The living legacy of St. Mary’s Seminary

November 22, 2022

Men from St. Mary’s Seminary are seen crowding around a seminary school bus in this undated photo. (Photo courtesy of Lisa May/Archives)

HOUSTON - In 1901, Bishop Nicholas A. Gallagher, the third bishop of the Diocese of Galveston, fulfilled a long-held plan when he established a diocesan seminary in La Porte, Texas. It included a high school to encourage vocations. The first year, the school consisted of some 30 boys from grade six to high school, six seminarians, a four-priest faculty from the Basilian Fathers, and Dominican Sisters to manage the domestic duties.

As vocations began to increase, the bishop directed the construction of a concrete building to house the chapel, dining hall, offices and dormitories. Due to needs in other areas of their ministry, the Basilian Fathers withdrew, and diocesan priests then assumed the duties of the faculty. The seminary continued to prosper with the ordination of men to the priesthood, highlighting the end of the school year.

When St. Mary’s University, a high school for boys staffed by the Jesuit Fathers, closed in 1922, the state charter it had received in 1856 was later transferred to the seminary in La Porte. The seminary was then sometimes referred to as “St. Mary’s University.”

Bishop Wendelin J. Nold marked the celebration of the golden anniversary in 1951 with two major announcements: The Vincentian Fathers would replace the faculty of diocesan priests, and a new seminary would be built in Houston.

A 50-acre tract of wooded land located at the present site on Memorial Drive was donated by the Laurent, Smith and Strake families. A fundraising campaign yielded over three million dollars for the project. Maurice and Charles Sullivan were contracted for the architectural design, and the Linbeck Construction Corporation was selected to do the construction.

On Nov. 4, 1954, Samuel Cardinal Stritch of Chicago dedicated the seminary with a host of bishops, clergy, and local dignitaries in attendance. At that time, the plant included all the present buildings, with the exception of the library, gymnasium, and Nold Education Center. As with the seminary in La Porte, the number of vocations increased greatly. With gifts and donations from both clergy and laity, the furnishings were completed in 1958.

During the academic year of 1964-1965, the college seminarians began taking some of their courses at the University of St. Thomas under the direction of the Basilian Fathers. This process soon enabled the seminarians to take all their undergraduate courses at the main campus of the University of St. Thomas. To provide for the academic and physical development of these men, a new library and indoor gymnasium-auditorium were built.

In 1966, Joseph Cardinal Beran of Prague, Czechoslovakia, presided at the formal dedication. The new library was named in his honor. During the academic year of 1968-1969, the theology department of St. Mary’s Seminary became the Graduate School of Theology of the University of St. Thomas so that graduate degrees could be awarded to the theology seminarians. This arrangement continues today.

In 1982 the Vincentian Fathers withdrew from St. Mary’s due to their personnel needs. Bishop John L. Morkovsky then appointed Monsignor Chester Borski as rector on May 20, 1982, and the administration and formation faculty was staffed by diocesan clergy.

Under the direction of bishops Joseph A. Fiorenza and Thomas Tschoepe, the dioceses of Galveston-Houston and Dallas reached an agreement in March of 1986: St. Mary’s and Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas would partner so that St. Mary’s would be the theologate and Holy Trinity would be the college seminary — both serving the dioceses of the surrounding region. The new arrangement began in the fall of 1986.

St. Mary’s dedicated the Bishop Nold Education Building on Nov. 7, 2001, which allowed the seminary to serve as a location for diocesan meetings, workshops, and seminars that provide continuing theological education. Father Brendan J. Cahill (now Bishop Cahill in the Diocese of Victoria) was appointed rector to succeed Monsignor Borski, effective June 1, 2001. He served as rector with great enthusiasm and dedication for nine years and began a master plan for the future growth of the seminary.

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo then appointed Father Trung Nguyen as rector to succeed him, effective June 15, 2010. After more than a decade of service to the seminary, Father Trung was succeeded by Father Eurel Manzano, whom the Cardinal appointed to serve as rector beginning July 1, 2020.

St. Mary’s Seminary is grateful to all its benefactors who have been so generous throughout its history, especially to the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women for their spiritual and financial support of the seminary through the Catholic Clerical Student Fund. 

- Lisa May, Office of Archives, contributed to this report.