Citi Stories Texas
St. Joseph Catholic Church Book
Monsignor John Gleisser, pastor of St. Jospeh Church from 1904 to 1953.


Monsignor John Baptist Gleissner: In His Own Words


Born in Bavaria, Germany on October 31, 1866, John Baptist Gleissner came to America in 1888.  He attended Niagara Seminary and was adopted by Right Rev. N. A. Gallagher for the Galveston Diocese and ordained by him.  Rev. Gleissner served as pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church from April 25, 1904 until his death on February 28, 1953.  He is remembered not only for his deeds as pastor of St. Joseph, but also for the parish missions which he established:  St. Joseph Catholic School, Villa Maria Academy Church and St. Mary’s Church for the Catholic members of his beloved Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M College.

Before he died, Monsignor Geissner wrote down the story of his nearly half century at St. Joseph Church. What follows are his own words.

The most Rev. N. A Gallagher, D. D. Bishop of Galveston confirmed the sacrament of Holy Orders on me in the venerable St. Mary’s Cathedral.  How vividly that scene of ordination of more than half a century ago stands out before me.  A beautiful Sunday morning, at 7 o’clock the Revs. Joseph Blum, rector of the Cathedral and Peter Sullivan, assistant priest, led me to the sanctuary. His Excellency began to vest for Mass and the ceremonies of deep meaning connected with the administration of Holy Orders. 

The only still living of that little group is the writer of these lines, a priest now 76 years old. 

On Monday morning, July 11, I celebrated my first mass at 7 o’clock at St. Mary’s side Altar of the Cathedral. Rev. Joseph Blum assisted me.  On July 25th the Bishop called me to his room. After having given me fatherly kind advice, he handed me a letter which contained my appointed to St. Martinsville, later on called Tours in McLennan County  July 26th, I arrived on the early morning train in Waco.  I inquired for the Catholic Church which as I found out was not far from the depot.  As it was very early in the morning, I made myself comfortable on the porch of the private house. 

About 6 o’clock I knocked on the door of the rectory.  I heard someone asking, “Who is there?” I answered, “A priest.”  “Wait a minute, I will open the door.” The good priest, Rev. Andrew Badelon, looked at me and asked, “Are you really a priest? You look like a boy. Please show me your papers.”

“Fine,” he said, and then opened the church. “The Sisters of St. Mary’s from the Academy will come for mass and holy communion at 6:30.  After mass, take breakfast.”

I listened attentively to Father Badelon as he spoke of my new parish and the work that was to be done by me.  About 1 o’clock the train left for West Station where I had to get off.  After some delay, some non-Catholic boys who lived near the church invited me to climb on the wagon as they were going home.  They brought me within a mile and a half to the church. 

One of the Catholic farmers of the parish passed by; he was on horseback. As soon as he recognized me as a priest, he came down from his horse and urged me to ride the final distance to the church.  Imagine how I felt never having ridden a horse before.  Finally, I consented and he helped me to get on the animal.  After a few minutes ride we arrived at the church.  What a neat church and residence stood before me, but how to get into the buildings: No key.  The kind horseman said “If a church window can be raised, I will climb into the building and ring the bells.”  So he did and soon those living nearby came to greet the new pastor.  How glad they were to have again a priest. 

Looking around I missed to see a building which would remind me of a school.  “Where is our school?” I asked.  “We have none,” they told me. “You see from here that one and a half story house? The half story is used to teach public school.”

Thanks to the good will of the parishioners, we built a school, a parochial school, a neat two-story building within one year.  Our Bishop said, “If you want a parochial school, go and make it a free school, supported by the entire parish.” What a blessing that school has been to St. Martin’s parish.  Last year it was my privilege to sing the solemn High Mass and preach on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of that school. Seven years and four months I was pastor of Tours.  God bless the good people of that parish! 


Whilst at Tours West, a good many families of Bohemian descent rented or bought farms near Tours but especially near the little city of West.  They came to our church but as most of hem lived nearer to West, we saw the necessity for buying ground to erect a church in the town.  A corn field on the southwest corner of the village seemed to be a fine place for a church.  Sand enough for that purpose was bought and with the good will of the parishioners, a nice large frame church was erected and named in honor of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.  More than 400 families belong to the parish. A pastor and assistant pastor attend to the parishioners. The old farm building is replaced by a fine brick church, a splendid parochial school, a comfortable rectory, a fine parish hall stands on the grounds purchased years ago by the pioneers.  From July 26, 1889, till Dec. 3, 1896, I was pastor of Tours, as well as West, Hearne and Millican. In Dec. 1896 the Most Rev. Bishop N. A. Gallagher appointed me to take charge of Hearne and Missions.  About 40 people, good people, farmed the parish. The quality made up for the quantity.  A few months after my arrival at Hearne, a neat residence was built in the rear of the church of St. Mary’s Church, built by Catholics and aided by non-Catholics.  How happy I was to have a home, a sweet and happy home where I could rest awhile when I returned from my visits to the missions.  Remember in those days, no automobiles, nor good roads. 

