|Our Lady: The Star of the Sea, her arms outstretched in protection of the island. Erected in 1878 atop the central tower of the Cathedral
The History of The Mother Church of Texas
May 4, 1847 Pope Pius IX made St. Mary's Cathedral, “The Mother Church” of the Catholic Diocese of Galveston-Houston, the cathedral for the newly established Diocese of Galveston. At that time the diocese comprised the entire state.
The original structure, including the central nave, side aisles, transept, and apse, was completed in 1848 and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. The architect for the Gothic Revival church was Charles G. Bryant. The design, largely inspired by King's College Chapel in Cambridge, England, is in the traditional form of a Latin cross, with the entrance situated to the west and the sanctuary to the east. The structure is 130 feet long and 75 feet wide, with transepts 100 feet wide by 60 feet high. In 1873 a large and beautiful cross with a life size corpus of the Crucified Savior, a gift of John L. arraugh, prominent Galveston business leader and Catholic layman, was laced in the Church. It is now at the right side as you come into the athedral. On the grounds outside the basilica is an obelisk topped with a cross commemorating the yellow fever victims of Galveston in 1853.
A gift of 500,000 bricks from Belgium was used in the construction. In 1876 Galveston architect Nicholas J. Clayton added a transept tower to the roof of the sanctuary. In 1878, a new bell, and a cast-iron statue of ”Mary, Star of theSea”, was added to the bell tower. Mariners formerly used the lighted crown of the statue as a beacon to guide them into the port of Galveston. During all of Galveston’s hurricanes, and particularly the Great Storm of 1900, many a Galvestonian cast desperate and hopeful glances upward at the figure of Mary, “The Protectoress” of the city. In 1884 the Cathedral received another alteration when, under the direction of N.J. Clayton, its two front towers were heightened to bring them into proper proportion with the central tower. Clayton heightened the twin spires at the front of the cathedral to eighty feet and topped them with crosses.
In 1907, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Diocese of Galveston and of the Cathedral, many improvements were made within the Cathedral. The sanctuary floor was re-finished in mosaic tile. A new main altar of marble was erected upon the foundations which were laid for it when the Cathedral was built. Stained glass windows, manufactured in Germany, were set into place throughout the church. Five beautiful memorial windows were installed, four in the sanctuary and one over the main entrance of the church. The exterior of the Cathedral and the rectory residence were refinished in stucco. In 1921, in preparation for the Diamond Jubilee of the Diocese and the Cathedral, marble altar railing and steps were installed, two marble side altars erected, and the whole interior decorated anew. The organ in the choir loft is equipped with 3,000 pipes fitted from wall to wall. On a dais in the sanctuary is the bishop's chair, in front of a tall, narrow panel decorated with the bishop's insignia. In 1918, Bishop Gallagher‘s body was interred beneath the floor of the church on the right side of the bishop's chair.
In 1968 St. Mary Cathedral was named to the National Register of Historic Places. On August 2, 1979, Pope John Paul II elevated the Cathedral to a “Minor Basilica”, an honor bestowed on select churches because of their antiquity or historical importance.
The Early Years and the Priests Who Served Her
Shaded by palm trees, surrounded by shrubs, and partially cloaked in ivy, St. Mary Cathedral stands on the corner of 21st and Church Streets on Galveston Island, a memorial to its builder, Bishop John Mary Odin, and testimonial to the zeal with which he and his fellow missionaries once again sowed the seed of faith in Texas, after it had begun to languish and die because of the Revolution which gained Texas its independence but left Catholics without a local shepherd to guide them.
During 1841 Father John M. Odin, recently appointed Vicar-Apostolic of Texas, managed to procure enough money to begin the construction of a small frame church. He was assisted greatly in this venture by N. D. Labadie, who, along with the Menards, proved himself a true lay-apostle in the early years of the Church in Galveston.
