Tracing History: Liberty’s Ursuline Convent

The Texas Historical Commission Subject Marker for the Ursuline Convent was dedicated in 1978.

By Linda Jamison, chair of the Liberty County Historical Commission

The Ursulines, an order founded in Italy by St. Angela Merici in 1535, was the first group of Catholic teachers to come to North America where they established schools in Quebec in 1639.  The sisters, who had been in New Orleans since 1727, were the first order to volunteer for service in the new state of Texas. 

In January 1847, seven Ursulines, headed by Josephine (Sister St. Arsene) Blin, arrived in Galveston, and on February 8, at Bishop Jean M. Odin’s request, opened the Ursuline Academy, Galveston, a Catholic day and boarding school for girls, the first institution of its kind in Texas.

Catholicism was growing in Liberty during this period in its history due to the migration of Creole families from Louisiana in late 1845.  These families, called Creole because of their mixture of French and Spanish blood, were aristocratic planters.  They traveled in fine carriages and coaches drawn by fine horses and were well-dressed and sophisticated. 

The ladies were beautiful, elegant, and cultured and their homes were furnished with beautiful possessions.  They quickly assimilated into Liberty society and were well respected.  They also brought with them their deep Catholic faith and with their arrival, Catholicism was greatly expanded in this area.  Many prominent Catholic families in Liberty at this time were sending their daughters to the Ursuline Convent in Galveston to board and receive their education.  With this expansion, many felt the need for a parochial school for girls in Liberty without the need to board.

On Feb. 11, 1859, a group of five Ursuline nuns arrived in Liberty to establish a convent and girls’ school.  Mother Superior St. Ambrose, Mother Bernard, Mere Marie Therese, and Sister Martha had come from France and Mother de Chantel had come from Quebec.  The convent was first located in a cottage owned by Mrs. Gillard. 

Under the leadership of  French nun, Mother Ambrose, enrollment grew, and the quarters soon became too small. Bishop Dubois instructed Father Petrus (Peter) LaCour to secure property and build a new school.  On March 4, 1859, acting for the Bishop, Father LaCour purchased a block of land near the church from Richard Rice and lumber from Dr. Gillard’s mill with which to build a convent.

The Ursuline Convent was successful from its opening and well patronized.  Many prominent Liberty families enrolled their daughters in the convent school which had many resident boarders and fifty (50) day students.  The school grew and flourished until the Civil War (1861-1865) when enrollment and attendance declined.  The convent continued to decline when in June 1866, the funds which it had been receiving from France through a trust was lost due to bad business investments. 

Mother St. Ambrose went to France seeking more sisters and money to run the convent.  Sister St. Bernard was left in charge of the convent in her absence and the convent was at last, forced to close.  Subsequently it became a day school for young men.  Father Jean Joseph Martiniere and his brother, Father Claude Michael Martiniere, opened Trinity College on the site on January 15, 1867 but it too, soon closed. 

In the 1880s, the Ursuline buildings were dismantled.  The property was sold to E. B. Pickett and wife Sidney and in 1926 they built a brick home on the site, which still stands today and owned by grandson, Carl Pickett and wife, Laura Pickett. 

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