As Hearne was about in the center of my missions and quite a railroad center, it had bene chosen by the bishop as the residence for the priest.  Missions north of Hearne – Calvert, Groesbeck, Kosse, and Mexia; south of Hearne – Navasota, Hempstead, Waller, and Spring Creek; east of Hearne – Franklin, New Baden, and Marquez; and west of Herne –  Milano, Rockdale, Caldwell, and Frenstat.  Quite a territory!  How I love to recall those days of meal missionary life, saying Mass in small chapels, homes, sometimes under large trees. Yes, hard work it was, but the joy of the few faithful ones over the priest’s visit repaid me abundantly for all fatigue and sacrifice.  In 1900 the few Catholics of Calvert built a neat church, named it St. Mary’s.  The interest the few Catholics took in their church was admirable.  It was always kept scrupulously clean, flowers on the Altar and in the church-lot shrubs.  The pioneers are gone to their heavenly reward; very, very few Catholics remain.  Opposite of our St. Joseph’s Church in Rockdale stood an abandoned Synagogue, a fine building for a school. We bought the building, had it moved next to the church and for several years the Sisters of Divine Providence taught about 40 children.  What a blessing that little school has been, it brought some back to the church and the practice of their faith.

In the summer of 1900, I was taken seriously ill.  The doctor and the bishop had me brought to St. Mary’s Infirmary at Galveston.  On the third day after my arrival, the great storm and flood came upon us.  Quite an experience!  Many perished, many homes were destroyed.  Six weeks after the storm I returned to Hearne.  The joy of meeting again was great. 

In March, 1904 I received a letter from the Bishop with my appointment to St. Joseph’s Church, Bryan.  He also requested me to continue to attend as well as I could to Caldwell and Frenstat.  To visit those missions, I had to travel by buggy a distance of 21 to 31 miles and cross the Brazos River either by ferry at Stone City or at Pelts Bridge.  It took from three to four hours to make the trip in good weather, but after rains with mud holes in the Brazos bottom roads, between four to five hours were spent on the road trying to get out of mud holes or repairing broken singletrees and harnesses.  But, a hearty welcome always awaited me in the homes where stayed. Besides St. Joseph’s Church at Bryan, the beautiful Villa Maria the Ursuline convent had to have divine services. How could I do it all?  The pastor of the Italian Church helped me greatly.  The Jesuits of Galveston came every second Sunday of the month. The pastor of Anderson came every fourth Sunday of the month, the Sunday I went to either Frenstat or Caldwell.  Now and then, I invited the Holy Cross Fathers to help me when I said mass at College.  Father Anthony Kripajtis, a priest from Lithuania, was my first assistant.  For more than two years I had always an assistant pastor with me, for without help the work could not be done.  What a shock when I was informed that Villa Maria would be abandoned by the Ursulines.  The place was for sale.  Never will I forget the morning of my last mass in the chapel, the adieus to the Sisters with whom I had shared joy and sorrow, success and failure. 

For about 25 years I walked daily at 6 o’clock to St. Ursula’s Hill to celebrate mass and many a time in the afternoon to give benediction.  In cold and heat, in rain and sleet I took my march of a mile.  No paved streets those days.  Doctors told me that morning walk is the secret of good health.  It took quite a while before I could get used to my life without that morning walk.  Six of the good, saintly Ursuline’s bodies rested in the community cemetery.  Their remains were later transferred to the Ursuline graveyard in Galveston.  A street leading to St. Ursula’s Hill bears still the name: Ursuline Ave. Many a time I recall the happy hours spent at Villa Maria in company of the good Sisters and the children and young ladies attending he Academy.  Two Sisters remained one year after the closing of Villa Mara to teach in our parochial school.

