Nicholas A. Gallagher, third Catholic bishop of Galveston, son of John and Mary (Brinton) Gallagher, was born at Temperanceville, Belmont County, Ohio, on February 19, 1846. He lived in Belmont County and attended public school there until he was ten years old. His parents then put him in the care of Rev. J. M. Jacquet of Coshocton, Ohio, who lived on property given the church by Gallagher's grandfather, Edward Gallagher, an Irish immigrant. Jacquet tutored the future bishop in English, grammar, Latin, and Greek, for six years. In September of 1862 Gallagher entered Mount St. Mary's of the West Seminary at Cincinnati, where he studied philosophy and theology. He was ordained to the priesthood on Christmas Day 1868 in Holy Cross Church, Columbus, Ohio, by Bishop Sylvester Horton Rosecrans. Gallagher was the first seminarian to receive Holy Orders in the newly established Diocese of Columbus. His first assignment was an assistant pastorship at St. Patrick's Church in Columbus. He worked there from 1869 until 1871 when, at the age of twenty-five, he was made president of St. Aloysius Seminary, an institution established to educate priests in the diocese by Rosecrans. In 1876, however, he returned to St. Patrick's, this time as pastor. He remained there until 1878, when he was appointed administrator of the Diocese of Columbus after the death of Rosecrans. When John Waterson (or Watterson) was selected to replace Rosecrans as bishop of Columbus in 1880, Gallagher returned to St. Patrick's and was made vicar general of the diocese.
In 1881 Claude Marie Dubuis retired from the see of Galveston, retaining the title of bishop, and Rev. P. Dufal was appointed administrator. However, Dufal resigned after barely a year, and the Holy See honored Gallagher for his exemplary record in the Diocese of Columbus by appointing him to the post. He was consecrated at St. Mary's Cathedral, Galveston, on April 30, 1882, by Bishop Edward Fitzgerald of Little Rock, Arkansas.
One of Gallagher's first concerns was to increase the role of the church in the development of the Black community. In 1886 he opened a school for Black children, in cooperation with the Dominican Sisters, in Galveston, the first school of its kind in Texas. The project was so successful that Gallagher had to erect a new building two years later in order to accommodate the number of applicants. As an outgrowth of this school Holy Rosary Parish, one of the first Black parishes in Texas, was established in 1888.
Since San Antonio and Galveston were the only two dioceses in Texas at the time, and the latter covered 150,000 square miles, Gallagher pressed Rome to erect a new diocese in North Texas. Thus, in 1890, the Holy See established the Catholic Diocese of Dallas and appointed Thomas F. Brennan its first bishop.
Gallagher finally succeeded to the See of Galveston on December 16, 1892, on the promotion of Bishop Dubuis to a titular archbishopric in France. During his thirty-six-year tenure as administrator and bishop of Galveston, Gallagher brought to his diocese the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of San Antonio, the Jesuits, the Basilian Fathers, the Paulist Fathers, the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Dominic of Ohio, and many other religious congregations, which founded churches, schools, and hospitals throughout the diocese. He also attempted to establish a Catholic newspaper; though he was not successful, he laid the foundation for such papers as the Southern Messenger.
Bishop Gallagher wanted to encourage priestly vocations for Texas. To achieve this, in 1901 he established Saint Mary's Seminary in La Porte, the oldest Catholic seminary in the South in continual existence. Gallagher also established Good Shepherd Home for Delinquent Girls in Houston in 1914. As a result of growing migration from Mexico, he established churches for Mexican immigrants in Austin and Houston. From these parish centers, priests traveled all over his diocese caring for Spanish-speaking people.
Bishop Gallagher initiated parish churches for Blacks in Houston, Beaumont, and Port Arthur. One of his most unusual projects was the establishment of a trade school for Blacks in Independence in the old building of Baylor University, which had recently moved to Waco. The bishop established a diocesan school board and sponsored teachers' institutes as early as 1911. He witnessed the Galveston hurricane of 1900, which destroyed three churches and St. Mary's Orphanage, and saw that all were reconstructed.
Gallagher died on January 21, 1918, having outlived all of the priests who were in the diocese when he was consecrated. A requiem mass was celebrated for him by Bishop Theophile Meerschaert of Oklahoma, and he was entombed on the St. Joseph side of St. Mary's Cathedral in Galveston.