Arch­dio­cese in­flu­enced by im­mi­grants.

Span­ish, French and Mex­i­cans among those play­ing roles

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Front Page - FROM EXPRE SS-NEWS ARCHIVE S A longer ver­sion of this re­port by Elaine Ay­ala ran Dec. 9, 2017. Read it at Ex­pressNews.com.

In many ways, the his­tory of the Arch­dio­cese of San An­to­nio is a se­ries of im­mi­gra­tion stories that re­flect the state’s po­lit­i­cal shifts, its seg­re­ga­tion, its so­cial changes and the suc­ceed­ing waves of re­li­gious lead­ers and work­ers who came to Texas to con­vert the pop­u­la­tion and lead the faith­ful.

Of­fi­cially, its start date was 1874, when the Vat­i­can cre­ated the Dio­cese of San An­to­nio by split­ting it from the Texas Dio­cese, then based in Galve­ston.

Span­ish Catholic roots, how­ever, were deeply es­tab­lished long be­fore that.

Dur­ing the 18th cen­tury, Fran­cis­can fri­ars and indige­nous neo­phytes built the city’s Span­ish colo­nial mis­sions that to­day en­joy UNESCO World Her­itage Site sta­tus.

Waves of im­mi­gra­tion in the 19th cen­tury had a sig­nif­i­cant Catholic com­po­nent, bring­ing newer Span­ish, French, Ir­ish, Ger­man and Mex­i­can priests and parish­ioners to San An­to­nio. Dogged and de­ter­mined re­li­gious women ar­rived, too, and their or­ders es­tab­lished Catholic in­sti­tu­tions that con­trib­uted to the growth of the faith.

Like other in­sti­tu­tions of the 20th cen­tury, Catholi­cism here was marked by de­mo­graphic shifts and in­ter­nal dis­sen­sion. The arch­dio­cese saw the ap­point­ment of the na­tion’s first Mex­i­canAmer­i­can bishop, the rise of lay move­ments and, more re­cently, its first woman chan­cel­lor.

When Rome named Fa­ther An­thony Do­minic Pel­licer the dio­cese’s first bishop in 1874, San An­to­nio had only a few parishes, ac­cord­ing to the Hand­book of Texas: “San Fer­nando (1731) for the Span­ish speak­ing, St. Mary’s (1856) for the Ir­ish, St. Michael’s (1866) for the Pol­ish com­mu­nity and St. Joseph’s (1868) for Germans.”

Bishop John C. Neraz, a French­man, was the sec­ond bishop, grow­ing the dio­cese from 1881 to 1894 and ush­er­ing in a French pe­riod for it.

The Ir­ish were next. Each time an im­mi­grant re­li­gious group dried up, the dio­cese turned to another or back to a pre­vi­ous group, as it did in the early 1890s, when the Span­ish Clare­tians ar­rived.

In 1926, the dio­cese was el­e­vated to an arch­dio­cese and con­tin­ued to grow de­spite the Great De­pres­sion. It was bol­stered by Mex­i­can Catholics who sought refuge here be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the Mex­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion. Mex­i­can priests came to the arch­dio­cese, too.

In the 1970s, PADRES, a group of Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can priests, and Las Her­manas, a group of Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can nuns, ad­vo­cated for in­clu­sion and more Lati­nos in po­si­tions of power both in and out of the church.

Given San An­to­nio’s sta­tus as a mecca for all things His­panic, it would be no ac­ci­dent that Pa­tri­cio Flores, a mi­grant farm­worker in his youth, would be­come the na­tion’s first Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can Catholic bishop. Af­ter be­ing named aux­il­iary bishop in 1970, his epis­co­pal or­di­na­tion in the old Con­ven­tion Cen­ter was packed with every­day res­i­dents and na­tional His­panic lead­er­ship.

He be­came arch­bishop of San An­to­nio in 1979, paving the way for other U.S. Latino church lead­ers, and he would be at its helm dur­ing one of the arch­dio­cese’s most cel­e­brated chapters: Pope

John Paul II’s visit to the Alamo City.

In 2014, he se­lected Sis­ter Jane Ann Slater as chan­cel­lor, mak­ing her the first woman to hold a post his­tor­i­cally held by a pri­est, typ­i­cally a mon­signor.

To­day, the arch­dio­cese still has thriv­ing parishes in the in­ner city, though sev­eral have been closed or com­bined. Some priests do dou­ble duty and lead two parishes.

And in keep­ing with its long im­mi­gra­tion story, the arch­dio­cese has parishes made up of Ital­ian, Viet­namese, Korean and Burmese Catholics and is now re­cruit­ing priests pri­mar­ily from In­dia, Africa and the Philip­pines.

Billy Calzada / Staff file photo

Catholic clergy and other faith­ful exit af­ter Mass at San Fer­nando Cathe­dral to par­tic­i­pate in a pro­ces­sion to cel­e­brate the Feast of Cor­pus Christi in June.

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