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Diocese of San Antonio

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(Sancti Antonii).

Comprises all that portion of the State of Texas between the Colorado and Rio Grande Rivers, except the land south of the Arroyo de los Hermanos, on the Rio Grande, and the Counties of Live Oak, Bee, Goliad, and Refugio. It embraces an area of about 90,909 square miles.

The first religious ministrations in this territory of which we have definite historical information where those of the French secular and regular priests who accompanied the expedition of La Salle. They entered Matagorda Bay in January, 1685. La Salle built a fort called Fort St. Louis on the spot subsequently occupied by the Bahia Mission; a chapel was constructed in the fort, and for two years five priests laboured here: Fathers Zenobius Membré, Maxime Le Clercq, and Anastasius Douay, Franciscans, and Fathers Chefdeville and Cavelier, Sulpicians. They finally abandoned Texas and returned to Canada. Shortly after their departure, Franciscans from the apostolic school of Querétaro and Zacatecas founded missions on the Rio Grande. The pioneer Spanish priest was the Franciscan Father Damian Mazanet, who accompanied the expedition of Alonzo de León in 1689. He found the field so promising that he invoked the help of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities to establish a permanent mission beyond the Rio Grande. In 1690 Father Mazanet crossed the Rio Grande, accompanied by Fathers Michael Fontcubierto, Francis Casanas, Anthony Borday, and Anthony Pereira. The friendly Indians (Asinais) received them with joy, and the Mission of San Francisco de las Tejas was established. In 1691, and again in 1700, additional missionaries arrived from Mexico; four more missions were established, and these were maintained till 1718, when the chief mission was transferred to San Antonio.

In 1703 the Mission of San Francisco Solano was established on the banks of the Rio Grande. It was transferred in 1712 to San Ildefonso; thence, in 1713, it was moved to San José on the Rio Grande, and, finally, in 1718 to the San Antonio River, where it was established under the title of San Antonio de Valero. This last move was made by order of the Marquess de Valero, Viceroy of New Spain. The mission was then under the direction of Fray Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares. In the year 1716 nine friars from Querétaro and Zacatecas, with Father Antonio Margil de Jesús as superior, established six Missions in the most northerly part of the Province of Texas, and a few years afterwards another was built near the Presidio of Nuestra Senora del Pilar de los Adayes, seven leagues from the fort of Natchitoches, in Louisiana. The mission of La Purísima Concépcion was founded in 1716, among the Sanipaos, Tocanes and other tribes. A massive stone church was erected in 1731, and is still in a fair state of preservation and is used for Divine Worship. It is situated one mile south of the present city of San Antonio. In 1729 the King of Spain ordered four hundred families to be transferred from the Canary Islands to Texas. Fourteen families arrived the next year, and the city of San Fernando was founded near the fort and mission of San Antonio de Valero. A chapel was at once raised, to serve till a proper parish church could be built. The two settlements in course of time became consolidated and the modern city of San Antonio is the result. In 1744 the cornerstone of the Church of San Fernando was laid, and on 6 November, 1749, the building was dedicated to Divine worship. A portion of this edifice still stands and serves as the sanctuary of the present Cathedral of San Fernando.

The Province of Texas was subject to the jurisdiction of Guadalajara till December, 1777, when it became part of the newly-erected Diocese of Nuevo León, or Linares. The Indian missions continued under the care of the Franciscans, many of whom won the crown of martyrdom. In 1777 Fray Pedro Ramírez, missionary at San José, was president of all the Texas missions, and by an Indult of Clement XIV was empowered to administer confirmation in all parts of Texas. On 10 April, 1794, Don Pedro de Nava, commandant-general of the north-eastern interior provinces, of which Texas formed a part, published a decree by which all the missions within his jurisdiction were secularized. Nevertheless the Franciscans in many instances remained as pastors, though they received their jurisdiction from the bishop, like other parish priests. Their missions subsisted in a flourishing state till about 1813, when they were suppressed by the Spanish Government, and the Indians dispersed. In 1839, Gregory XVI established a prefecture Apostolic in Texas and appointed the Very Rev. J. Timon prefect Apostolic. In 1840 the Rev. John M. Odin visited Texas as vice-prefect Apostolic. Through his efforts, warmly supported by the minister of France, de Saligny, the congress confirmed to "the Chief Pastor of the Roman Catholic Church in the Republic of Texas" the churches of San Fernando, the Alamo (San Antonio de Valero), La Purísima Concépcion, San José, San Juan Capistrano, San Francisco de la Espada, Goliad, Victoria and Rufugio, with their grounds, the latter not to exceed fifteen acres each.

A Bull erecting the Republic of Texas into a vicariate Apostolic was published by Gregory XVI on 10 July, 1841, and the Right Rev. John M. Odin was appointed Bishop of Claudiopolis and assigned to the vicariate. Religion, which had languished since the secularization of the missions and the departure of the Franciscan monks, now began to revive. New churches were built, and some of the old mission buildings restored; religious orders of men and women were introduced from Europe; schools, hospitals, and charitable institutions were established. Colonists from Europe and various parts of the United States began to pour in and settle upon the wide and fertile plains of eastern and southern Texas. A large proportion of the European immigrants were Catholics. Germans founded prosperous settlements at New Braunfels in 1844, at Castroville in 1845, and later at D'Hanis, Fredericksburg, High Hill, and other places. A colony of Poles, led by the Rev. Leopold Moczygemba, O.F.M., founded the thriving settlement of Panna Maria in 1854; another Polish colony was established at St. Hedwig, near San Antonio. Bohemians planted flourishing settlements at Fayetteville, Praha, Moulton, Shiner, and other points. In all these places there are now fine churches and schools, and an influential and constantly increasing Catholic population.

