Irish Father John Thomas Molloy, O.P.
Servant of God and Texas
From The Forgotten Colony: San Patricio de Hibernia by Rachel Bluntzer Hébert
"Aboard the two-masted schooner El Cañon there came in June, 1832, a Dominican priest from Ireland to minister to the Irish Colony being established on the Nueces." Alcalde Juan Jose Hernandez called on Father Muro, a missionary priest, still in Goliad, to examine his papers. He found them in order but would forward them to Dr. Jose Leon Lobo (administrator of the Diocese of Monterrey), who would issue the necessary faculties. Meanwhile, the Dominican could stay in the abandoned Mission Refugio. [Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage, Vol. VI, p. 330 (Bexar Archives, University of Texas, Austin, Texas).]
Who was this Dominican waiting in the abandoned church? What was his name? Those are the logical questions that come to mind, the answers having lain in the archives for 144 years until the author, for other reasons, sent to the Spanish Archives of the General Land Office of Texas for Father Molloy's application for a land grant in the McMullen-McGloin empresa. The application was in Spanish, and after the signature dimly appeared the letters "O.P.", Order of Preachers, therefore, a Dominican. [Application for grant in McMullen-McGloin Colony, (General Land Office of Texas, Austin, Texas)]
Could this be the unindentified Dominican referred to in the Bexar Archives who was on his way to the colony on the Nueces? Of what significance was the fact that he came on a schooner bearing the Spanish name El Cañon? It could very well indicate that he came from a Latin American country. Be that as it may, the search began and ended with the following letter from the archivist at Saint Mary's Priory, Tallaght, County Dublin, Ireland. It reads:
The mysterious Dominican had at last been identified. He took the habit in Galway in 1813 and went to Lisbon in 1814 to study for the priesthood. It may seem strange to the reader that a country which for centuries had contributed so much to the education of all Europe and which had been loyal and devoted to the Catholic Church, could now not educate its own to the priesthood. A glance at Irish history will answer these questions. During England's domination of Ireland, she would not tolerate education for anyone, much less a priest. (This is the reason a great number of colonists had to "make their mark" on legal papers.) Since education was prohibited in their own country, they established Irish colleges in other European countries. There was an Irish college in Lisbon; there were also Irish colleges in Spain. [McManus, Seamus, History of the Irish Race, p. 467-68, list of Irish Colleges in other countries.]
Many young Irishmen studied in the latter and remained in the country to begin their ministry before being sent to Spanish American countries as missionaries. It is logical to assume that Father Molloy spent his first years as a priest in Spain, for he was sent to countries that had been under Spanish dominion. First he must know the language before he could give his life to preaching the gospel in an alien tongue. We know that he was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1830, and according to family tradition he was a missionary in Mexico. When Father Molloy came to Mexico after being in Argentina, he heard of lands being granted in Texas to those who would settle there. He came to investigate in 1832, and finding it to be true and that the lands were of the richest soil where waist-high grass covered the prairie, he sailed back to Ireland to get his nieces and nephews: Patrick, John, Mary Ann, and Catherine Fadden. [Interview with Mae Leahy Simpson, October 16, 1975, descendant of Patrick Fadden, Corpus Christi, Texas.]
He hoped to lift them out of England's tyranny, that is, from religious persecution, unjust landlordism, and continual famine; in so doing they could have their own vast acres and a new start in a new land. Father Molloy had had approximately eleven years in the Latin American countries. Coming to Texas was no leap into the unknown for him. He realized, however, that conditions in Texas were primitive, that the Indians were a real menace, and that hard work lay ahead. Freedom, self-respect, and a chance to succeed would be the reward. While all of this planning was simmering in his mind, Father Molloy, now in San Patricio, was notified that Dolores Portilla, the beautiful daughter of Felipe Roque de la Portilla and his wife, Maria Ignacia de la Garza, and Empresario James Power wanted to come to San Patricio to be married. Father Muro was only occasionally in Goliad so that there was no priest closer than Bexar to perform the ceremony except Father Molloy. Both parents of Dolores were from prominent families of longstanding in Matamoros and Soto la Marina respectively. Portilla had been empresario during the Spanish regime, but his colony, San Marcos de Neve, had failed. (The present town of San Marcos bears its name.) We may be sure that the San Patricio colonists were excited over such a memorable event taking place in their town in the picket church, though they probably did not attend the ceremony. It was on July 3, 1832, that the couple were joined in marriage. [Oberste, Irish Empresarios, p. 86, see note Power Papers 1, Records of Marriages and Births in Power Family.]
