Site of Villa Maria Ursuline Academy

Date Added

The Ursuline Sisters, founded by St. Angela in Italy in 1535, opened their first girls' school in North America in Quebec in 1639. In 1727, they opened the Ursuline Academy in New Orleans, followed in 1846 with the Ursuline Academy in Galveston. In addition to teaching, the nuns served as nurses during epidemics, hurricanes, fires and the Civil War. Their Galveston Academy building served as a refugee shelter despite heavy damages sustained in the devastating 1900 storm. Seeking a new school site further inland, Mother Superior Mary Joseph Dallmer selected Bryan over several other cities. With donations from Bryan citizens, the sisters purchased land from W.R. and Mary (Mitchell) Cavitt and began plans for Villa Maria Ursuline Academy at this site, which became known as St. Ursula's Hill. Contractor George Jenkins built a school and dormitory using a Nicholas Clayton design. The school opened in September 1901, but construction continued until October 21, St. Ursula's feast day. Girls at the academy studied traditional subjects, as well as sports and music, and maintained a large farm. The sisters worked closely with St. Joseph's Catholic Church and School, where they also taught. Facing low enrollment and burdened by the debt of costly building repairs, Villa Maria Ursuline Academy closed in 1929. Former U.S. Consul General Williamson S. Howell, Jr. bought the property and built a 24-room house using bricks from the school. The few graves of Ursuline nuns on the property were removed to Galveston, where the school resumed operations. Howell later sold to Allen Academy, which retained ownership until 1973. Today, nearby street names reflect the impact of both the academy and Howell. (2005)


30.676389, -96.352722