The beautiful, old Nazareth Convent sold to St. Mary’s Catholic Church late last year, which continues a long relationship steeped in religious history and culture.

The two beautiful historic buildings are situated next to each other across from the Victoria Police Department and City Hall in downtown Victoria. The convent was on the market for five years, so the sale was a relief for the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament who needed to sell the 115-year-old building because they could not continue its upkeep.

The church received all four lots on Block 111 from the Martin De Leon family, and the current church and convent were built in the early 1900s. Patricia De Leon, Martin De Leon’s wife, was a driving force behind making sure the land was donated to the church.

“For over a century, these buildings have become a recognizable symbol of Christ’s presence in this city,” said the Rev. Kristopher Fuchs, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

The relationship between the church and the convent dates back to the 1800s, though. The Rev. Augustine Gardet built the first church in 1860, and on Dec. 21, 1866, the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament were welcomed by Gardet to live there and start a school for girls. Nazareth Academy was started on Jan. 7, 1867.

“Under St. Mary’s ownership, we envision the future of our old convent to continue being a powerful presence steeped in history and incarnational spirituality within this community,” said Sister Kathleen Goike, superior general of the Sister of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament. “We are grateful to God for allowing this transaction to take place.”

The continuation of the religious synergy between the church and the convent makes sense from logistical, historical and future-looking perspectives.

The community agrees as plans are discussed by the Main Street Program, the city and others to develop downtown Victoria to attract more visitors and businesses.

“We feel very pleased that the church purchased the convent and we see the convent as a very important part of the revitalization of downtown,” said Mike Etienne, assistant city manager for the city of Victoria. “We think the purchase of the convent is a catalytic project, a catalyst to revitalize that part of downtown.”

Etienne continued that the city is delighted that St. Mary’s Catholic Church wants to repurpose the building to make it into a destination facility.

Danielle Williams, executive director of the Victoria Main Street Program, said she definitely believes the sale is a positive move for downtown.

“Plans for it to be an event center and renovations to preserve the history all fit perfectly with what we want for downtown,” Williams said. “Preserving history is key and that is what they are going to do.”

Fuchs said the possibilities for the convent are endless.

Ideas on the table include having a place for events for the parish and the greater community and a destination for tourists who want to experience the rich history of the area. The space offers potential for parish offices and classrooms as well as retreats and conferences.

Downtown Victoria is historical and charming with its old buildings, and the architecture of the convent is among the most beautiful.

The fact that the land donated by the De Leon family will remain faithful, at least in part, to its original religious purpose while lending to the revitalization of downtown Victoria is encouraging for the community. The prospect of seeing the convent grounds active once again is an encouraging sign for the entire city.

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This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.

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