Nussbaum, Paul Joseph (1870–1935)

By: Mary H. Ogilvie

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: May 1, 1995

Joseph Paul Nussbaum, first bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Corpus Christi, son of Bernard and Louise (Erne) Nussbaum, was born at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 7, 1870. After studying with the Passionist Fathers he joined their congregation. He was sent to South America to do missionary work in 1887 and was ordained to the priesthood on May 20, 1894, in Rio de Janeiro. Soon afterward, he went to serve in the missions of Argentina; there he remained until 1904, when he was recalled to the United States. Nussbaum preached in several missions on the East Coast from 1904 to 1909, then served as consultant for the eastern province of the Passionists for two terms. On April 4, 1913, he was appointed bishop of the newly established Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas, and was consecrated the following May 20 in St. Michael's Passionist Monastery Church in West Hoboken (now Union City), New Jersey, by Archbishop John Vincent Bonzano, apostolic delegate to the United States. Nussbaum was installed at Corpus Christi on June 8, 1913. Shortly after becoming bishop, he received 150 women into the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin. He also formed the young men and women of the parish into the Corpus Christi Catholic Club for the purposes of fostering family spirit and promoting Catholic marriages. He is responsible for the founding of what is today known as St. Ann's Society, an organization for married women. He also instituted such devotional practices as holy hours and frequent retreats and missions, encouraged congregational singing, and urged the Catholic faithful to participate in the Forty Hours devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He also urged his flock to receive Holy Communion daily, a privilege granted by Pope Pius X.

Though the bishop concentrated much of his energy in the cathedral parish because of his desire to make it a model, he also made missionary trips throughout the diocese, confirming, blessing churches, baptizing, and preaching. His greatest concern, however, was the shortage of priests in his new diocese. In addition to speaking often on the matter and gathering funds for the education of seminarians, he asked the Passionists to send him priests; the order responded by sending two, whose time was devoted exclusively to giving missions or lectures for both Catholics and non-Catholics. In response to the need for Catholic schools that could compete with the secular ones, Nussbaum emphasized Catholic education. During his tenure the number of parochial schools in the diocese doubled, and the number of students attending them more than doubled.

The bishop was beset by troubles, however, that led him to resign early from his position. The Mexican persecution had brought a large number of non-English-speaking priests and nuns to an already destitute diocese, where they had no means of support. World War I and a three-year drought had devastated the economy and left the people unable to rebuild after hurricanes struck in 1916 and 1919. Two leading priests, the chancellor of the diocese and the rector of the cathedral, died within thirty minutes of each other during the influenza epidemic of 1919, and six months later the new rector of the cathedral died. In addition to these calamities, Nussbaum himself suffered injuries in a train accident and never fully recovered. On a visit to Rome in January 1920 he asked to be allowed to resign from his post in Corpus Christi because of bad health. The Holy See accepted his resignation in March and offered him a titular bishopric. In 1923 he became Bishop of Marquette, Michigan, where he died on June 24, 1935. He was buried in West Hoboken, New Jersey. His body was later transferred to Corpus Christi Cathedral by Bishop René H. Gracida.

Catholic Archives of Texas, Files, Austin. Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). John J. Delaney, Dictionary of American Catholic Biography (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1984). John J. Delaney and James Edward Tobin, Dictionary of Catholic Biography (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1961). Sister Genevieve Palmer, "1853–1978, A Century and a Quarter of Dedication: The First Bishop of the Diocese of Corpus Christi," Texas Gulf Coast Catholic, April 7, 1978. Sister Mary Xavier, A Century of Sacrifice: The History of the Cathedral Parish, Corpus Christi, Texas, 1853–1953 (Corpus Christi, 1953).


  • Religion
  • Catholic

Time Periods:

  • Progressive Era

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

Mary H. Ogilvie, “Nussbaum, Paul Joseph,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 05, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995