Andrew Edel, pioneer Catholic educator, son of Andrew and Barbara (Dietrich) Edel, was born in Colmar, France, on February 2, 1813. In 1829 he became a brother of the Society of Mary (Marianists), a religious congregation dedicated to education. He was in the first colony of Marianists to arrive in America (November 27, 1849). The Marianists settled in Dayton, Ohio, and founded St. Mary's Institute; Edel joined its faculty as professor of botany, agriculture, and horticulture. In 1852 he was appointed head of a new educational institution to be founded by the Marianists in San Antonio at the request of Jean M. Odin, bishop of Texas. Edel set out for New Orleans, where he met his assigned coworkers, three Marianists newly arrived from France.
After a brief stay in Galveston the group sailed to Indianola and traveled from there by stagecoach to San Antonio. They rented an old livery stable on the southwest corner of Military Plaza and converted it into a temporary schoolhouse. St. Mary's Institute, a school for boys, officially opened on August 25, 1852. The "French School," as local people called it, was very well received in the city because of its multilingual academic approach, its acceptance of students of all faiths or national backgrounds, and its sliding-scale tuition. The enrollment grew from twelve to a hundred in just a few months, and the need for a larger building became evident. With some money raised by Bishop Odin, financial help and advice from John Twohig, and the support of Henri Castro's Alsatian colonists, Edel acquired a plot on the left bank of the San Antonio River and immediately undertook the construction of a simple, two-story stone structure, which still survives as part of the La Mansion Hotel.
The new building opened on March 1, 1853, and a rapid expansion ensued. Enrollment continued to increase, boarding students moved in, new teachers arrived, and additional quarters were hastily built. Making use of all the space available at the school site, Edel planted fruit trees between and around the buildings, as well as his famous French Gardens all along the riverfront. But the school was far from self-sufficient. Edel, trying to capitalize on his expertise as an agriculturist, decided to acquire some land for farming as a means of support for the school. The arrival in late 1854 of Brother Charles Francis, a capable teacher and administrator, gave Edel the opportunity to dedicate some of his own energy to a farming project. In 1855 he conditionally purchased the ninety-acre plot comprising Mission Concepción, which bordered the river 2½ miles from the city. The Marianists planted a vegetable garden at the mission, and Edel was soon able to provide food for boarders and teachers at the school. In 1859 Bishop Odin transferred the mission property to Edel, who set out to restore the old Spanish church and further improve the land. The church was solemnly reopened on May 28, 1861, and the mission complex became a training center for Marianist postulants and novices. But under Edel's administration, the mission property continued to be primarily a farm for the institute.
During the Civil War, despite shortages and inconveniences, the school remained in operation without much hardship, and by the end of the war there were 350 students enrolled, including thirty-three boarders. In 1865 Edel delegated the direction of the school to Charles Francis and sailed to France to present the Marianist superior general a list of recommendations for the activities of the society in Texas. He also asked to be relieved of his duties as director and requested more personnel for the school. He returned to San Antonio empty-handed, but a visit the following year to St. Mary's Institute by the Marianist American provincial from Ohio produced some positive results. Edel, finally replaced by Charles Francis, was transferred to the mission and officially charged with the cultivation of its land. The mission, no longer used as a novitiate, became the year-round residence of four hard-working monks and the summer residence of St. Mary's boarding students. While the school prospered under the competent management of Charles Francis, Edel, a hermit at heart, built a cabin and oratory at the mission site in a grove of trees near the river, where he could have a taste of nature, silence, and prayer.
In 1869, relieved of all responsibilities at the mission, he was given permission to retire. He returned to the Marianist motherhouse farm in Dayton, planted a garden, built a cabin in the woods for himself, and enjoyed for the rest of his life the solitude he had long desired. There he died on July 29, 1891. In 1954 Edel's name was enshrined in the Texas Hall of Remembrance, established by the Texas Heritage Foundation to honor the most important educators in the history of the state.