In spite of all the excitement over the wedding, the aforementioned plan that Father Molloy had been turning over in his mind persisted, and at an unknown date he left San Patricio with his destination County Mayo, Ireland. [Gravestone of Mary Ann Collins, nee Fadden, reads: Born in "County Mayo Ireland," San Patricio Cemetery.]
That he left San Patricio was certain because on January 17, 1833, there was no priest in San Patricio. John McMullen and his wife took their adopted child to the San Fernando Church in San Antonio to be baptized. [Entry #405 Baptismal Records, San Fernando Church, San Antonio, Texas.]
It was the spring of 1834, the best year that the San Patricio colonists had had since their arrival in Texas in 1829. The bare trees and the wildflower seeds that had slept through the winter were budding and sprouting as if it were Resurrection Day. In a fortnight, what with the spring rains, the bareness of winter was gone; all was cloaked in the freshest green of many shades. The winecups were mini-chalices dotting the roadside; phlox made a splash of purplish-pink; and yellow buttercups climbed the hills. Spanish daggers, the first to bloom, with torches of myriad waxen flowers, stood as sentinels above the low-flung cactus with its yellow flower protected by thorny leaves. Even the cabins blended into the landscape. And thus it was when Father Molloy and the Faddens arrived in Texas. Primitive as the town was, there was peace, hope, and hospitality. The people rejoiced; they would again have a pastor.
[Note: There are some missing facts in the case of Catherine and her mother, Bridget Fadden. When Catherine Fadden arrived in New York from Ireland, she gave birth to a little girl, and her name was Mary Frances Xavier Molloy (1860 census). Some questions come to mind---Did Catherine Fadden's husband named Molloy die enroute or in New York or maybe before she left Ireland? Father Molloy had relatives in New Orleans named Molloy. [Interview with Hubert McGloin, son of Roger McGloin, February 2 1, 1978, Corpus Christi, Texas. Roger McGloin visited the Molloys in New Orleans. His mother was Mary Ann Molloy, married to Patrick G. McGloin, and related to Father Molloy.]
Several things point to the fact that Catherine and her baby stayed with the Molloys in New Orleans before she came to San Patricio. She evidently was not with them the summer of 1835, for the three other Faddens and Father Molloy bought town lots in that year, but Catherine's name is not on the town plat. Another missing fact concerns the mother of the Faddens. In both the wills of Catherine and Mary Ann they mention the land in Bee County left to them by their mother, Bridget Fadden; but she is not listed among the grantees who received titles nor is she named in Father Molloy's application for land. This provokes the question---Did their mother come with them to Texas? In Father Molloy's application for a land grant he mentions that he has brought his two nieces---(doncellas) and his two nephews, but he does not mention their mother.
Father Molloy assumed the pastorate without a salary in that year. His parish church was the picket one named for Saint Patrick. Rustic though it was, it represented labor to find the straightest willow poles, to drag them up from the river bottoms, to dig the holes in which to stand them upright, and then tamp the soil solidly around them; to take the clay, sticks, and boiled moss mixture to chink the cracks and crevices, and to gather the wild palmetto from the river bottoms to thatch the roof. Truly a labor of love. It was a far cry from the cathedrals of Spain, Argentina, and Mexico, but a church nevertheless. He celebrated Mass and dispensed the sacraments. The people of San Patricio had much to be thankful for in having a resident pastor. Only two other municipalities and sometimes Goliad could boast such good fortune. They did not have to wait for a visiting missionary who might come twice a year to celebrate Mass, baptize, hear confessions, distribute communion, join in marriage, and bury the dead.
In the spring of 1834 the town of San Patricio had the required population to qualify as a municipality. This called for an ayuntamiento, which was organized forthwith, and its officers were: William O'Docharty, Alcalde; Thomas Adams, Francisco Leal, Francisco de Leon, and Patrick O'Boyle, regidores (aldermen). Sometime between the spring and December 16, 1834, John Carroll ran for alcalde. According to a letter of complaint supposedly written by Francisco Leal to Ramon Musquiz, the political chief of the Department of Bexar, William O'Docharty and Father Molloy were involved in supporting a candidate of their own choice by fraudulent means. [It is not known who the candidate was, but the next alcalde was Thomas Henry and not John Carroll.] But when Francisco Leal was called before Musquiz for questioning in January 1835, he flatly denied having any knowledge of the letter or of the complaints made in it. Consequently, the whole matter was dropped. [Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage, Vol. VI, p. 331 (Bexar Archives, University of Texas, Austin, Texas).]
