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Nazareth Academy: History sheltered in silence

By Frank Tilley
Oct. 4, 2012 at 5:04 a.m.
Updated Oct. 7, 2012 at 5:07 a.m.

Reflecting an era when nuns lived a simple life  with few material possessions, the small bedrooms containing a single bed were the humble surroundings and home to nuns who taught at Nazareth Academy.

Standing before Nazareth Academy one morning, I was in awe of this magnificent building that played a role in shaping the history of Victoria. Cloaked in a bit of mystery. Nazareth Academy was home to a group of cloistered nuns from the order of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament, who served as teachers to students who boarded there for nine months out of the year.

Extremely sparse by today's standards, the third floor dormitory rooms were simply furnished with a small wrought iron bed frame, a chair and a narrow built-in closet. The wood floors have a rich amber patina after years of waxing and polish. The barren wood slat walls are very monotone except for the modest crucifix bathed in the light of blue hues from a single narrow window.

Walking down the second floor hallway, however, is a different experience. Life size murals painted by former student Theresa Wood can be seen everywhere.

Wood, who graduated as valedictorian in 1873, entered the convent in 1876 and became a sister with the IWBS order, said Sister Amata Hollis with Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament. She is the Nazareth Academy historian.

Architectural details from the door plates to the high ceilings and staircase balusters are some of architects Jules Leffland's finest designs.

Leffland is an interesting story. Born in Denmark and educated at the Institute of Technology of Copenhagen, Leffland immigrated to Texas and was involved in the restoration of homes damaged by a hurricane that struck Indianola in 1886. Mitchell School, the Colored School, Hauschild's Cigar Factory and Bianchi's Pharmacy were some of his other projects, according to the Texas Historical Commission.

The current Nazareth Academy building located on Convent Street was opened in 1951. The old school is still used as a pre-school facility, host art classes and is home to sisters who teach at the Academy. Although now serving a limited role, generations of Catholic students have walked the hallways and have become community leaders, Hollis said.

After seeing this building from the inside, now whenever I'm in the area I will be able to see beyond the stone facade and picture life as it was more than 100 years ago.

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