St. Mary’s Church History
In 1852, the Rt. Rev. J. M. Odin, first bishop of Galveston, realizing the need for a second parish church for the many non-Spanish speaking Catholics of the city, purchased the land where St. Mary’s Chuch now stands. This was part of a Spanish land grant originally given by Ambrosio Rodriguez. That same year the Bishop invited the Brothers of Mary from France to open a boy’s school on the property to the east of the church. The permanent building that was finally erected became St. Mary’s Academy and was the forerunner of the Central Catholic High School and St. Mary’s University. In the 1960’s when the Brothers of Mary sold the property for the building of the La Mansion Hotel, the facade of a modified version of it was used for the Hotel.
For the building of the new church, Rev. J. M. Dubuis, rector of San Fernando, collected $10,214.50 in San Antonio and more in Galveston and New Orleans. He broke ground in the autumn 1855 and laid the cornerstone in 1856. Services began early in 1857. Named St. Mary’s, the church was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. Father Dubuis served as Pastor of San Fernando and St. Mary’s. There were two Sunday Masses, one for the English speaking and one for the Germans, until the latter built St. Joseph’s Church, laying the cornerstone in 1868. In 1862, Father Dubuis became Bishop of Galveston.
The first resident pastors of St. Mary’s lived in a room over the vestry until the rectory was built in 1871. In 1874, the very Rev. Dr. A.D. Pellicer was consecrated first bishop of San Antonio to preside over 40,000 Catholics and thirty-five priests. He made St. Mary’s rectory his residence and Chancery.
In January, 1885, the second bishop of San Antonio, Rt. Rev. J.C. Neraz, transferred St. Mary’s to the care of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and agreed to sell them the old rectory and the land on which it stood.
In 1921, a disastrous flood devastated downtown San Antonio including St. Mary’s Church; and it was decided to build a new one. The last service in the old structure was held May, 1923. The new cornerstone was laid in January, 1924; and the building finished in August of the same year. The church, modified Romanesque designed by architect F.B. Gaenslen, was modeled after Sacred Heart Church in Lowell Massachusetts. There is a seating capacity of one thousand in the church and two hundred more in the choir loft. When the new structure was built, the original interior was a simple flat white, until the company Griewe, Incorporated, of Cincinnati, Ohio was hired to do the present decoration in 1956.
The area of St. Mary’s parish and the number of parishioners has diminished through the years as new parishes were formed and people moved from the inner ciy. But besides taking care of its territorial parishioners, St. Mary’s has always been a spiritual bulwark and an asset to downtown San Antonio and the business community serving this area with Masses, novenas, confessions, spiritual consultation, hospital visitations, and nursing home ministry.