At the request of Bishop Nicholas A. Gallagher, third bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Galveston (see GALVESTON-HOUSTON, CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF), Mother Mary Agnes Magevney brought the Sisters of St. Dominic of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart to Galveston in 1882 and opened Sacred Heart Academy there. This congregation of twenty was the first group of Dominican Sisters (sisters of the Order of Preachers) to serve the Catholic Church in Texas. Mother Agnes had at least one uncle who wore the Confederate uniform, yet she and her community experienced hostility because they were considered northerners by many of the people of Galveston. At Bishop Gallagher's request they opened Holy Rosary School, a free institution for black children in Galveston, in 1887, and antagonism towards them increased. Parents of the academy children threatened to withdraw their children unless the nuns closed Holy Rosary. The sisters refused, and both Holy Rosary and Sacred Heart Academy prospered. In 1893 the Dominicans opened a free school for the children of the cathedral parish.
Catherine (Mother Pauline) Gannon, who succeeded Mother Mary Agnes, carried the fledgling school system to Southeast and Central Texas and California, and in 1966 the sisters opened a school in Guatemala. Sixteen Dominican sisters attended the University of Texas in 1916; Sister Gertrude O'Brien, a transfer student from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., was granted a bachelor of arts degree in June 1918. In her own words, Sister Gertrude "chanced to be the first nun to receive a degree from any college or university in Texas." The Dominican Sisters thus led the way for the education of numerous other religious women. In 1918 the opening of Newman Hall, the Dominican residence hall for women attending the University of Texas, furthered the educational program by providing housing for sisters from numerous congregations besides their own. The sisters established Sacred Heart Dominican College in Houston in 1945; the institution, the only women's college in Southeast Texas, continued to educate Dominicans until it closed in 1975.
Prompted by the storms that buffeted Galveston Island, the sisters transferred their motherhouse to Houston in 1926. In addition to teaching in parochial schools and parish religious-education classes, they taught the poor without pay. They took orphans into their boarding schools and academies and educated them free of charge. Between fifty and 100 poor people went daily to the convent in Houston for a hot meal. The order continues to help staff many educational institutions in Texas, California, and Guatemala, including a Montessori school, a school of environmental education, and individualized-instruction schools. The sisters also serve in health care and counseling centers, charitable and service organizations, leadership development programs, and legal professions.
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