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Houston Dominicans
Exhibit honors sister artist’s legacy

Sister Mary Agnes Malone, OP, in an undated photo

In 1895, as a young girl, Clara Malone was brought from Ohio to Galveston, Texas, to live with her orphaned cousin by her Uncle Nicholas Gallagher, who was better known to Galvestonians as Bishop Gallagher. Young Clara attended the Dominican Sisters’ Sacred Heart Academy as a boarder. In 1903, at age 17, she joined the Dominican Sisters and was given the name Sister Mary Agnes. She studied and taught art and music. As a young Dominican sister, Sister Mary Agnes painted murals in the main reception room of the Bishop’s Palace.

The Bishop’s Palace was built between 1887 and 1893 for Walter Gresham and his family and was originally known as Gresham’s Castle. It was purchased by the Catholic Diocese of Galveston in 1923 and was the residence of Bishop Byrne. When the diocesan offices moved to Houston, the diocese opened the mansion to the public in 1963 and provided tours. The fees from the tours were used to support the Newman Center that operated in the basement.

Sister Mary Magdalen Hanel, OP, Dominican Sisters of Houston archivist, with some of Sister Mary Agnes’ paintings

In the summer of 2013, the Archdiocese of Galveston Houston sold the mansion to the Galveston Historical Foundation. After the purchase of the building, the foundation planned a celebration which featured not only the 15 murals on display at the palace but also many of the other pieces Sister Mary Agnes painted during her life. After her retirement in 1968 until her death in 1980, she was able to focus on her art. Her paintings range from landscapes, Texas bluebonnets, and other flowers to those with religious themes, a bust of St. Dominic, the nativity and her famous painting depicting Mary giving the rosary to St. Dominic.

In mid-summer, Sister Mary Agnes’ great nephew, Joe Synan, a board member of the Galveston Historical Foundation, contacted Sister Mary Magdalen Hanel, OP, archivist, for the Dominican Sisters of Houston requesting her assistance in gathering Sister Mary Agnes’ paintings. Many of her paintings can be seen in our houses, schools and administration building. In response to Joe’s request, Sister Mary Magdalen sent an invitation to the sisters inviting them to lend any painting(s) they might have to the exhibit. Joe had sent a similar invitation to members of Sister Mary Agnes’ family. As a result, 28 paintings were made available for display.

The exhibit at Bishop’s Palace opened with a reception and lecture by Joe on Sept. 14 and closed Oct. 4. Because many of the sisters were unable to travel to Galveston, the exhibit was moved to St. Dominic Villa on Oct. 5. The paintings were on display there until Oct. 16.

Story and photos courtesy of the Dominican Sisters of Houston