In October 1834 Lewis Ayers and his brother David and their families came to San Patricio as colonists. David Ayers' conflicts with Father Molloy, according to his own report, are discussed in the sketch on Lewis Ayers. There are inconsistencies in the report; for example, the Irish San Patricians, with the exception of McMullen and perhaps McGloin, could not read the Spanish Bibles. The Mexican colonists, the rancheros, more than likely had their own Spanish Bibles. So in all probability they would not want the Bibles that David Ayers was dispensing. Father Molloy, even though on the defensive on account of the religious oppression under which he had been reared, and probably quick-tempered too, realized that what David Ayers was doing was illegal. Texas did not yet have the freedom of religion that the United States had. It is very probable that due to the slowness in communication at that time, Father Molloy did not even know of the declaration made in Monclova in that year that "Nobody shall be molested for political or religious opinions provided it will not disturb the public order." Even so, this declaration only protected the right to political and religious opinions, not the right to acts that would promote another sect. In this instance David Ayers showed a lack of prudence; and he was wise to move on to Austin's Colony. There he promoted Sunday schools, and after the Revolution became "a prominent Methodist layman. [Methodist Historical Quarterly, David Ayers, Reminicences, p. 39-44.]
The Christmas season had rolled around again. Differences were forgotten; the Christ child reigned in the hearts of all San Patricians. Besides the glass candlesticks, embossed with crucifixes painted with gold leaf that now adorned the altar, Father Molloy, knowing the scarcity of the proper altar linens in this part of Texas, brought from Ireland real Irish linen altar cloths. The candlesticks have been preserved to this day by the descendants of the Fadden family. They were exhibited in the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Texas, and were insured for $500. [Interview with Mae Leahy Simpson, October 25, 1975, Corpus Christi, Texas.]
For the first half of 1835 Father Molloy is not mentioned in the records. All was peaceful in San Patricio during this time. Land Commissioner Balmaceda was in Bexar just before coming to the colony on the Nueces. Meanwhile the colonists looked around and decided which tracts of land each would apply for. In most cases the land commissioner issued the location selected, provided it was public and unappropriated land. This was true in the case of Father Molloy. His application reads:
War clouds were beginning to gather while Balmaceda was distributing land grants to the San Patricians in the summer of 1835. In fact, he was notified to stop giving land titles in November. It was on the 3rd of November that Captain Ira Westover and his men captured Fort Lipantitlan. But Father Molloy is not mentioned by Linn or Westover in their accounts of it. Linn's account states that Lt. Marcelino Garcia was "interred by his enemies with the honors of war" but does not mention a priest ministering to him on his deathbed. [Linn, John J., Reminiscences of my Fifty Years in Texas, (New York: D. and J. Sadlers and Co., 1883), p. 122.]
It is assumed that he is buried in the Old Cemetery on the Hill. It is not a consecrated graveyard, but each grave is individually blessed when it is made. Therefore, Lt. Garcia could have been buried there without the services of a priest. [Interview with Rev. Msgr. Engelbert Bartosch, June 6, 1976, Corpus Christi, Texas.]
It is not until February 28, 1836, that we again hear of Father Molloy. Col. F.W. Johnson and Col. James Grant, commanders of two companies of volunteers, were in Refugio with their men. General Sam Houston came to Refugio and advised all of those gathered there not to make an expedition to Matamoros. But Johnson and Grant, in spite of Houston's advice, moved their two companies to San Patricio which was to be the point of departure for the Matamoros Expedition. They proceeded to gather horses south of the Nueces. Johnson and his men returned with about 100 horses, but Grant continued toward the Rio Grande looking for more. Johnson's men were housed in three vacant cabins on Main Street waiting to make a dash to Matamoros. On February 27, 1836, General Jose Urrea with the right wing of the Mexican Army consisting of 750 men, made a surprise attack. It was three o'clock in the morning when a tired and shivering Mexican Army captured Johnson's men, killed twelve, and took the rest prisoners. Father Molloy was called on to bury the dead. This he did the next day, and the state in 1936, the Texas Centennial Year, erected a monument in the Old Cemetery on the Hill. On it are the names of the San Patricio men who were killed in the Revolution and "were buried the next day by Rev. Thomas J. Molloy."
On the subject of Father Molloy in this instance McGloin's "Historical Notes" read:
Panchita Alavez, wife of Captain Telefero, Alavez, came to San Patricio with the captain, who was with General Urrea and his men. She was later known as the "Angel of Goliad.'' Ruben R. Brown, a Georgian, testified that she saved his life at San Patricio.
