Let The Good Times Roll - Holy Rosary African American Catholic Church and the Krewe D’Esprit Rosaire
In 1886 the Most Reverend Nicholas Gallagher, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Galveston (now the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston) established the first African- American Catholic school in Texas in a cottage at the corner of 12th Street and Avenue K. Organized as Holy Rosary Industrial School, enrollment grew under the guidance of the Dominican Sisters that led to the construction of a new building with four classrooms to accommodate 50 students erected at 25th Street and Avenue L. The first resident pastor of the new Holy Rosary Parish was the German-born Father Philip Keller, appointed on December 21, 1889. While there were 45 parishioners and a successful school, there was no church building or rectory. Father Keller lived at St. Mary’s Cathedral during the construction of the first buildings and remained with Holy Rosary Parish until 1923 when he was succeeded by the Josephite Fathers, members of the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart.
Holy Rosary Catholic Church at 31st and NIn 1914 Holy Rosary Parish moved to its present location on Avenue N between 30th and 31st Streets. During the 1920s the church aggressively sought new members and was so successful that the number of Sunday masses grew from one to three. A high school curriculum was added to the Industrial School in 1927 making it the first accredited Catholic high school for African Americans in the state of Texas. Financial problems forced the closure of the high school in 1941.
Holy Rosary Choir Led by Izola CollinsA new church building, erected under the supervision of Pastor James V. Finegan, S.S.J., was completed in April 1950. In 1956, a new convent and lower grade school were built under the leadership of Father George Reynolds. One year later, parishioners witnessed the dedication of the new Holy Rosary School. Within ten years, the buildings had been replaced by new modern fire-resistant structures. Later, a cafeteria, additional classrooms, office, and library were added to the parish school with construction costs covered by a generous gift from a parishioner, Mr. W. K. Herbert, a local funeral home owner. By the late 1960s, the school faced financial problems again and by 1967 the seventh and eighth-grade classes were dropped. Still facing financial difficulties, on May 28, 1978, Holy Rosary School closed its doors and the Sisters of the Holy Family left Galveston after 81 years of dedicated service.
Original Holy Rosary Church and School at 12th and KFather Lewis R. Saportio, S.S.J. introduced Mardi Gras to his parishioners in 1976, holding Holy Rosary’s first pre-Lenten celebration at the Moody Civic Center on January 20, 1978. The beloved annual celebration continues today, hosted by the congregation’s Krewe D’Esprit Rosaire, the only African American Mardi Gras krewe in Galveston. The church-based krewe promotes community unity through their family-oriented Holy Rosary Mardi Gras Pageant, a masquerade ball, potluck suppers, and picnics as well as their beloved parade, traditionally hosted every Fat Tuesday.
Sister Joseph Ann Gillette, Top Left, Beloved TeacherIn 2009, Holy Rosary Church became part of the Holy Family Parish of Galveston and Bolivar. Established after Hurricane Ike struck the region in 2008, the parish includes St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica, St. Patrick’s, Holy Rosary, Sacred Heart and Mary Star of the Sea in Galveston, and Our Lady of the Sea on Bolivar Peninsula.
Shared from Galveston Historical Foundation