San Jose Parish began in 1939 to primarily serve the Hispanic population south of the Colorado River. A rock structure on West Mary and South 3rd served as the first church until February of 1956. A lager third church was blessed on April 30, 1988 and the Parish dedicated to St. Joseph the worker. On 14 acres, San Joseparish currently also has a rectory/office complex, a gift shop, chapel, 24 hour perpetual adoration chapel, school, Religious Education buildings, a Parish Hall, and some 4000 families.
A History of Forty Years 1939 – 1979
San Jose Parish, Austin, Texas
by Brother William Dunn, C.S.C.
Note: Although too short to do its subject full justice, this historical sketch may enhance our appreciation of all that has gone into the life of parish over the forty years. It may also suggest that the writing of a more adequate history would be a worthy goal to set for the fiftieth anniversary of the parish in 1989. For now, however, I want to express my gratitude to those who helped me with information and counsel in getting this one out. They are, to the best of my memory, the following: Bishop Alfred Mendez, CSC., Father Joseph Houser, CSC., Father John Haley, CSC., Father Frank Weber, CSC., Father John Korcsmar, CSC., Sister Gloria Rodriguez, MJMJ., Sister Blanche Marie Richardson, OLVMS., Miss Mary Angelina Alvarez, Mr. Luis Calderon, Mr. and Mrs. Jose Rocha, Mr. Enrique Saenz, Mr. Simon Ybarra, Mrs. Willie Garcia, Mr. and Mrs. Enrique Acosta of Manchaca, Mr. and Mrs. Enrique Acosta of Jain Lane in Austin, Mr. and Mrs. Ramon Samilpa, Mr. Sam Guerra, Miss Beeda Saenz, Mrs. Romana Salazar, Mrs. Ofelia de los Santos, Mrs. Gloria Cannon, Mrs. Linda Hernandez, Mrs. Frances Trevino, Mrs. Consuelo Reyna, Mr. Pete Casarez, Mr. Julian Herrera, Miss Nettie Schneider, Miss Mary Dell Schmidt. Anyone inadvertently omitted I thank also. In addition to conversations with the aforementioned people, I have had a good source of history in the weekly parish bulletins saved from the 1960’s. I have tried to include the names of many people, if only in lists, for those earlier years. For lack of time, space, sources, and perspective, I have not tried to do the same for later years.
“La iglesia de San Jose tiene mucha historia, porque con un sacrificio se a hecho todo esto.” – old parishioner
Bishop Alfred( then Father) Mendez recalls that the founding of San Jose parish forty years ago, in August 1939, developed out of the coincidence that he and Archbishop Drossaerts of San Antonio were at one time patients in adjacent rooms of Santa Rosa Hospital in that city. Father Mendez mentioned to the Archbishop that his religious community, the Congregation of Holy Cross ( C.S.C.), was interested in establishing a parish for Mexican Americans north of the Colorado River in Austin. At that time there was no Austin Diocese, and the city was divided between the Galveston Diocese north of the river and the San Antonio Archdiocese south of it. “Why not put your parish in the San Antonio Archdiocese?” asked the Archbishop. The invitation was followed up, and in 1939, the new parish, San Jose, was begun with Father Mendez as its first pastor.
Going back for a moment in our narrative, we note that in the earlier years of this century a colonia of Spanish- speaking people was located along the MKT railroad tracks and Guadalupe street just north of the Colorado River. For many years Father Patrick O’Reilly, CSC., served as pastor of this community. In 1907 the church of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe was established at Guadalupe and West Fifth streets, on the northwest corner of the intersection. It would be a great service to local history for someone to record and write up the recollections of the older people about that old Mexican American church. Mrs. Enrique Acosta, a member of San Jose parish now living at Manchaca recalled recently that she made her first Communion in the old church.
By the mid- 1920’s business development in that district was forcing Mexican American families to relocate. Accordingly, when the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) assumed charge of Guadalupe parish in 1925, they moved it into the new barrio which was developing on the East Side. In the meantime, the Holy Cross Fathers at St. Edward’s University continued to work with the Mexican American people farther out to the east and south in Travis County. San Jose parish was a natural outgrowth of the movement of Mexican American families into South Austin.
