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The History of Immaculate Conception Cathedral

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Historic Home

Father Adrien Pierre Telmon, one of the first Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate came to Brownsville and built a small wooden church and celebrated the first mass on June 29, 1850.  The church was located between East Adams & Jefferson Streets
Father Pierre Yves Keralum, was an architect in France before becoming an Oblate.  Originally, he was sent to Roma, Texas but was transferred to Brownsville to take over the construction of the Immaculate Conception Church.
The church was built in a Gothic Revival style.  It all became a reality through the generous contributions of its parishioners throughout the years. 
Over 250,000 clay bricks were made for the church in the village of Santa Rosalia, 3 miles east of the old town site of Brownsville.  
The cathedral has a blue canvas arched vaulted ceiling that at one time was dovered with gold stars.  The pulpit was built of native mesquite by a local cabinetmaker and a concealed spiral staircase provided access to the pulpit.
In 1866, a parishioner gave $1,400 for the purchase of chandeliers, which were ordered from a factory in Paris. 
That same year, Captain Mifflin Kenedy dontaed $2,000 for three bells for the bell tower. 

These bells bare the names and christening dates of the Kenedy children.  The smaller bell used in the original wooden church structure was moved to the tower as well.  These same bronze bells ring today in Brownsville's downtown area, announcing each Mass.
On another occasiion, and under the supervision of Father Parisot, a Kilgen pipe organ featuring 340 pipes was purchased for the church. 
Father Parisot travelled throughout the Rio Grande Valley on horseback for 15 days collecting livestock donations and then raffling the livestock for $11 each to raise the $1,450 needed for purchasing the pipe organ.
The Gothic Revival style church was completed and blessed on June 12, 1859.  In comparison, St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, also Gothic Revival, laid their cornerstone in 1859 and was dedicated in 1875.
The historical church was elevated to a cathedral in 1874, when the large Texas Diocese was divided and the was established.  It remained as such until 1912, when the Vicariate Apostolic was converted into the Diocese of Corpus Christi.  
The Immaculate Conception Church was designated a cathedral again in 1965, 53 years after its first cathedral designation by Bishop Adolph Marx upton the creation of the Diocese of Brownsville.
























 The history and growth of Immaculate Conception Cathedral is quite captivating. 

The rectory behind the church was the site of the first Texas Oblate Seminary and served as a haven for priests fleeing revolutions in Mexico.  It was built at the request of Bishop Odin and completed in 1861

In the mid-1960's, Charles Stillman's great grand-son gifted the cathedral with a chapel and a new bapitistery as a memorial to his great grandfather, one of Brownsville's founding fathers. 

In this chapel, a reproduction of Murillo's "Madonna and Child" was placed.

In 1966, Mr. Stillman insisted on giving the original painting of the Murillo masterpiece to the cathedral.  Five years later, a firebomb was thrown into the cathedral causing costly damage, including smoke damage to the original painting.  Unfortunately, the original was returned when the value of the painting made it too costly to insure and safeguard.  Today, a copy hangs in its place.

The cathedral once again sustained heavy damages on Oct. 8, 1967, when it was serverly hit by Hurricane Beulah.  Repairs to the arched vaulted ceiling and other damage were made, in part, with contributions provided by the cathedral's women parishioners after raising over $3,400.

Residents of Brownsville and the Valley are very proud of our "mother" church as a religious sanctuary as well as a historical edifice. 

 In 1980, Immaculate Conception was added to the National Register of Historic Places.


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