On February 6, 1842, one month, before his consecration as Bishop, Odin dedicated the completed structure to the Blessed Virgin. It was to be lamented, he thought, that the small rectangular building, only fifty by twenty-two feet, should be the principal Church of the Vicariate. He returned to Galveston immediately after his consecration upon receipt of the news of a Mexican invasion of Texas. Since the development of the Church in the west would have to wait upon the settlement of the difficulties with Mexico, he applied what funds he had to the eastern section of the Vicariate In Galveston he bought a five room cottage as the episcopal residence, and purchased thirty benches in lieu of pews for the church to which he added a small sacristy. But on September 19, 1842, a storm blew down the small church. This convinced him even more of the necessity of a more durable structure, but in the meantime he made what improvements he could. The tiny chapel was propped up, and the next year a small tower was added in which he hung the Mass-bell on March 21, 1843.
On May 11, 1844, Bishop Odin welcomed two more Vincentian priests to Galveston, J. M. Paquill and John Brands. In August, 1844, Galveston suffered from an epidemic of yellow fever, which resulted in the death of 200 citizens. Father Brands had been heroically attending the sick and dying, and Father Paquin, then on a visitation, immediately set out to assist his fellow priest in his work of mercy. Both of them fell victims of the disease on the sixth, and Paquin, too weak to throw it off, succumbed on the thirteenth. Three years later his body was removed from its burial place to the new Cathedral by Father Brands.
In 1845 the gift of almost a half-million bricks. was made to Odin in Belgium, which were shipped freight-free from Antwerp to Galveston. Now he was prepared to realize his dreams of a permanent church for Galveston. The little frame church was moved out into the street, and work on the new St. Mary's began in 1847. The ceremony of laying the cornerstone took place on Sunday, March 14. Father Timon, formerly Prefect-Apostolic of Texas, who came to Galveston for the event, preached the sermon before a large crowd which had come to witness the ceremony. On the same day Father Chambodut made the following entry in the Baptismal register:
|In the year of Our Lord, 1847 on the 14th of March, In the first year of the Pontificate of His Holiness, Pius IX, In the seventy-first year of the Independence of America, James K. Polk being President of the UnitedStates of America, Pickney J. Henderson, Governor of the State of Texas, John P. Sydnor, Mayor of the City of Galveston, The Most Reverend Joint Marie Odin, Bishop of Claudiopolis, and Vicar Apostolic of Texas, assistedby the Very Rev. John Timon, Visitor of the Congregation of the Missions in America, and John Brands, C.M., Vicar-General, and by the Rev. Messrs. Bartholomew Rollando, C.M., Louis Claude Marie Chambodut, Matthew Chazelle, and Anthony Chanrion, the Very Rev. John Timon preached a sermon before a large congregation, solemnly blessed and placed in the foundation, this cornerstone of the Church, erected to Almighty God under the invocation of Holy Mary Ever Virgin.
On May 4, 1847, Pius IX created the Diocese of Galveston out of the Vicariate of Texas. Bishop Odin was promoted to occupy the See as the first Bishop of Galveston, and St. Mary 's would become his Cathedral Church upon 'its completion.
But, before its completion, the parish experienced the loss of one of its zealous priests, the Rev. Bartholomew Rollando, C.M., who had come to Galveston in November, 1845. Yellow fever once more struck Galveston and he fell, a victim of the plague, on October 11, 1847. In his memory a memorial tablet was placed in the wall of the Cathedral near the Sacred Heart Altar.
On November 26, 1848, the Cathedral was ready for dedication. Once again John Timon was chosen as the principal speaker because of his close association with, and his pioneer work in the Diocese. He had been promoted to the See of Buffalo as its first Bishop, and on this occasion gave three sermons, one while the rites of dedication were carried on inside the Church, another at the Solemn Mass that followed, and the third at Benediction, which was held at 7 :00 P.M. Once again the event was recorded in the Baptismal register, this time in the handwriting of Bishop Odin and signed by himself, the two assisting Bishops, and the priests who were present:
|In the year of Our Lord, 1848, on the 26th of November,I, John Marie Odin, C. M., Bishop of Galveston, assisted by the Most Rev. Anthony Blanc, Bishop of New Orleans, and the Most Rev. John Timon, C. M., Bishop of Buffalo;and by the Rev. N. J. Perche, Chaplain of the Ursuline Convent at New Orleans, in the office of Arch-deacon; Edward Clarke, rector of St. Vincent's at Houston, and James Girardon, missionary at Lavacca, and John Brands, C. M., in the office of deacons; by James R. Miller, missionary at Brazoria, and Charles Padey,
missionary at Lavacca, in the office of sub-deacons; by Joseph Anstaett;. chanter; Edward D'Hauw, pastor of St. Joseph's Church, at New Orleans, and Richard Hennessy, C.M., master of ceremonies; a large congregation being present, I consecrated our Cathedral Church and dedicated it to Almighty God under the invocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary; this being finished, the Most Rev. Bishop of New Orleans celebrated a Solemn Mass, during which the Bishop of Buffalo gave the sermon, he also preached, before a large congregation, while the consecration took place inside the church.
