The City of Victoria won't be the only major institution celebrating its Bicentennial in 2024. One of they truly historical gems of Victoria, St. Mary's Catholic Church, will also be celebrating its 200th birthday. The church building itself also turns 120!
There will be a number of wonderful events throughout our Bicentennial year host by St. Mary's at their beautiful church. But more than anything, its incredibly history is something to marvel completely on its own!
When Martín De León founded Guadalupe Victoria in 1824, one of his first acts was to build a Catholic church on the main square of the settlement. The building, made of hand-hewn logs, was just east of our current city hall. It was completed in 1830 and dedicated, like the town, to the Virgin of Guadalupe. The church had no resident priest; Mass was offered when priests from the mission at La Bahía were able to be present. St. Mary's parish is the second oldest Catholic parish in Texas, behind only the parish served by San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio.
After the defeat of Antonio López de Santa Anna at San Jacinto in 1836, almost all the original Victoria families had to flee to Mexico for safety. For the next four years the chapel was used for various purpose - as a barracks, a courthouse, and a Presbyterian church. On July 12, 1840, Jean Marie Odin and three other Vincentian priests, commissioned to reorganize the church in the Republic of Texas, arrived in Linnville. In Victoria Odin installed one of his colleagues, Eudaldus Estany, as the first resident pastor of the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Upon its reestablishment in 1840, it became the first Catholic parish to be established canonically in the Republic of Texas.
The first wedding in the reclaimed chapel took place on July 29, 1840, and the first baptism the next day. The first name of the chapel eventually fell into disuse, and in time the parish became known simply as St. Mary's.
Under the effective leadership of Augustine Gardet, who arrived in 1856, the parish built a new brick church in 1863 at the corner of Bridge and Church streets on property given by Patricia de la Garza De León. Father Gardet brought the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament from Brownsville to Victoria in 1866 and gave them his own house at Main and Church streets for their convent and girls' school. He founded St. Joseph's school for boys in 1868 and in 1880 expanded it to include a seminary, where several Texas priests received their education.
The present St. Mary's Church, at the corner of Main and Church streets, was begun in 1902 and dedicated in 1904. The impressive neo-Gothic structure was designated a Texas historical landmark in 1964. Monsignor F. O. Beck, who served as pastor from 1941 until his retirement in 1967, remodeled the church in 1954, and the present parish rectory was built in 1959.