Stanton is a small town in Texas with few mysteries. It’s economic cycle ebbs and flows with the oil and cotton industry, football reigns supreme on Friday nights, and dust storms are a regular occurrence. To its 2,000-plus residents, however, the old St. Joseph’s Convent, or Carmelite Monastery, is an integral part of the town’s history and a West Texas tourist attraction with a past — a real one and a contrived one.
The Real History
The adobe and brick monastery was built in 1884 by a group of Carmelite Monks. This group also began the first Catholic Church in West Texas in 1885, which is still in operation today as St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Stanton. The Sisters of Divine Providence ran a school briefly in 1887, before it was sold to the Sisters of Mercy.
Originally, there was a large adobe church, a two-story central administration building, and a two-story building housing classrooms and boarding rooms.
In 1898, the Sisters of Mercy opened a day and boarding school in the old building. The school was fully operational for forty-four years, and was closed after a tornado ripped through the town on June 11, 1938. The tornado damaged many of the structures in town, and destroyed the administration building and a large adobe church that was part of the school.
Today, the dormitory, which was once used by the Carmelite monks as their monastery, and the cemetery are the only structures that remain standing.
A “Real-Life” Marsten House?
If you read online about the old convent, you find information about a ghostly priest, crying babies, and flickering lights. If you grew up in the town, these particular tales are fables. Stories brought out like beloved ghost tales told around a campfire.
There are many legends surrounding the old dormitory, such as:
- The Priest. There are varying legends about a priest. This priest either abused the students or had an affair with one of the nuns. He then killed himself in the cemetery. The most common way was for him to have hanged himself either on a tree in the cemetery or on one of the tall tombstones. However, visiting the cemetery will show you that there are no trees tall enough and that most of the tombstones are plaques or small wooden crosses.
- One of the nuns became pregnant and buried the baby under the convent. The story sometimes has her burying the baby alive in the cemetery.
- The cellar of the old convent was used as a torture chamber for unruly students. Many students were drawn, quartered, and killed there. They were then either buried under the convent itself or strung up in the cemetery as an example and later buried there.
Like many small-town legends, stories grow and get embellished over time. In the latter part of the 20th century, the convent was home to a popular haunted house attraction. This attraction was very popular in the late 1970s. When Steven King’s Salem’s Lot miniseries came out in 1979, some of the local kids began calling it the “Marsten House.”
The only scary truth about the structure are the bats that occasionally take up residence in the attic. The small cemetery is still in use by the local St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.
The Martin County Convent Foundation is currently raising funds to restore the old structure.
The two-story adobe dormitory has been repainted white. Inside renovations are currently ongoing. In resurrecting the past, maybe they can dispel the many legends created by overzealous storytellers currently surrounding the place.
“The Convent.” Stanton, Texas, website. http://www.stantontex.com/History/Convent