The reprimand and the persuasion given in fluent Spanish by Father Molloy in dealing with General Urrea was the high point of his life in San Patricio. There was satisfaction in having saved the lives of the prisoners, but that feeling was marred by the thought that his nephew, John Fadden, was with Fannin at Goliad. Upon realizing Santa Anna's policy toward those who were captured, his fear for his nephew grew apace. Though Fannin had about 400 men, they were outnumbered by Urrea's troops, and Urrea was an able leader. He had saved the Johnson prisoners from being shot. Could he save his own nephew from a similar fate? Again he must try to save those who would be taken prisoners among Fannin's men. Uppermost in his mind was John Fadden. It is entirely reasonable to assume that Father Molloy headed straight for Goliad soon after Urrea left San Patricio. At this point, however, we lose sight of him, and the exact date that he left San Patricio is not known. Oberste says, "Father John T. Molloy was a priest at Goliad in 1836 and assisted Señora Alavez, the famed "Angel of Goliad," in saving a number from death at the massacre of Fannin and his men. [Oberste, Empresarios, p. 63.]
Appalled and heartsick at what he had seen and could not prevent, he went back to San Patricio to gather up his belongings and leave, although the exact date is not known. He was not there on May 26, 1836, when the Ayers children were baptized by a Father James Kelly in San Patricio. Enrique de la Peña was with the retreating Mexican Army and was in San Patricio on the 29th of May. He mentions that he was quartered in the house of John Heffernan, who was killed by the Indians, as was his brother James and his family at the site of present Beeville. "Among them (those in the household) was Miss Mary [daughter of Heffernan], whose amiability and misfortune had touched my sensibility."
He also mentions, "The troops had not heard Mass since Bejar, heard it today, the second time from Father Kelly, an Irish priest we found in the colony…." [de la Peña, Jose Enrique, With Santa Anna in Texas: A Personal Narrative of the Revolution, (College Station: A & M Press, 1975), p. 186.]
This reinforces the conclusion that Father Molloy left San Patricio well before the last week in May 1836. The Molloy league and labor of land on the Aransas lay fallow while he served in Victoria and waited for the unsettled years of reconstruction to be over. Texas was a free Republic now, but it was fraught with dangers: the threat of invading armies, the Indian menace, and the raids of marauders and bandits. San Patricio, the gate to Texas, lay first on their path. Father Molloy's dream of vast acres was unfulfilled; his health began to fail. He grieved for his nephew, John Fadden, but the rest of the Faddens were with him in Victoria: Catherine, now Mrs. Owen Gaffney; Mary Ann, now Mrs. John Collins; and Patrick, all waiting for the time when it would be safe to return to the villa on the Nueces. [1840 Census of the Republic of Texas, Victoria County, p. 201.]
The exact date of the death of Father Molloy is not known. That he "served, died and was buried in Victoria" is established by the will of Mary Ann Collins . [Will of Mary Ann Collins, Book of Wills, Live Oak County Courthouse, George West, Texas, p. 54.]
His grave is lost; no slab was erected. If one was put up, it is now gone. Some references point to the early forties at the time of his death. One Juan O'Reilly of Matamoros on October 15, 1841, made his will naming Rev. Juan Thomas Molloy as one of three administrators. "After settling all my affairs it is my wish that $300.00 be paid to Rev. Molloy according to the private instructions I have given him." [Will of John O'Reilly found in an abstract belonging to Charles E. Knolle, Sr., Sandia, Texas.]
John O'Reilly was a native of Ireland as were his parents, Thomas and Catherine O'Reilly; his brother was Rev. Bernard O'Reilly, who served in San Patricio from 1854-57. Patrick Fadden filed in July 1844 in the Probate Court of Victoria County an application to be made administrator of Father Molloy's estate "by right of nearest of kin and entitled by law." [Probate Records of Victoria County, Office of the County Clerk, ApPlication of Patrick Fadden to serve as administrator. Papers in a packet (pages not numbered).]
An Inventory and an appraisal were made of the estate which consisted of a league and a labor of land granted by the Mexican Government and three town lots bought by Father Molloy in the Villa de San Patricio. On the 9th of September, 1844, all of his estate was valued at $936 . [Probate Records, Victoria County, Book I, p. 447.]
Father Molloy died intestate. It was the practice at that time to make a will during a spell of serious sickness in which the benefactor made known his wishes for the distribution of his property. There was no urgency for Father Molloy to make a will because the law would distribute his estate between his two nieces and his remaining nephew. Or he might have thought his time had not yet come. Thus the division of his land is to be found in the Deed Records of San Patricio County, dated 1851, divided, share and share alike, by his Fadden nieces and nephew. [Deed Records, San Patricio County, Book I, p. 340. Shows the division of his estate to Catherine Gaffney, Mary Ann Collins, and Patrick Fadden.]
So ends the saga of Father Molloy, the Dominican, second pastor of the parish of San Patricio de Hibernia, who died in his fifties, a very human servant of God.