[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]QuickINFO: Parishioners of St. Stephen’s were informed of this news of the church closure at a special meeting there on June 28. Archbishop Gustavo will preside at a closing liturgy at St. Stephen’s on Sunday, Aug. 6. Photo provided
St. Stephen Church in San Antonio closing in August
Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS, has announced that sacramental services will no longer be provided at St. Stephen Church beginning in August and that the parish will be closed. The decision was made following extensive collaboration with the priests of the Western Urban Deanery over the past three-and-a-half years and with the approval of the archdiocesan Presbyteral Council.
Conversations about the viability of St. Stephen’s Church have been ongoing. Discussions began three-and-a-half years ago among priests of the area with the guidance of Father Richard Hall, OMI, then-dean of the Western Urban Deanery, and have continued under the direction of the current dean, Father Michael Bouzigard, SJ, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Among the issues that factored into the decision regarding closure were the low number of registered parishioners, the fact that neighboring parishes could accommodate parishioners from St. Stephen’s, and some structural and maintenance concerns.
“Although this is a very sad time for the parishioners of St. Stephen’s, I have always been very impressed that, during the time of discernment regarding the future of the parish, the people there have always wanted to do what is best for the church; how to help the church grow,” said Archbishop Gustavo. “The parishioners of St. Stephen’s can take great pride in their proud history.”
Parishioners of St. Stephen’s were informed of this news of the church closure at a special meeting there on June 28. Archbishop Gustavo will preside at the closing liturgy at St. Stephen’s at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 6.
It is currently planned that boundaries of St. Stephen’s Church will be incorporated into Immaculate Conception Parish, which is located nearby at 314 Merida Street. In addition, five other Catholic parishes are available for pastoral needs within a several minute drive from St. Stephen’s Zarzamora Street site, and all of those parishes will welcome faithful from the church with open arms. They are St. Alphonsus at 1202 South Zarzamora Street, St. Timothy at 1515 Saltillo Street, the Shrine of San Juan de los Lagos at 3231 El Paso Street, Our Lady of the Angels at 1214 Stonewall, and St. John Berchmans Church at 1147 Cupples Road.
The early history of St. Stephen’s Parish is intertwined with that of St. John Berchmans Parish because the parish plant occupies the original site of the older parish. When St. John Berchmans was moved to a new location in 1949 on Cupples Road the frame church on the corner of South Zarzamora and Brady Boulevard remained closed for three years and the property was put up for sale.
But, by 1952, the population of the area began to grow, with the building of 400 dwellings in San Juan Homes and rows of houses in the Brady Gardens. It was decided to remodel the frame church and rename it St. Stephen’s Church in memory of Stephanie Hooge, who donated the first land for the original site in 1903. On March 1, 1953, St. Stephen’s was attached as a mission of St. John Berchmans. During the next decade properties were purchased and a hall, rectory, and classrooms were constructed. The church was enlarged and on May 15, 1960, the present 500-seat structure was dedicated.
St. Stephen’s was erected as a parish on Nov. 20, 1965. The territory was taken entirely from St. John Berchmans Parish.
In 1968, the Missionary Eucharistic Franciscan Sisters were assigned to do pre-evangelization ministry in San Juan Homes. The following year, a catechetical center was built. In 1970, a 15-member parish council was established.
St. Stephen’s Parish eventually grew to more than 1,000 families. In addition to providing for the spiritual welfare of the community, St. Stephen’s parishioners later operated the San Juan Sick Clinic with the aid of charitable organizations and voluntary contributions. The clinic had been initially established by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
The parish was served for many years by the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Missionhurst), and later Father Charles Herzig, who would become the first bishop of the Diocese of Tyler, also served as pastor there.
The most recent resident pastor at the church had been Father Raymond Schuster, and following his departure from the parish, it was served by priests from St. Alphonsus Church, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Assumption Seminary, and Capuchin Franciscans. The parish listed 40 families in statistics printed in the 2016-2017 Official Directory of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, with Mass attendance diminishing greatly over the past several years.
Among the myriad details that will be addressed soon will be the disposition of sacred items and personal property from the church, an inventory of property, and consideration of legal and administrative issues. The disposition of the property is of utmost concern, with several appropriate usages for the site being explored. Catholic Charities of the archdiocese has also been assessing ways to expand services to the west side of the community.
While this is a painful development that impacts the parishioners of this West Side parish, the archdiocese is growing rapidly in population and has plans to create and open new parishes in areas where the population has shifted in recent years.
This expansion will require a need to utilize limited priest personnel and archdiocesan financial resources more effectively. In the “On the Way — Andale!” capital campaign for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, $21 million is earmarked to strengthen existing churches and their pastoral priorities and another $7.1 million has been designated for the establishment of several new parishes. Just last Sunday, on June 25, parishioners of Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church broke ground for a new 14,000-square-foot sanctuary on Santa Gertrudis Road.