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Six special one-day pilgrimages in San Antonio

From left, statue of St. Joseph above the window above the front door of Mission San José y San Miguel; statue of St. Anthony inside Mission San Antonio/The Alamo; statue of St. Michael the Archangel within the retablo of Mission San José y San Miguel; statue of St. Francis above the altar at Mission San Francisco de la Espada; statue of St. John of Capistrano below the choir loft at Mission San Juan Capistrano; and the Immaculate Conception behind the altar at Mission Concepión.

By Theresa Doyle-Nelson
For Today’s Catholic

June 13 might seem like a rather random day to take off and spend some time at the Alamo; however it is indeed a perfect day to do just that! It has been forgotten by many that the Alamo’s true name is Mission San Antonio de Valero — named after St. Anthony — whose feast day is June 13. Even though Mission San Antonio/The Alamo is no longer owned by the Catholic Church, a walk through the buildings and grounds will let you know that it clearly once was. Its Catholic roots are deep and thought-provoking. Despite the bustle of people frequently milling about, it is still possible to discover pensive moments and nooks of space where you can hang out with St. Anthony and God for a bit.

Actually, there are six special days each year ideal for carving out a chunk of time to create prayerful pilgrimages in San Antonio in honor of the patron saints of the Spanish Missions.

March 19 — The Feast of St. Joseph
March 19 commemorates the patron of fathers and the Universal Church — St. Joseph, or in Spanish, San Jose — one of two patron saints of Mission San José y Miguel. St. Joseph might be considered to be the earliest mystic of the Catholic Church. His peaceful carpenter-life was tossed into turmoil as he quietly listened to and obeyed a series of dreams leading him to: marry his betrothed who was expecting a child not his own, urgently hide his small family from the murderous Herod, and eventually settling in Nazareth. His quiet trust and obedience while taking care of Mary and the Son of God has led him to be a dearly beloved saint.

Mission San José y San Miguel
701 East Pyron Avenue
San Antonio, Texas 78214

June 13 — The Feast of St. Anthony
Who hasn’t heard the phrase, “Remember the Alamo!”? However, many have forgotten that the Alamo was once a church named after St. Anthony (San Antonio) — another immensely popular saint in Catholicism. This native of Portugal initially became an Augustinian monk, but later was won over by the simple spirit of the Franciscans, and felt compelled to join the order. Once when an expected preacher did not show up for an ordination, St. Anthony was asked to give a spur-of-the-moment sermon.  His words were so compelling and inspiring that from then on, he was asked repeatedly to preach and it ultimately became his way of serving God. St. Anthony died at the age of 36 on June 13, 1231. His remarkable understanding of the Faith led him to be proclaimed a Doctor of the Church.

Mission San Antonio de Valero (The Alamo)
300 Alamo Plaza
San Antonio, Texas 78205

September 29 — The Feast of St. Michael
Two saints are honored at Mission San José y San Miguel, but that’s OK. This mission is the largest and most ornate of San Antonio’s five missions, so two trips in one year is easy to justify. There is plenty to view, explore, and study. The Spanish Franciscans who established the Texas Missions knew how to pick their saints. St. Michael is another saint greatly esteemed by many Catholics. This archangel saint appears in the Bible as a warrior angel, ready and willing to protect God’s people.  Within the colorful retablo behind the altar of Mission San José y San Miguel you will find a statue of St. Michael adorned in armor, holding a sword, and with his wings showing. September 29 used to be known as Michaelmas — a blend of the words Michael and Mass.

Mission San José y San Miguel
701 East Pyron Avenue
San Antonio, Texas 78214

October 4 — The Feast of St. Francis
It’s only fitting that one of San Antonio’s Franciscan Missions would be named after St. Francis himself. It is also fitting that this mission is the furthest away from the hubbub of downtown and rather simple in design — both Franciscan characteristics. St. Francis was born near 1181 in Assisi, Italy.  As a young adult, this happy-go-lucky fellow desired a life of indulgence and military glory.  However, a few disappointing experiences fortuitously turned his heart instead to God. Spending large chunks of time in prayerful solitude, his charisma began to work in a new way; many admired his deep holiness and began to follow his renewed lifestyle. Oddly, Mission San Francisco de la Espada is typically shortened to “Mission Espada.”  Espada means sword — a strange and mysterious tag-on to the title of a mission named after such a peaceful saint. An early October visit to Mission San Francisco can offer a few hours of quiet contemplation, very reminiscent of its patron saint.

Mission San Francisco de la Espada
10040 Espada Road
San Antonio, Texas 78214

October 23 — The Feast of St. John of Capistrano
October 23 is the perfect day to visit the enchanting whitewashed mission named after St. John of Capistrano (San Juan Capistrano). This mission is much quainter and in a far more peaceful setting than its counterpart in California. The patron of this church is another Franciscan saint from Italy.  It was during a war-time imprisonment in the early 1400s that John of Capistrano took a good look at his life and decided that he wanted to dedicate it to God. After he was freed, he joined the Franciscan order and in 1443 became its vicar general. Father John of Capistrano worked tirelessly to keep the Franciscan Order unified and strong. At the age of 70, he successfully led a group of troops in a crusade to protect Hungary causing him to become known as the “Soldier Priest.” John of Capistrano died a few months later on October 23, 1456. He is a patron of Military Chaplains.

Mission San Juan Capistrano
9101 Graf Road
San Antonio, Texas 78214

December 8 — The Feast of the Immaculate Conception
The Feast of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (Nuestra Senora de la Purísima Concepción) recalls the innocence of the Mother of God; how she was indeed, “full of grace” (Luke 1:28). From the very early days of the Church, Catholics have accepted and embraced the concept that Mary had been set aside from other humans and deemed void of original sin by the grace of God. Mission Concepción was initially established in east Texas in 1716 and then moved to the San Antonio River in 1731 — well before the belief of the Immaculate Conception was even proclaimed as doctrine in 1854. The feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception is nine months exactly before the feast of her nativity — September 8.

Mission Nuestra Senora de la Purísima Concepción
807 Mission Road
San Antonio, Texas 78210

Five Tremendous Gifts to San Antonio
The San Antonio Missions are a great treasure to all in the archdiocese. Sometimes, however, we take them for granted. We get busy and forget they are there. If you’ve been hankering to see one of the missions, but keep putting it off, consider scheduling in an afternoon on the feast day of St. Joseph, St. Anthony, St. Michael, St. Francis, St. John of Capistrano, or the Immaculate Conception and make a point to create a mini-pilgrimage at one or more of these beautiful, historic, and spiritual sites.

Theresa Doyle-Nelson is a parishioner at St. Stanislaus Church in Bandera and the author of “Saints in Scripture” (www.TheresaDoyle-Nelson.com).

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