refocusing and reducing their commitments in the state. But they will continue to respond to the needs of Catholics and others as their numbers permit in keeping with their special calling.

Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). Robert E. Wright, O.M.I., "Pioneer Religious Congregations of Men in Texas before 1900," Journal of Texas Catholic History and Culture 5 (1994).

  • Religion
  • Catholic
  • Organizations
  • Central Texas
  • San Antonio
  • East Texas
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • Houston
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • Fort Worth
  • Panhandle Region
  • Amarillo
  • South Texas
  • Southeast Texas
  • Gulf Coast Region
  • Corpus Christi
  • Victoria
  • Southwest Texas
  • El Paso

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

Robert E. Wright, O.M.I., “Catholic Congregations of Men,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 01, 2022,

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August 1, 1995
October 11, 2016

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