James F. Vanderholt

SHEEHAN, MICHAEL (?–1889). Michael Sheehan, perhaps the first full-time Catholic chaplain in the United States Army and founder of the first Catholic church in Austin (now St. Mary's Cathedral), was born in Cloyne, County Cork, Ireland. He attended All-Hallows' College in Dublin and was ordained to the priesthood on June 20, 1850. He came to America to work in the Diocese of Galveston in November 1850. After a brief assignment at St. Mary's Cathedral, Galveston, he was transferred to Austin in 1852 to establish a church. It was named after St. Patrick and was located at the northeast corner of Brazos and Twenty-ninth streets; it was subsequently moved to Tenth and Brazos and renamed for St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception. Father Sheehan alternated services between Austin and St. Mary's Church in San Antonio. Though he was never a pastor of St. Mary's, his name is found frequently on the baptism books. At the invitation of the commander of Fort Belknap, Father Sheehan went into full-time service in the United States Army in 1855 and served at that fort until 1859. Before that time chaplains had served with the army but independent of the army's jurisdiction, or had served only a few months at a time. Many of the enlisted men at Fort Belknap were Irish, and they found a kinship with the Irish priest. After leaving the army Sheehan spent a brief time at St. Mary's Church in San Antonio and then worked among the Irish parishes in New Orleans from 1861 to 1872. In 1869 he became the founding pastor of St. Michael parish in New Orleans. It is difficult to trace his life for the next few years. His funeral notice in the San Antonio Express stated that he spent some time in Brazil and Ireland. It was not uncommon for Irish priests to return to their home country to retire. Sheehan moved back to San Antonio in May 1879. He seems to have been in retirement, for he lived in a private home and not in a church rectory. He had a sister living in San Antonio. He died of apoplexy on September 13, 1889. The New Orleans Times praised him as a "foremost" theologian and remarked upon his "self-sacrificing labors in the Lone Star State." Father Sheehan was survived by a blood sister who was a member of the Ursuline Sisters in Galveston.

Sister Mary Generosa Callahan, C.D.P., The History of the Sisters of Divine Providence, San Antonio, Texas (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1955). Catholic Archives of Texas, Files, Austin.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, James F. Vanderholt, "SHEEHAN, MICHAEL," accessed July 20, 2019,

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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