Bishop Odin could look with justifiable pride upon the completed structure. An appealing example of Gothic architecture, 130 feet long and 75 feet wide, with a transept width of 100 feet and a height of 60 feet, above which extended twin towers, the Cathedral dominated the city, most of whose buildings were frame constructions. It was a fitting symbol of the progress of the Church and an incentive to the Bishop and priests to justify further their newly won diocesan status.
For the administration of the affairs of the Cathedral Parish, Bishop Odin and his successors were wise in the priests they chose as rectors. Father Brands, who assumed the office after Father Paquin's death, was forced to retire in 1849 because of ill health. During the following year the burdens of the parish were shared by Fathers Richard Hennessy, C.M., and A. Gaudet, O.M. I. But, in 1851 Bishop Odin decided to call Father Louis Chambodut in from the missions and appoint him as rector.
Father L. C. M. Chambodut, rector for twenty nine years, endeared himself to the parish and the city by his selfless devotion during the yellow fever epidemics and his heroic care of the wounded in the Battle of Galveston during the Civil War. It was, only a few weeks after his appointment that he was made Vicar-General of the Diocese, an office he held until his death on December 7, 1880, when he was buried in the Cathedral where he had served God and His children for so many years.
It was during the epidemic of yellow fever of 1853 that the people of Galveston were given further evidence that the true alter Christus is also willing to give his life for his flock. In that year, and early in the next, seven priests died of diseases contracted while ministering to the faithful. In memory of these priests, Fathers J. C. Melton, J. Baudran, J. P. Bajard, G. Metz, D. 0'Driscoll, and E. Hug who died of yellow fever, and of Father J. Dixon who died of consumption, a marble monument has been erected to mark their graves near the entrance of the Cathedral.
During the years of his tenure, Father Chambodut saw and helped bring about many advances and changes in the parish. The Ursulines came to Galveston at the invitation of Bishop Odin in January, 1847, and since that time have conducted a school for girls. But, shortly after the Cathedral was built, the Bishop began to lay plans for a school for boys in the city. He had arranged for, and often taught catechism classes in a private school conducted by James P. Nash, but in 1853, he wrote of a "seminary and a college" that was planned for the training of young men. The Galveston City Company had made a grant of a block of land for an educational institution and upon this was built St. Mary College which was to function, with varying success, for seventy years.
Bishop Odin was promoted on April 19, 1861, to the Archbishopric of New Orleans, and Father Chambodut was appointed administrator of the Diocese until Bishop Claude Dubuis, who was consecrated on November 23, 1862, in Lyon's, France, arrived in Galveston in the spring of 1863. Bishop Dubuis had come to Texas in 1847 and since that time had labored principally in Castroville and San Antonio. He found, this time, that the Civil War, which was still in progress, had not left Galveston untouched. "The Cathedral, he was to write, "is riddled with bullets. Only on dry days can I say Mass within its walls." The Ursulines had turned their school into a military hospital where the wounded of both sides were given attention. This incident and the frequent outbreaks of yellow fever probably induced him to take steps that led to the foundation of a religious order for nursing the sick.
As grand as the Cathedral seemed when it was erected, there were some additions to be made before the exterior obtained its present appealing appearance. Employing the aid of N. J. Clayton, the Bishop had the tower built in 1876. And on May 26, 1876, a note appeared in the Galveston News stating:
|It is proposed to erect a statue of the Virgin Mary, about 15 ft. high, on the newly constructed tower over the Cathedral. Some $500 have been subscribed for this purpose.
By the year 1878 the statue, with its outstretched arms picturing Mary's protection, and a bell, cast in 1877 and donated by John L. Darraugh, were in their proper places on the tower.
