The history of Stanton’s parochial schools starts in 1883, when the Carmelite friars opened a school for boys. They subsequently open a school for girls in 1887, when the Sisters of Divine Providence of San Antonio arrived to Stanton to run the elementary school. The Carmelites constructed a two-story adobe building in the spring of 1886 to house the school and nuns. The school was closed in 1891 due to effects from the drought in 1886 when many families’ farms failed, and the Sisters of Divine Providence moved away.
The Academy of Our Lady of Mercy
The Sisters of Mercy came in 1894 to operate the convent and school, which they named the Academy of Our Lady of Mercy. Led by Sister Mary Berchmans Kast, a small group of sisters originating from San Francisco, California (where they worked at St. Mary’s Hospital), eventually made their way to Stanton to run the school. There is conjecture that Kast’s decision to join the school began with a chance meeting with Father Anastasius Peters in El Paso, Texas, sometime in 1893. In any case, the Sisters arrived in March 1894. For its first term, the school had 16 students at a time when Stanton’s population was 200. By 1896, enrollment at the school in Stanton had nearly doubled to 33. Enrollment grew close to doubling again the year after to 61 students.
In 1897, the Carmelites ended their operations at the Convent in Stanton and sold their property to the Sisters of Mercy. Much like the Carmelites 12 years earlier, Sister Kast began adding new buildings to the compound shortly after installation in Stanton. She added a northern addition to the building to serve as a dining room and kitchen, which had formerly been in the basement. A two-story wing was completed in the summer of 1897. Due to increased attendance at the academy, the Sisters built another addition to the east end of the center building, extending south. This center building was used for dining, entertaining, and as a boys’ dormitory. The academy and convent thus grew to contain 36 rooms.
The Sisters of Mercy Educational Society of Texas
The sisters formed a chartered charitable organization, called the Sisters of Mercy Educational Society of Texas, incorporated on April 23, 1897. The trustees of the organization were Mother M. Berchmans Kast, Sister Angela Hostetter, and Sister Mary Magdalen. This charter was filed with the Martin County clerk, Paul Konz, on July 10, 1897 and then with the Department of State in Austin on July 12, 1897.
The Sisters of Mercy also founded schools across West Texas, stemming from their time and experience in Stanton. In January 1913, they started a school in Big Spring. Other schools soon followed in Pecos, Menard, Fort Stockton, and Slaton.
Some enrollment figures were recorded and give a sense of the progression of the Academy of Our Lady of Mercy. The average enrollment for the twenty-year period starting in 1904 was 110 pupils. During the school year starting in 1937, there were 70 students enrolled.
The academy taught both elementary and junior high students; in fact, it became an accredited junior high school in 1925. Records from the Academy of Our Lady of Mercy show that more than 3,000 students attended the school for at least one year. The school’s coursework was varied and included traditional courses like music, art, home economics, and commercial subjects.
Throughout its history in Stanton, the academy faced a few issues with funding. It was supported by proceeds from board and tuition fees, which were often uncollectable in years of drought, when crop and ranch yields were low. But the Sisters accepted every pupil regardless of ability to pay tuition, and “many boarders were kept at greatly reduced rates.” In addition, the increase in population in West Texas during the early 1900s resulted in many public schools being organized, including in Stanton and Martin County, which contributed to fewer students enrolled at the academy.
The Closing of the Stanton Compound
After the tornado in July of 1938, the Provincial of the Sisters of Mercy visited the compound to assess the damage and land. They came to the decision to abandon the convent and academy in Stanton. Students registered for the fall term were transferred to the parochial school in Slaton. Eventually, everything was demolished, save the convent, which was being used as a private residence as late as October 1963.
Fortunately, the tornado came through Stanton shortly after classes had finished for the semester; only eight sisters and one boarder remained at the compound on June 11, 1938, when the tornado arrived. The laundry, barns, and other out-buildings were destroyed and the windmills toppled. Wind and the toppled windmills also destroyed part of the roof of the convent and other buildings. This signaled the end of the academy, and more broadly, activities of a religious and educational nature at the compound on which the Carmelites first started their activities in 1882. Today, only the original convent building remains standing.
Due to the tornado that destroyed much of the Academy of Our Lady of Mercy, most of the official records of the Sisters of Mercy in Stanton, Texas, were destroyed on June 11, 1938. Quite fortunately, Franchelle Moore completed an interview with Sister Mary Aloysius, who was superior of the Convent and Academy of Our Lady of Mercy, in 1938. In collaboration with Sister M. Aloysius, Bishop Laurence J. FitzSimon, the Bishop of Amarillo, put together a history of the Sisters of Mercy in Stanton. Moore’s interview and analysis have been most helpful in compiling this brief history.
In addition, John R. Hutto wrote an article for the West Texas Historical Association Year Book (Vol. IX, 1933), entitled “The German and Catholic Colony of Marienfeld [sic].” Hutto had access to the official records of the Sisters of Mercy in Stanton, and thus we are able to gather helpful information about the history of the Convent and the Academy of Our Lady of Mercy in Stanton from his article. Vernen Liles, a graduate student of the University of Texas at Austin, completed a thesis on the history of Martin County in June, 1953, which has a fairly detailed history of the Sisters of Mercy and their activities in Martin County based on, among others, the following sources: the Amarillo Register, the Dallas Morning News, the Stanton Reporter, and Hutto’s article.