In 1847 the Diocese of Galveston was established, its territory embracing the whole State of Texas. On 3 September, 1874, this immense territory was divided, ecclesiastically, and the Diocese of San Antonio was created by the Holy See. Anthony Dominic Pellicer, the first bishop, was a native of St. Augustine, Florida; b. 7 Dec., 1824, consecrated at Mobile, Alabama, 8 Dec., 1874; d. 14 April, 1880. John Claudius Neraz, second bishop, was b. 12 Jan., 1828, at Anse, Department of the Rhone, France; he laboured for thirty years on the missions in eastern and southern Texas, was consecrated in the Cathedral of San Fernando, San Antonio, 8 May, 1881, and d. 15 Nov., 1894. John Anthony Forest, third bishop, was b. 25 December, 1838, at St. Martin, Canton St. Germain, France. Like his predecessor, he spent the whole of his priestly life in arduous missionary work in southern Texas, often helping to build churches with his own hands. He was consecrated 28 October, 1895, and d. 11 March, 1911, deeply loved and regretted by all classes. John William Shaw, the present bishop, was b. At Mobile, Alabama, in 1863, made his principal studies in Ireland and at Rome, and was ordained a priest on 26 May, 1888. On 14 April, 1910, in the cathedral at Mobile, Alabama, he was consecrated titular Bishop of Castabala and coadjutor with the right of succession to the Bishop of San Antonio. On 18 May, 1910, he was appointed administrator of the diocese, owing to the ill-health of Bishop Forest, at whose death his succeeded to the see.

San Antonio is the largest city in Texas; it was the capital of the Spanish province and from and days of the Franciscan missions has been a centre of Catholic activity in religious, educational, and charitable work. With a population of 100,000, it has thirteen Catholic parishes. Four of these, including the Cathedral of San Fernando, are for the Mexican, or Spanish-speaking population; two are for the English-speaking; two English and German, one German, one Polish, one Flemish, and two for the coloured population. There are also several hundred Italian families, scattered among the various parishes. The city is the headquarters of several religious congregations whose works extend to neighbouring dioceses and states, and to the Republic of Mexico. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who since their introduction by Bishop Odin in 1849 have laboured with glorious results among the poor Mexicans of Texas, have their provincial house here, and conduct a theological seminary and an apostolic college for the training of youth for the priesthood. The South-western Province of the Oblates was established in October, 1904, with the Very Rev. H. A. Constantineau, O.M.I., D.D., as first provincial. The province includes all the states of the south and west, and the Republic of Mexico. The Congregation of the Sisters of Divine Providence, devoted exclusively to Christian education, have their mother-house in San Antonio, from which they direct twenty-nine academies and schools in this diocese and forty-three in neighbouring dioceses in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. The Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word also have their mother-house in the city. They conduct in the diocese twenty schools and academies, three hospitals, two orphan asylums, and a home for the aged. They have also a number of hospitals and schools in neighbouring dioceses and in Mexico.

Other religious orders represented are: Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Vich, Spain), who have charge of the cathedral and the other Spanish-speaking congregations at San Antonio and a number of rural Mexican missions; the Society of Mary (Dayton, Ohio), who conduct two college and a parish school at San Antonio and a college at Victoria; the Josephite Fathers, in charge of two parishes four coloured Catholics in the city; the Ursuline Nuns, two large academies; the Sisters of the Holy Ghost, devoted to the Mexican and coloured races; the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge; the Sisters of St. Theresa of Jesus—all at San Antonio. The Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament have a fine academy at Victoria, and conduct schools at Halletsville and Shiner; the Sisters of Mercy, an academy and parochial school at Stanton. The congregation of Holy Cross (Notre Dame, Indiana) conduct a large college at Austin.

Statistics (1911)

Priests, 130 (secular, 69; religious, 61); brothers, 65; sisters, 607; parochial schools, 28; pupils, boys 1,290, girls 1,626; colleges and academies (many of which serve also as parish schools), 37; students, boys 2,173, girls 2,225; theological seminary, 1; students, 12; Apostolic college, 1; students, 49; orphan asylums, 2; inmates, boys, 108, girls, 105; house of refuge, adult inmates, 68; child inmates, 17; total number of youths receiving Catholic training; 7,629; hospitals, 3; number of patients yearly, 2,386; home for aged, 1; inmates, 74; churches with resident priests, 63; missions with churches, 71; total number of churches, 134; stations, 78; chapels, 14; Catholic population, about 96,500.


History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of San Antonio (San Antonio, 1897); Diocesan Archives (unpublished); Southern Messenger (San Antonio), files, November, 1894; Oct. 1895; March, April, 1910; March, 1911.

About this page

APA citation. Campbell, W. (1912). Diocese of San Antonio. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Campbell, William. "Diocese of San Antonio." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Cheryl Boardman. In Honor of St. Matthew's Catholic Church of San Antonio, Texas.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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