When Father Mendez began the new parish, he resided at St. Edward’s University and held services in St. Ignatius Church, then located on West Johanna Street. Soon, however, Simon Botello was directing a crew of men in the construction of a church on the southeast corner of West Mary and South Third streets, where it still stands. I have not found the precise date of its blessing, but Simon Ybarra, Luis Calderon, Jose Rocha and other long- time residents of the area say that the building was finished in about 1941. It may have been blessed on December 14, of that year when the new Archbishop of San Antonio, the most Reverand Robert E. Lucey, blessed the new churches of San Francisco on the Austin- Lockhart Highway and Santa Cruz at Buda. Both of those were built at this same time under the leadership of Father Mendez as missions of San Jose.
After the church on West Mary was finished, Father Mendez and his assistants took up residence in small quarters nearby. They served not only San Jose, but also its missions of San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Vasquez Chapel, Nuestra Senora de la luz at Montopolis, and Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe at Garfield, Missionaries with Father Mendez at one time or another were Fathers Thomas Culhane, James Donnelly, Anthony Weber, Peter Mueller, Joel Atwood, Elmer Vincent Rupp, and perhaps still others for at least short periods. Two of San Jose’s missions – San Francisco and Nuestra Senora de la Luz (Later renamed Nuestra Senora de los Siete Dolores) -- eventually became independent parishes. Santa Cruz is now a mission of San Francisco. Vasquez Chapel and Garfield are no longer active missions.
It is getting harder, as the time lengthens, to reconstruct the history of San Jose Parish in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Bulletins were not issued in the earlier years and are not at hand in any case for the years before 1960. From talking to people who remember the parish in those days, however, one get the impression of a dedicated and close- knit community. There was no hall at the church for years, but the men built a platform on the grounds for use in the frequent fiestas which were held. Mrs. Linda Hernandez recalls that Mrs. Consuelo Reyna made costumes for the girls to wear in dances that Mrs. Victoria Loera taught them. These entertainments, which people got up themselves, were very beautiful and colorful, it is recalled. Parishioners also sometimes held games and fiestas in their homes for the benefit of the church.
In 1948 Father Houser became pastor of San Jose. He had previously taught at St. Edward’s University, served at St. Helen’s and other missions in and around Georgetown with Father Fred Schmidt, and taught at King’s College in Wilkes- Barre, Pennsylvania. A number of Holy Cross religious assisted Father Houser in his many years of work at San Jose and its missions. They are gratefully recognized here: Fathers Joh Driscoll, Charles Delaney, Edwin Bauer, Anthony Weber, Thomas Culhane, Vincent Delavy, Harold Hughes, Samuel Ciatto, Edward Abstetar, Francis Bennett, and Brother Joseph Caine.
In his first year at San Jose, Father Houser met a pressing need by having a new rectory built on West Mary Street next to the church. Its builders were Fathers Francis Weber. Anthony Weber, Elmer Vincent Rupp, and Joel Atwood. Father Houser denies that he was the water boy on the project; he says that he substituted for one of the builders at another parish. Later the house they built was moved to its present site, where it still serves as the parish rectory of San Jose.
By the early 1950’s the parish was beginning to feel cramped in its limited space at South Third and West Mary. A considerable influx of Mexican American into the barrio around the church was taking place. The number of families in the parish was rising accordingly. San Jose now belonged to the Austin Diocese which had been created in 1948 and was headed by Bishop Louis J. Reicher. When the bishop came to administer Confirmation spring of 1954, he found the church crowded and people standing outside. “You need to build a bigger church,” he told the congregation,” one you can fit into.”
Later he told Father Houser that San Jose could have a six- acre tract which lay just to the south of West Oltorf Street. Originally the bishop had acquired this land with the help of Brother Lambert Barbier of St. Edward’s University and of Father Edwin Bauer, pastor of Holy Family Church nearby, both of whom were interested in establishing on it a medical clinic for the South Austin barrio. The bishop had hoped to get Sisters to staff the clinic, but now it appeared that they might not be available. The site would be perfrect for a church, however. To gain all- weather access to Oltorf Street some additional lots were acquired on the north side of the property. And that is the story of how San Jose came to be situated on the gentle slope of Oak Crest in the heart of South Austin!
