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Immaculate Conception Church - Brownsville, Texas
Posted by: Groundspeak Regular Member JimmyEv
N 25° 54.161 W 097° 29.766
14R E 650641 N 2865770
Quick Description: This Gothic Revival church, built by the Oblates of Mary in 1856, has 38 stained glass windows, a burial vault containing the remains of members of the Celaya family, and a rectory that was used as a refuge for priests fleeing Mexican revolutions.
Location: Texas, United States
Date Posted: 3/8/2008 6:38:15 PM
Waymark Code: WM3B8Z
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member silverquill
Views: 21

Long Description:

In 1849, Bishop J.M. Odin of Galveston invited four priests from the Oblate of Mary Immaculate, a Catholic order founded in France in 1816, to establish their first American parish in Brownsville. The priests traveled to South Texas from Canada, holding masses in temporary quarters throughout Brownsville before building a small chapel in 1850. From this chapel, the oblates ministered to parishes strung along the American side of the 275-mile course of the Lower Rio Grande. The priests also ministered to local ranches deep in the chaparral, becoming known as the ‘Calvary of Christ.’

In 1852, Father Pierre Y. Kerralum, a French architect, came to Brownsville to join the 'Calvary of Christ.' By 1856, the parish had outgrown its small chapel in Brownsville. Father Kerralum designed this Gothic Revival church for the oblates, finishing construction in three years.

To spread the faith, Father Kerralum built outlying chapels, upstream along the Rio Grande, in his Gothic Revival style. In 1872, he mysteriously disappeared while traveling from one of the valley’s far-flung ranches. His body was found ten years later in thick brush. He had apparently gotten disoriented and lost in the chaparral.

The church first became a cathedral in 1874, but lost that designation when the Bishop moved to Corpus Christi. The church became a cathedral once again in 1965, with the creation of the Diocese of Brownsville.

Inside the Cathedral, eight piers run along the nave supporting the roof, and the rib vaulted ceiling is covered in blue canvas lined with gold leaf. The interior is lit with bronze chandeliers imported from Paris in the late 19th century. Unfortunately, the original altar and pulpit were replaced during a remodeling in 1960.

Most of the church’s exterior is in its original condition, including the 38 stained glass windows; only the roof tiles have been replaced. On the grounds, in front of the cathedral to the north, is an odd sight - the vault of the locally important Simon Celaya family.

A three-story rectory was added adjacent to the church in 1861. Throughout the years, the rectory became a refuge for priests fleeing from many of Mexico’s numerous revolutions. The rectory also held the first American seminary for the Oblates of Mary. When the roof of the rectory blew off during the 1933 hurricane, the roof was lowered and the third floor became attic space. Today, the first floor of the rectory contains offices; the second floor contains the priests’ residences. The last addition to the church grounds was the Madonna chapel, built in 1958.

Street address:
1218 East Jefferson Street
Brownsville, TX USA


County / Borough / Parish: Cameron County

Year listed: 1980

Historic (Areas of) Significance: Event, Architecture/Engineering

Periods of significance: 1850-1874

Historic function: Church

Current function: Church

Privately owned?: yes

Primary Web Site: [Web Link]

Secondary Website 1: [Web Link]

Season start / Season finish: Not listed

Hours of operation: Not listed

Secondary Website 2: Not listed

National Historic Landmark Link: Not listed

Visit Instructions:
Please give the date and brief account of your visit. Include any additional observations or information that you may have, particularly about the current condition of the site. Additional photos are highly encouraged, but not mandatory.
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