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
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