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Carmelite Monastery


With the purpose of founding a monastery and a German Catholic Colony, Carmelite Monks, in 1881, began the first Catholic Church between Fort Worth and El Paso. The adobe and brick monastery was completed in 1884, and St. Joseph's Church in 1885.
Sisters of Divine Providence opened a short-lived school in 1887. It was reopened in 1894 by the Sisters of Mercy. In 1897, the Carmelite Monks disbanded and sold the property to the Sisters of Mercy. They operated a convent and academy until abandonment in 1938 (due to a tornado on June 11, 1938). All that remains are the dormitory, ruins of the other buildings and the cemetery.
 
Visit their website at www.martincountyconvent.com for more information on preservation and restoration.
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The Convent

Stanton is a town of contrasts. What are the real origins of this small community? Driving through town one notices at once the streets are named for saints. Names like St. Boniface, St. Isidore, St. Teresa, and the very familiar St. Peter. The streets are laid out perpendicular to the railroad tracks, which cuts the town in half. The railroad changed forever the face of West Texas, more than anything else at the turn of this century. The railroads provided an opportunity for people who were filled with dreams of a new life on the open plains of the southwest. This still does not explain why the streets were not named after trees, fallen war heroes, or famous statesmen.
The origins of Stanton were hatched in the dead of night at a small Carmelite monastery in Kansas. A renegade group of friars left the monastery with an undetermined amount of cash and headed for the cow town of Fort Worth, gateway to the west. The year was 1882 and the west was still a wild and lawless place. The Texas herd of buffalo had been hunted off the plains only a few years before. The roving bands of Indians were only a memory. The prairie grass was almost as tall as a man and herds of prong horned antelope still roamed the plains
This small group of six Carmelites arrived at Grelton Station along the Texas and Pacific Railroad to create a German Catholic Colony. They did not have the permission of the State of Texas nor of their superiors to be at this water station on the newly completed rail line. They were willing to risk everything for a chance to start a German Catholic settlement. the only one of its kind in West Texas. The friars set up a few tents were the courthouse is today and began saying mass in late August 1882. They quickly changed the town's name to Marienfeld (German for Field of Mary) in honor of the Order's patron. Bishop John Nears of the San Antonio Diocese was pleased to have them in the wilds of West Texas, as he had no other clergy to serve the many pioneers in the isolated reaches of the plains.
The friars, under the direction of Father Anastasius Peters, quickly set about the tasks of creating a German Catholic community. Soon other immigrant settlers followed them to Marienfeld. Some of the first families to move to Martin County were relatives and friends of Peters from Kansas, Arkansas and Germany. Anastasius Peters placed newspaper advertisements in the larger cities of the South and Midwest as well as in German to attract settlers to the new colony he had founded.
The friars purchased 2560 acres in 1883 from the Texas and Pacific Railroad for twenty-five cents an acre under the auspices of the Settler Act of 1883 recently enacted by the state legislature in Austin. They in turn sold about half this acreage to pay the building costs of the new Carmelite establishment (monastery, farm, wells, etc.).
By 1884 live was flourishing for the colonists in Martin County. The settlers in and around Marienfeld then saw most of their investments and hard work destroyed by the drought and subsequent sandstorms that plagued West Texas from 1886 to 1888. Many of the original families who had established the colony by 1884 had abandoned Martin County by 1888. Selling their farms, many found work with the railroad in Big Spring. The Carmelites also suffered under the adverse conditions. Encroaching poverty forced them to sell 800 of their 2000 acre farm in order to liquidate debts and purchase food and supplies.
The loss of so many Catholic families slowly produced a new Protestant majority in Marienfeld. Many of these citizens resented the influence that Peters and the friars exercised in the small town. In 1890 the citizens changed the name of the county seat to Stanton.
The German Catholic Colony of Marienfeld had failed after just eight years. Later in 1896 the Carmelites sold their monastery building and a few acres around it to the Sisters of Mercy for one dollar. The sisters had been with the Carmelites since 1894 operating a day and boarding school for ther local parish.
The Sisters of Mercy built another building, tying together two of the adobe structures constructed by the Carmelites. They modified the existing monastery building as their living quarters and chapel. Our Lady of Mercy Academy was a huge success for forty-four years until a tornado caused it's closing in 1938. The school gave training to young girls and boys from Stanton and the surrounding ranches. Some students came from as far away as New Mexico and Oklahoma. Many former students today still remember the encouragement and love from these Sisters.
Today the 1884 tow story adobe monastery building with it's gothic pointed windows is the only remaining structure. Standing on a hill north east of the courthouse, it is a symbol of the struggle, triumph, and misfortune of the pioneering people who made to West Texas to start a new life at the end of the last century.
The Martin County Convent is a non-profit group of citizens actively working towards restoring this important piece of West Texas history. The exterior restoration was recently completed with generous grants from the Texas Highway Department, The Abell hanger Foundation of Midland, The Texas Historical Foundation of Austin, The Martin County Community Fund and many individuals whose support made this project possible.
The Historic Carmelite Monastery is one of the finest adobe structures in the southwest. With four foot thick adobe walls and gothic pointed windows it is a blend of European architecture and southwest building materials.
The historic monastery will be used as an interpretive center on the founding of Stanton and Out Lady of Mercy Academy. A native plant garden will be created around the monastery for the year round enjoyment of everyone.
The importance of this site can best be stated in the words of historical architect and adobe specialist Paul G. McHenery, Jr., of Albuquerque. New Mexico: "This monastery building is a unique example, frozen in time, of the community of Stanton, Texas. Few such examples still exist, and all steps should be taken to preserve this one. Old photos, mockups and museum exhibits can never provide the same experience as walking through history in the real thing".
With the exterior restoration completed, the Martin County Convent Foundation is now actively seeking grants to complete the interior restoration.