On the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of the parish, the blessing of the new parochial school took place.  The Sisters of the Incarnate Word and of the Blessed Sacrament kindly accepted the invitation to come to Bryan and teach in St. Joseph’s School.  Five of the Sisters do great work in the school. God bless them! When I came to Bryan there were two churches in the city. How happy I am now to say there are three churches in Bryan: St. Joseph’s, St. Anthony’s and Santa Theresa’s. St. Mary’s at College, San Benito at Allen Farm, and a chapel at Steel’s store add to the churches today in Brazos County.  We hope and pray that in 1942 a chapel will be erected for the colored Catholic people and a resident pastor will administer to them and the colored people in Brazos County.  With a heart overflowing with gratitude to God, I say, “Thanks be to God!”  Where there was one priest years ago in Bryan, attending Frenstat and Caldwell, there are at present four priests. To make up in some way for the loss of Villa Maria, the Franciscan Sisters of Sylvania, Ohio, opened a hospital in Bryan and are doing a noble and great work for the sick and the suffering.


When I came to Bryan I noticed some young men assisting at mass.  From the uniform they wore, I recognized them as students of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas.  No matter how bad the weather, they came.  How I love to recall their names, such as Skeeler, Laake, Brauning and others.  God bless them!  In 1904, the student body consisted of 300 young men. With each year the number of students has increased, and more young Catholics came to Mass. Something had to be done, to give them help to remain loyal to the faith.  Occasionally, as often as I possibly could, I said Mass for them in a classroom in the Physics Building. A desk as the altar, a crucifix, and two candlesticks were all we had. The good Bishop was informed of the work at College by the late Msgr. Kirwin who at times helped me by saying Mass and preaching at College. 

On my next visit to Galveston, the Bishop gave me vestments and a chalice to use whilst attending the A. and M. students.  Good old Sergeant Hayland, a Spanish war veteran, took care of the vestments and had the altar prepared for the priest.  He retired and died about 34 years ago in San Antonio.  God bless his soul.  The name of R. Adelsperger, professor of Architecture who took a deep interest in our work, comes before me. His last donation, a solid gold ciborium, is in the tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament.  Those dear friends of old are departed now, gone into eternity. Peace to their souls. 

How often do I recall the names of my old Aggies?  God’s blessings upon them! That students are fine Catholics has never kept them from honors and promotion.  A. C. Moser of Dallas, a fine Catholic, had the highest honor bestowed upon him. He was made a lieutenant colonel.  During the World War, about 600 drafted men were sent to College to study in the Meteorological Science or in the Signal Corps.  These were fine young men – from places like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco.  About 200 of them were Catholics.  All went well till the flu epidemic. 

Barracks No. 5 was set aside for the patients.  Can I ever forget the scenes in Barrack No. 5?  The many sick and homesick men.  Daily I spent hours with them, comforting them, writing letters for them, giving them a drink, or lighting a cigarette for them.  The kind ladies brought soup, buttermilk, lemonade, and delicacies for the sick soldiers.  The sick looked anxiously for my coming. I tried to make them feel comfortable, mopping their faces and hands.  Poor boys.  I closed the eyes of many, alone when death had come.  Double pneumonia took many of them.  How bravely they fought against death, but in vain.  After a time, I was forbidden by the doctor of Barracks No. 5 to visit the sick as rumors about the treatment of the patients went abroad.  The Council of Defense asked me about the situation.  I told them what I had witnessed.  My interview was published in the Bryan Eagle.  Next morning, I visited College as usual.  I went about talking to the patients when the doctor came in asking me whether I am the man responsible for the article in the Eagle. I answered him that I spoke to the Council of Defense and answered questions asked by them.  He was furious and asked me to sign a statement that my interview with the Defense Council was misunderstood and that conditions in Barrack No.5 were not bad. “Captain,” I said, “I have not told one-fourth of what has been going on.  Had I told them all, I believe something serious would have happened to you.” 

The sick boys listened attentively and watched the Doctor.  Had he made any attempt to hurt me, those brave boys would have attended to him.  “Don’t you dare to come back!” the doctor shouted.  “Till tomorrow morning,” I replied. “I will see you again.” 

A number of the convalescent soldiers followed me.  Some of them said, “He is coming and has a sheet of paper in his hand asking, “Where is that priest?” On my next visit, when the doctor called my name, I asked him, “What do you want?” Then I handed him a paper of my own, from college officials, saying, “Father Gleissner has permission to come any day at any time, to any place at College.”

Still, the doctor and I were at odds. 

Major Minus of Camp Travis was sent by the government to investigate.  He called on me first.  Many questions I was asked were to be answered simply, “yes or no.” Patients who went through Barrack No. 5 were examined as to their treatment.  Major Minus said to me, “You have told me little. The boys have told me much.”

Bizzell Hall was soon turned over to the sick and convalescent boys.  What smiles I saw when I came back to them!  “See, what you did for us!” they told me.  “I did not do it,” I said. “I simply helped you to get what you needed.”

