By Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer
On June 9, a pilgrimage will begin by bus from downtown Menard to the historic site of the first mission to be founded in the area that today is the city of Menard.
The Mission Santa Cruz de San Saba, three miles east of downtown Menard, was built in 1757 and was destroyed one year later during a massacre of priests and laity by the Comanche, Caddo and Wichita Indians. Mission San Saba was part of the Spanish colony that was established on the San Saba River; the remaining portion was the Real Presidio de San Saba, the “Royal Fort.”
To mark the establishing of the Mission and Presidio 250 years ago, the city of Menard and surrounding area will be celebrating this event during the week of June 9-16 with a large array of events.
Such facilities were typical of Spanish colonies, the Presidio housing soldiers who protected the Catholic Missionaries and people residing in the Mission San Saba along with the newly converted Indians. Through their Mission, the Franciscan priests hoped to get Lipan Apache Indians to adopt a settled, civilized way of life and to convert them to Christianity.
To remember the anniversary of the founding of this mission 250 years ago, those who travel to the original mission site by bus will return in a walking procession back to the city of Menard where there will be a dedication of the historical cultural, religious, memorial which has been established inside the original Catholic Church that was built in Menard in 1899. In the past several months the inside of the old rock church building has been restored to serve as the official 250th anniversary marker of the beginning of Mission San Saba.
Rosary begins procession
To begin the procession from the mission site back to the memorial monument, I will offer a prayer and lead the praying of a decade of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary to remember those who died at the mission and for all who have given their service, labor and love to bring Christianity to West Texas so that all are able to praise and love God freely from open persecution. The procession is also one of gratitude for God’s countless blessings on the Church and society during the past 250 years. The people of various backgrounds walking together will also signify the spirit of forgiveness and healing for historical mistakes and be a sign of the unity and peace that God wants for all people. During the procession, there will be music and singing which will feature bagpipe playing by Roxanne Fargason, the singing of special hymns by the choirs of Sacred Heart Church in Menard and St.Theresa Church in Junction and special pieces that will be sung and played on the guitar by Cindy Jordan. The Goodfellow Air Force Honor Guard will also join the procession.
Once the pilgrimage has arrived back in Menard, there will be a special dedication and blessing ceremony to be held in the newly established memorial in the original Catholic Church located at the corner of Canal and Bevens Streets.
The dedication ceremony will feature the unveiling of the painting of the destruction of the original mission on March 16, 1758 by Lorenzo Castenada of San Angelo. This painting which is 10 feet long and 7 feet high will be placed in what was the sanctuary of the old church. During the dedication and blessing ceremony of this memorial and painting, there will be various presentations by a number of dignitaries including the Ambassador from Spain, Juan Romero de Terreros; archaeologist Grant Hall, who discovered the mission site; County Judge Richard Cordes; Justice of the Peace Robert Hernandez; Carlton Kothmann, President of the Presidio Society in Menard, and myself.
To mark this historic occasion of the 250th anniversary of the founding of the Mission, a special hymn will be sung by Cindy Jordan, who at my request, has written a ballad, El Corrido de San Saba, to remember this historic mission. This hymn will be framed and left in the church. The ballad is at the end of this article.
HISTORY OF THE MISSION
The following is a short account of some of the historical highlights of the original mission. The mission of Santa Cruz de San Saba was founded by the Spanish Franciscan Missionaries in 1757. In the month of March 1758, the mission was destroyed and two of the Franciscan priests, Father Jose de Santiesteban and Father Alonso Giraldo de Terreros were killed, along with 17 other people. A third Franciscan priest was seriously injured but survived to tell the story of the terrible burning of the mission. The mission was destroyed by the Comanche Indians who had approached the mission in an external show of friendship, but once permitted inside by the kindly padres, began to plunder and destroy.
Historical records indicate that the bodies of the two Franciscans were initially buried on the grounds of the mission compound. The recent excavations have not discovered their graves nor any other remains. Apparently the bodies were transferred for burial to another site, but recent research has not turned up any of their remains. Were they subsequently buried at the Presidio—the fort? Were their remains transferred to San Antonio where the Franciscans had already established several communities?
The San Saba Mission was part of the Presidio of the Spanish Army which was located some 4 miles west from the mission on what is today the San Saba River. When the Spanish soldiers first arrived in the Menard area, they named the river San Saba after Saint San Sabbas, a venerated figure in the Catholic Church. The date when they reached the newly discovered river was St. Sabbas on their calendar. Ambassador Terreros ‘ ancestors were Don Pedro Romero de Terreros, who financed the expedition to found the mission led by a relative, Father Alonzo Giraldo de Terreros, who was head priest at the mission. The mission was established for the conversion of the Apache Indians, who were inherent foes of the Comanches. The actual site of the mission was lost for some 100 years and only a marker on the highway indicated the general area where the mission was originally situated. Only in 1993 was the actual site of the mission discovered by a team of archaeologists led by Dr. Grant Hall from Texas Tech University.
The major contributors to finance the memorial monument were: The Catholic Church Extension Society, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who served in Menard for more than 50 years, the Catholic Diocese of San Angelo, Sacred Heart Parish in Menard, St. Theresa Parish in Junction, Catholic Life Insurance of San Antonio, Menard County, Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Redwine of San Angelo, Mr. Carlton Kothmann, and several others. All contributors are mentioned on the dedication plaque.
The dedication ceremony of June 9 will also include the dedication of the newly restored paintings that hang on the wall of the old Mission Theater located across from the original Sacred Heart Church which feature dimensions of the original mission. These repainted pictures will be part of the dedication ceremony.
The procession from the mission, as well as the dedication ceremony is open to the public and people of all churches are invited to take part in this historic event which remembers not only the bringing of Christianity to the area of what today is known as Menard County, but also the beginning of a new civilization.
At 4 p.m., a special Mass of thanksgiving will be offered in the present Sacred Heart Church in Menard, and Bishop Pfeifer has invited Franciscan priests and brothers from around the United States to be present and to concelebrate the Mass with him. I plan to use the chalice that is from the chapel of the Santa Cruz de San Saba Mission. This chalice is housed at the Fort Croghan museum in Burnet, and will be brought to Menard for the memorial/ thanksgiving Mass. Historical records indicate that the priests offered Mass at the mission the very morning of the massacre, and probably used the chalice that will be used during the memorial Mass. They have very little information on it, but it was given to the museum by Thomas Chamberlain, a prominent “old-timer” (now long deceased) who lived in Burnet. He said he picked the chalice up at the ruins of the mission around 1800.
Interestingly, the story of the massacre of the 2 Franciscan friars and the 17 lay men at the San Saba Mission in 1758 is told in Indian paintings on a bluff overlooking the Concho River a short distance from the town of Paint Rock.
Spanish Franciscan priests Father Santiesteban and Father Terreros, who were killed at the mission, are commonly held to be martyrs for the faith, and even the state marker recognizes this. I have been in contact with church authorities in Rome strongly recommending that the process of canonization be begun by the proper office of the Church to officially recognize the martyred priests as Saints.
Additionally during the week of June 9-16, 2007, to commemorate this special anniversary, many activities will be held in Menard, including archaeological excavations at the Presidio by more than 500 archaeologists, students from Texas Tech’s Archaeological Department, and a large representation of school-age youth and teachers.