John Kennady, the author of this article is the current president of the Martin County Convent Foundation. Mr. Kennady is a member of the teaching staff at the Grady Independent School District which is located in Martin County north of Stanton. If you would like to make a tax-free donation to the Convent Foundation to help finance the restoration of the interior you may write:

The Martin County Convent Foundation
Box 1438
Stanton, TX 79782-1438

This article is courtesy of
THE OLD SOREHEAD GAZETTE

Kennady, John "The Convent" The Old Sorehead Gazette
Spring 1999: 17, 18
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Our Lady of Mercy Academy

It was a warm, dusty day in 1942 as the Model T truck bounced along the road from Lamesa to Stanton. As they came out of a small valley between hills there upon a rise was the town of Stanton. On the north side of town was the large complex of buildings, one of the best private Catholic schools in the area. Seaborn Jeffries was taking his oldest daughter, Ruth, to enroll in Our Lady of Mercy Academy, operated by the Sisters of Mercy. Mrs. Sophie Jeffries-White made that faithful trip with her family and recalls the first site of the muted yellow buildings with porches going all the way around. It was a grand site for this four year old who spent most of her days on the family farm off on the Southern Great Plains.
Sophie had never seen a place quite like it. She had never imagined such a large and ornate gate leading to the circle drive between the buildings. Gates to her were made of wood; like the ones on the farm. The buildings must have seemed huge to Sophie. Mother Superior Mary Stanislaus Broderick greeted them at the front doors of the central administration building and escorted them inside. The building was beautiful! Walking through the doors she was greeted with a red carpeted staircase leading to the second floor. Carpet was a rarity on the plains since no one had vacuum cleaners and it was difficult to clean. Sophie claims, "...it looked like it went all the way to Heaven."
The buildings formed a horse-shoe shape facing south towards Stanton. There was a large adobe church, a two story central administration building, and on the east, a two story building housing classrooms and boarding rooms. The school sat on about one and half acres with a large windmill in the back pasture and an extensive water system.
The Sisters of Mercy opened the doors to a day and boarding school in 1898. The property was sold to the sisters by the Carmelite friars who had founded the town of Marienfeld, later to be called Stanton, in 1882. For forty-four years the sisters operated Our Lady of Mercy Academy.
The private Catholic school was the place of choice for residents in the surrounding communities and as far away as New Mexico and Oklahoma. A tornado damaged the buildings in 1938 and it was closed with a great deal of sadness.
Sophie's sister, Ruth Jeffries, finished her formal education at the academy in 1926 and entered Our Lady of Mercy Convent in Stanton three years later. Final vows were taken in 1929 as Sister Mary Mercedes Jeffries. She went on to Slaton, Texas, to work in the hospital there operated by the Sisters if Mercy. Mrs. Sophie Jeffries-White of Big Spring, who was herself enrolled at the academy in 1934, will always remember her time spent in Our Lady of Mercy Academy. She still remembers Easter time with the alter of the church loaded with lilies. To this day when she smells Easter Lilies "it smells like the Convent at Stanton." At this special time of year Sophie recalls, "The nuns always put a basket full of Easter eggs by my bed for me to find in the morning." Her memories of the academy are still strong and they are carried close to her heart.
For forty-four years the Mercy Sisters provided a quality education for young boys and girls in West Texas. Though time, an increase in public education and the tornado of 1938 caused the school to close it's doors forever. The only remaining building once used by the Carmelite munks as their monastery and later used by the Mercy sisters as the chapel and living quarters.
There are many more stories like these from the student who had the good fortune to attend Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Stanton. If you know of a story about Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Stanton we would love to hear it.

John Kennady, the author of this article is the current president of the Martin County Convent Foundation. Mr. Kennady is a member of the teaching staff at the Grady Independent School District which is located in Martin County north of Stanton. If you would like to make a tax-free donation to the Convent Foundation to help finance the restoration of the interior you may write:

The Martin County Convent Foundation
Box 1438
Stanton, TX 79782-1438

This article is courtesy of
THE OLD SOREHEAD GAZETTE

Kennady, John "Our lady of Mercy Academy" The Old Sorehead Gazette
Summer 1999: 15
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