My office chair today is a souvenir of those days.  A number of soldiers from Oklahoma whom I befriended during their stay in Barracks No. 5 presented it to me. I still receive Christmas Greetings from some of the boys.  How often I think of the pleasant hours spent in their company. 

Most of our young men from College who served in the world war were sent to Camp Travis.  The scenes of their departure, the farewells, the tears of good mothers or sweethearts, I will never forget. Silently, we returned to our homes after the train’s departure. Daily we offered our prayers privately and publicly for our boys for God’s protection.  A good many times I visited our boys at Camp Travis.  What enjoyable visits they were.  I ate with them, I marched with them, took part in their gatherings at night in the K. of C. huts.  The morning papers during the world war were anxiously unfolded by us and the long list of the names of those killed in action or missing were scanned and a hearty thanks be to God, when no names of those of our loved ones over there were mentioned.  What indescribable sorrows and heartaches we endured! Then, what a sigh of relief we all breathed when on Nov. 10, 1918 at about midnight, the telephone operator joyfully announced the armistice to the church.  I ran, ringing the bell the tidings of great joy, peace on earth. Next day, a day of rejoicing, old and young, rich and poor, white and black marched through Main Street, rejoicing that peace had come again into the world. 

That evening a meeting of Brazos County citizens took place in the opera house.  Major Minus had spent the day in Bryan to see how the sick soldiers fared.  He introduced me for the audience as one of the speakers.  All went well; happiness reigned everywhere until the coming of the Ku Klux Klan.  In brotherly love, let us cover the activities of the Klan with the cloak of Christian charity.  Finally, our boys from over there returned. Who can describe the joy of parents, of wives, of children to see their loved ones, brave soldiers safely at home?

My thoughts go back to our A. and M. College which furnished more officers during the world war than any other institution. 

From our parish, 116 young men were drafted or volunteered, among them four young men whom I had adopted from orphan’s homes.  The youngest of them, Clarence Hynes Kelly, joined the Marines as soon as the war was declared. With the 2nd division, he went to France.  He was wounded at Blanc Monc and after his return, he was kept in the Navy hospital at Washington for observation. He was decorated for extraordinary bravery with the Croix de Guerre.  When I next saw him, Kelly handed the medal and the citations to me saying, “I did not deserve any honor; I simply did my duty as a Marine.” Kelly’s decoration hangs by the tabernacle key at St. Mary’s Chapel, College. 

About a year after his honorable discharge from military service, he died from the injuries received on the battlefields.  This world war hero and three of his soldier companions are buried in Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Bryan.

As volunteer K. of C. Chaplain in the R.O.T.C., I continued for about 10 years after the world war.  When the funds of the K. of C. got lower, chaplains receiving help from the headquarters were informed by Rt. Rev. Msgr. Waring, the Vicar General of Catholic Army Chaplains ,that only chaplains of hospitals would continue to receive pay.  He asked in a letter to me what became of the Catholics of the R.O.T.C. at your Texas A. and M. College?  I answered that they were attended before when I received a monthly check from the K. of C. and they will still be attended faithfully without receiving a check.  How could any priest neglect more than 600 young Catholic men from all parts of the U.S., Mexico, South America, and other countries of the world? 


You may ask me, “How about the nice St. Mary’s Chapel at College?  Who built it for you and your Aggies?” 


The State Council of the K. of C. of Texas did it.  For years, I visited the State Council meetings and told the Knights of the crying necessity of a Catholic center at College.  Finally, State Deputy Joseph J. Driscol, LLD, and K.of S.G. notified me of the decision of the state officers to build a basement for recreational purposes and crown it with a chapel dedicated to Our Blessed Mother. Was I happy? As happy as a child on Christmas morning after a visit from Santa Claus! What a beautiful plan was spread out before me, beginning with a chapel considerably larger than the present one.  But after careful consideration, it was decided to build the chapel as it stands now. 

We are justly proud of our St. Mary’s Chapel built by the generosity of our Texas K. of C.  Everything in the chapel is finished in old ivory and gold.  What generous Knights!  The late Henry Schukmacher of Houston sent a check for $500.00. Ed Bossley of San Antonio placed the fine altar in the chapel in memory of his son who was killed in an automobile accident whilst a student at Notre Dame, Indiana  The McKnight family placed a Sacred Heart statue in the chapel in memory of their son, a graduate of A. and M. who lost his life in a car accident. Every article in the chapel is a memorial to some loved ones.  About six years ago, the chapel was in need of repairs. Who furnished the means to do it?  Again, the K. of C. were generous, they spent $4,000 for repairs.  My worry now? How to accommodate the many Catholic Aggies in our chapel.