In 1884 the Cathedral received another alteration when, under the direction of N. J. Clayton, the two front towers were heightened to bring them into proportion with the central tower which had been added eight years previously.
Since their arrival, the Cathedral Parochial School had been conducted by the Dominicans in their own convent buildings, but, in 1892, a new building was constructed on cathedral property at 20th and Winnie Streets. This building, dedicated on the first day of May, 1892, "to the greater glory of God, and the honor of his Immaculate Virgin Mother Mary, our dearest mother, for the Christian education of youth,'' was used as both a high school and grammar school until 1924 when the high school department was discontinued.
Bishop Nicholas A. Gallagher, who was consecrated in the Cathedral at Galveston on April 30, 1882, after the retirement of Bishop Dubuis, for many years retained the title of rector of the Cathedral, but the names of many of the priests to whom he entrusted much of the parochial business are still familiar to the older members of the parish. Among these was Father J. Querat who succeeded Father Buffard, and remained until 1886; he was followed by Father J. Blum who was given the title of rector until 1888; after he was transferred, Fathers D. A. Logue, J. Mahoney and S. Spinneweber shared the years until 1891. Then Father M. McSorley was appointed and served until 1895 when he was followed in office by Father J. Reade. Father James M. Kirwin became rector in 1896 and for twenty years until his death in 1926 worked untiringly in that office, at the same time holding the positions of Vicar-General and rector of the seminary.
The Cathedral withstood the storm of 1900, and in 1907 a celebration commemorated the sixtieth anniversary of the Diocese and the Cathedral, and also the twenty-fifth anniversary of Bishop Gallagher 's episcopacy.
In preparation for the occasion many improvements were made within the Cathedral. The sanctuary floor was replaced with mosaic tiling, the wooden wainscoting was replaced by marble, and marble foundations were put under the Bishop's throne and the two side altars. A new main altar of marble was erected upon the foundations which were laid for it when the Cathedral was built. New pews and five new memorial windows were installed. Four of these windows are in the sanctuary and the fifth is over the main entrance, representing Christ in the Garden. At the same time, the whole building and the episcopal residence adjoining were stuccoed and a cement coping was built to enclose the lawn.
On the Feast of St. Agnes, January 21, 1918, Bishop Gallagher passed to his eternal reward, and during the months that followed, Father Kirwin acted as administrator of the Diocese.
In preparation for the Diamond Jubilee of the Diocese and Cathedral, the marble altar rail and steps were constructed, the two marble side altars erected, and the whole of the interior was decorated anew. A beautiful new organ was installed in time for the occasion. An instrument well fitted to accompany the praises sung to God for the blessings bestowed upon the Diocese, it was equipped with about 3,000 pipes with four manuals, an echo organ and a full set of twenty-five chimes.
Father Bernard Lee was appointed to succeed Monsignor Kirwin as rector of the Cathedral, and was followed in office by Father Thomas A. Carney in August, 1928. The old Cathedral rectory had been built about the same time as the Cathedral, and when Father Carney considered remodeling the building he found it impracticable; instead, it was torn down and a new building of similar architectural style was erected.
It was in August, 1933, that Father Daniel P. O'Connell was called from his post as president of the seminary to the Cathedral to become rector when Father Carney was transferred to Dickinson. Having celebrated his Silver Jubilee in 1939, and having been honored with the title of Monsignor as a Domestic Prelate in 1940, Monsignor O'Connell has taken his place among the long list of priests who have directed the affairs of the Cathedral Parish for 100 years. The esteem in which he is held throughout the city and Diocese is proof that he has followed well the traditions of his predecessors.
Such is, in part, the story of historic St. Mary Cathedral, inseparable from the history of the Diocese of Galveston. The solid permanence of its gray and weather-stained walls bespeaks its survival through a century during which the ambassadors of Christ have labored in order that ''all may meet in the unity of faith and grow up unto the fullness of the age and stature of Christ.'' The solemn majesty of its aisles bespeaks the supplications sent up to God in time of distress and the praise offered to Him at all times by those who were cognizant of the truth of the motto inscribed in mosaic across the sanctuary:
|Domum Dei decet sanctitudo Sponsum ejus Christum adoremus in ea. Holiness befits the House of God, Christ, its Spouse, we adore in it.