The Society of Mary (Marianists) was founded by Venerable William Joseph Chaminade in Bordeaux, France, in 1817. This order of priests and brothers, who share privileges and responsibilities equally, engages in any work that will help to multiply the number of practicing Christians. The order works particularly in educational institutions and parishes. Marianists are characterized by devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and by the effort to incorporate students, coworkers, associates, and friends into their apostolates. Bishop Jean Marie Odin of Galveston recruited four Marianist religious to start a primary school in San Antonio in August of 1852. The school, above a livery stable on the southwest corner of Military Plaza, began with twelve pupils. It was moved to the site of the College Street historical landmark six months later. In 1855 the Marianists obtained the use of the ninety-acre tract surrounding Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña Mission. They restored the ruined church, opened it to the public in 1861, and farmed the land for revenue to maintain the school until 1911. In spite of the Civil War and other difficulties, by 1871 thirteen Marianists were teaching 400 students, fifty of whom were boarders, at the school. In 1888 Marianists started the San Fernando Cathedral School for Mexican children. It added a girls' primary school in 1927, by which time an accumulated 6,000 pupils had come under Marianist influence. Under the leadership of Br. Andrew Edel, Br. Charles Francis, and Fr. Francis Feith, St. Mary's Institute outgrew several buildings, and it became necessary to put the boarders in another school.
In 1892 the order purchased, for one dollar, a seventy-five-acre tract in West Heights, far beyond the limits of the city of 50,000. On that land St. Louis College was built. It had both high school and college divisions. The state of Texas authorized it to confer degrees in 1895. New buildings were added in 1908 and 1921. In 1923 the college division was dropped from the downtown school, and the St. Louis campus became St. Mary's University. As high school enrollment increased in spite of the Great Depression, St. Mary's Academy was replaced in 1932 by the new Central Catholic High School. Since 1951 the young religious (scholastics) of the Marianist order have received their academic and spiritual formation in Texas. Two buildings on the St. Mary's University campus served as residences for them until a new Marianist Formation Community house was built in 1981. To encourage the participation of lay men and women in the spirituality and apostolate of the Marianists, the Chaminade House was established in San Antonio in 1970. Such lay participants, known as the Family of Mary, now number several hundred in Texas.
Marianist activity went beyond San Antonio in 1906, when the religious started St. Joseph's grade school in Victoria with 124 students. A high school was later added; the first graduation took place in 1923. The school eventually had a campus of five buildings. The Marianists served in Victoria for sixty-six years. For summer activities the order opened Texas Catholic Boys' Camp in Comfort in 1937 and recruited boys from the Southwest and Mexico. They bought a new facility at Mountain Home, near Kerrville, in 1951. The camp continues to operate. In the mid-1930s Marianist priests began to serve, organize, and even build parish churches in rural mission areas south of San Antonio-at Somerset, Senior, Bexar, and Von Ormy. Later the Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio assumed responsibility for these churches. Since 1943 Marianists have been in charge of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Helotes. In 1948 Holy Rosary parish was founded on the St. Mary's University campus in the west end of San Antonio. Marianist priests have also served as chaplains in hospitals of the San Antonio area. Since 1961 the Marianists have staffed Bishop Nolan High School in Fort Worth, and in 1981 they assumed the care of St. Mary of the Assumption parish in the same city. For a brief period (1958–62) they staffed the upper grades of St. Joseph's School in El Paso. For more than 125 years the Marianists have dedicated their resources to the educational and spiritual growth of the people of Texas. They have written Texas histories, organized statewide sports, superintended schools, and fostered value-oriented professional careers, thereby influencing the lives of thousands of Texans.