History of the Carmelite Monastery

Establishment

1882

 
 
 The Monastery compound and St. Joseph Church as they were in 1935. Source:

The Monastery compound and St. Joseph Church as they were in 1935. Source:

divine providence

In the late summer of 1882, a group of Carmelite missionaries led by Anastasius Peters arrived at Grelton Station, a watering hole along the Texas and Pacific Railway. Hailing from Scipio, Kansas, where Peters served as prior of the monastery and pastor of St. Boniface parish, they came to establish a German Catholic colony in West Texas.

It was no accident that this group ended up in what became Martin County. Anastasius Peters’ desire to found a monastery in West Texas began with a directive from the Prior General of the Carmelites in Rome, Angelus Savini. In September of 1881, Savini “ordered the unification of all the American and Canadian monasteries of the Order into one juridical entity known as a commissariate.” He appointed Anastasius Smits, a Dutch-born friar, as provincial superior. Smits’ attitudes and beliefs regarding Carmelite ministry and work and his plans to integrate German-born friars in the Midwest with Irish-born friars in the East led Peters, his two brothers (who were also Carmelite friars in Scipio), and nine other Carmelites to openly protest Savini’s decision in December, 1882. These two events, the order to unify and Savini’s appointment of Smits, set into motion Anastasius Peters’ plans to start anew.

dEPARTURE FROM KANSAS

It would seem that Anastasius Peters quickly began plotting his departure from Scipio after Smits’ appointment. Peters had already visited Texas by March, 1882, looking for land and funding for his monastery and continued ministry. There is some speculation that the Konz family, including Adam Konz’s father, John Konz, were searching for a new home and had heard of the offer from the Texas and Pacific Railway for cheap land in West Texas. At last, on June 24, 1882, due to Anastasius Peters’ open revolt, Smits removed him from his position as prior and pastor in Scipio, Kansas, on June 24, 1882, which put into motion the events that led that group of seven Carmelites to Grelton Station.

Anastasius Peters likely went to Arkansas before that fateful August, to shore up support for his cause in Texas and to seek some connection to “a bishop who would give him approbation to practice the ministry in a local diocese,” as required by Canon Law (i.e., Church law). In the beginning of July, 1882, he was almost certainly visiting family in Pocahontas, Randolph County, Arkansas. Eugene J. Weibel, the pastor of St. Paul Catholic Church in Pocahontas, knew the Peters family well; two of Anastasius Peters’ brothers and one of his sisters and their families lived in Pocahontas. Weibel offered a direct link to John Claude Neraz, the Bishop of the Diocese of San Antonio, by way of his years spent in Texas.

Quite fortuitously, at the time, Bishop Neraz was in need of clergymen in Texas, particularly west of San Antonio, due to increased immigration from Europe and Mexico. The bishop’s response must have been positive, as shortly thereafter, Anastasius Peters sent a reply to Neraz, expressing gratitude and stating that he is leaving for Martin County. He was likely in place at Grelton Station by August 4, 1882. The rest of the initial settlers came shortly thereafter.

 
 The Carmelite Friars in front of the Monastery in 1885.

The Carmelite Friars in front of the Monastery in 1885.