The Ursuline Academy, now home to the Southwest School of Art, was established in 1851 under the leadership of Bishop Jean-Marie Odin of New Orleans as a Catholic school for girls. Following Texas’ independence from Mexico in 1836, the Catholic Church in the Republic began to wane, so efforts were initiated to revitalize Catholicism. Bishop Odin and Sisters from the Ursuline Order of New Orleans established an academy in Galveston in 1847 to provide education and religious instruction for young girls. In 1848, Bishop Odin purchased 10 acres of land in San Antonio and construction began to establish a second academy. The building was not yet completed in 1851, when Father Claude Dubuis brought seven Ursuline nuns with him to operate the San Antonio school, but Ursuline Academy managed to open with a few short months.
The first academy building was constructed by French trained architect Francois Giraud (assisted by Jules Poinard) utilizing the pise de terre or rammed earth method of construction. Over the next 50 years, the school grew to include a small chapel in 1851, a dormitory building in 1866, and a much larger Gothic-Revival style chapel by François Giraud in 1868. A priest’s house was added in the 1880s, and a second academy building was constructed in 1910. The school provided education for both boarding and day students.
In 1965, the Ursulines left the facility and relocated to northwest San Antonio. The academy buildings were abandoned and fell into disrepair until 1971 when the San Antonio Conservation Society purchased part of the complex. Over the next decade, the historic Ursuline Campus was acquired and restored by the Southwest Craft Center, a small non-profit art education center established in La Villita in 1965. In 1998, the center purchased and renovated the building across the street, which now serves as the Navarro Campus, and the Southwest Craft Center changed its name to the Southwest School of Art and Craft. The facility, now known as the Southwest School of Art, provides art education for adults, teens, and children through classes and workshops, lectures, concerts, exhibitions, and a certificate program. The original limestone buildings, stained glass of the chapel, and gracious gardens and courtyards along the San Antonio River provide a picturesque setting for the SSA's mission to "teach, preserve, and enhance the visual arts."
Southwest School of Art website: www.swschool.org; and National Register Nomination: Ursuline Academy, 1969. Texas Historical Commission.