At the opening of our College in Sept. 1940 at least 100 had to stand or kneel on the front or sacristy steps.  But what about when bad weather begins?  My good assistant pastor, Father Tim Valenta, somewhat solved that problem. “Let me build a balcony, 30 by 40 feet,” Father Valenta said to me. “It will accommodate a good many.”  With the help of one of our parishioners, he did so. All honor to him!  You ought to see them in good numbers at the evening benediction, on Holy Days, and First Fridays, Mass, and Communion at 5 o’clock. 

Are you surprised to hear that 9 of the Aggies exchanged their uniform for the seminarian cassock?  The first one, Rev. Ernest Michalka, was ordained in 1940.  The second one, Rev. Frank Lehantyer in 1941. Both are zealous assistant pastors of St. Anthony Church, Beaumont, Tex.  Need I mention that the day of their Masses at Cameron and Hitchcock, respectively, were days of great spiritual joy for me?  The Sunday after their first Masses was the day when these young men, former Aggies in the R.O.T.C., came to the Altar of St. Mary’s Chapel at College vested in the beautiful uniform of a priest, an officer in Christ's Army.  To say the Aggies and their old chaplain felt honored is mildly expressing the sentiments on that occasion.  The Holy God We Praise Thy Name was never chanted more heartedly and devotedly than on those occasions. 

Great joy among the Aggies was caused by the announcement that Mr. Henry Schumacher of Houston, an old and loyal Aggie, left at his death $2,500 to help make more room in the chapel.  We are waiting and praying for some generous benefactor to add more to this legacy so we may be able to add a wing to the chapel.  I wonder whether this 76-year-old chaplain will see, before he closes his eyes in death, the realization of his dream. 

Whilst pondering about my past, what days of sorrow and of joy, what days of success and failure come before me? Days of sorrow when death had entered the parish and taken some of the young and promising boys and girls from us, or good fathers or mothers from homes, perhaps such among them who were the right hand of the pastor.  How we miss them! How many Brother Priests, I miss from our ranks!  Good, loyal friends that are gone: Revs. Victor Gury, Thomas Hennerssy, Pius Heckmann, Andrew Badelon, and Joseph Chromcik, in Peace with God! My friends loyal and true: Revs. Michael Heintzelmann, Simon Spinnerveber, Otto Bauer, William Skocek, George Apel, Msgr. Joseph Pelnar, Ignatius Szymanski, and James Kirwin a great friend of our A. and M. College.  Then I ask myself: Why am I still here enjoying good health, able to work? What blessings from God! 

One of an old priests’ great consolations and joys is undoubtedly the diocesan seminary. How often I visit it in spirt. Whenever I am near the seminary, I stop and mingle with the seminarians, the future priests of our diocese, and our successors in the ministry. These times are a source of great happiness. What edification to see them approaching the Altar to receive Holy Communion. The kindness shown to me, an old man, by them and other young priests is touching.  They often ask me what can we do to help. More and more frequently, they help me going up and down steps. To have such young men for assistants means joy and happiness in this old priest’s heart.  Among the seminarians for a number of years, there were always some of my former Aggies.  Need I tell you that we always enjoyed our little meetings?  How justly proud I felt when I witnessed what fine young fellows these Aggies are. I regularly offer a prayer of thanks and petition to heaven that they might persevere in their service to God.

How could I forget the days of joy during the past 52 years? The day of ordination, my First mass, my Silver Jubilees – the 40th anniversary of my ordination – Investiture as Monsignor, and my Golden Jubilee in 1939 are days indelibly impressed into my mind. How the priests, many of my old parishioners from far and near, and my beloved people of Bryan and Brazos County shared their friendship to me.  A fine tribute paid to me and to St. Joseph’s Parish was the presence at our church of His Excellency, the Most. Rev. C. E. Byrne, our Bishop.  He preached on the occasion of my Golden Jubilee, and also to my great surprise read a letter from the Papal Delegate congratulating me on this occasion.

For those of you who are friends, and who care to read the musings of an old priest, I thank you.  No learned nor flowery language here. No great achievements of building magnificent churches or schools are recorded in this write up. Little things only, done with the help of the good people do I chronologize here. I trust that no one will think that I wrote these lines in a spirt of self-praise.  Not unto us, not unto us, Oh Lord, but to Thy name give the glory for the little good that may have been done by me and my people. 

Kind readers say a Hail Mary for this writer of the musings of an old priest who is near his grave.

----- by Monsignor J. B. Gleissner