The next step was to clear the site of chaparral, weeds, and trash. Older parishioners recall what a job that was. Mr. Jose Rocha and Mr. Luis Calderon have related how the men of the parish worked at it evening after evening until their hands bled. They remember that Father Houser himself worked right along with them.
Father recalls that he was visiting at Notre Dame when the Bishop called to tell him that the lowest bid for the constructions of the church was $ 87, ooo. Father thought it a staggering sum but the bishop deemed it reasonable and directed the parish to go ahead and build. The undertaking was facilitated by a loan which the parish obtained from the KJCZ Company in La Grange at the low annual interest rate of three per cent. The parish, Father Houser emphasizes, very much appreciated this help from the KJCZ.
And so the new church was built. It was opened with a ceremony in the presence of a small crowd on an icy day in February, 1956. On March 19, the feast of St. Joseph and its patronal day, it was blessed by Bishop Reicher. The people of South Austin had reason to be proud of the handsome new building on spacious grounds in their friendly neighborhood. The rectory, moved from West Mary, stood on the east side of the church. Reynaldo Romero, John Anguino, Juvenal Vidauri, Agustin Gallardo, Willie Garcia, Manuel Castillo, Jesse Torres, Paul Reyna, Henry B. Bargas, Agustin Cardenas, Gabriel Guardiola, Ernest Perez, Gabriel Tamayo, Frank Gonzalez, Ben Arismendea, Sam Guerra, C.P. Garcia, Romeo Sanchez, Andrew Cantu, Eugene Casarez, Louis De Anda, Joe Uriegas, Roger Ibarra, Joe Gonzalez, Julius Segura, Joe Prado, Pete Casarez, Salvador Hernandez, Ray Rodriguez, Lupe Barron.
As background for this history, Mr. Enrique Saenz of the CWV reviewed for me his work with the Scouts, stressing the value of the training and camp experience which it gave the boys. Mr. Frank Gonzalez and others also helped with the scouts. Mr. Sam Guerra spoke about his work and that of other Catholic veterans with the sports programs. These leaders say that one of the long term satisfactions of their youth work has been to see boys grow up to be good men and retain fond memories of their scouting and sports experiences.
One of the ways in which the societies have helped the parish most visibly has been by sponsoring fiestas and bazaars (Jamaica’s), dinners and dances. These activities have allowed people to socialize, share responsibilities, and raise money for the church and its programs. High point of the major annual bazaar has usually been the contest among ladies for the title of queen. A further word may be said about the organization of the bazaar in late years under the leadership of the tri- chairmen, Sam Guerra, Manuel Navarro, and Henry Guerrero. It all starts the December or January before with the first of a series of organizational meetings. As soon as possible representatives of the participating units of the parish are brought into these meetings, where ideas and plans are developed. The tri- chairmen divide up responsibilities for overall coordination of the event and see that it is widely advertised. It is usually held in the City Auditorium where there is plenty of room and security from the uncertain spring weather. Early on the morning of the bazaar day, Mr. Guerrero has the auditorium opened and workers from various units of the parish set up their booths in accordance with the floor plan which has previously been worked out. As the day advances all are put into readiness, the public arrives, and the fun begins. But it has taken long months, many hands, and much cooperation to make it all come together.
In the mid- 1950s Father Houser introduced the annual eight- day pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady Guadalupe in Mexico City. Traveling by chartered bus, the pilgrims would arrive in good time to celebrate with thousands of other believers the feast day of the Queen of the Americas on December 12. The excursion has special meaning for the Guadalupanas of the parish. And the whole thing—round trip and hotel accommodations – could be done then for what now appears to be ridiculously low price of $50 per person!
As the 1960’s opened, a new spiritual exercise, the Cursillos de Cristiandad, appeared in the Austin Diocese. It was not long before the parishioners of San Jose began traveling to Waco first, and then to St. Williams church in Round Rock to share in that moving experience. Afterwards Cursillistas met at the parish in sessions called Ultreyas designed to preserve and foster the gains of the Cursillos.
The 1960’s were pervaded also by the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. This affected the tone and practice of Catholicism at San Jose as it did those other churches throughout the world. One of the obvious changes was the switch to the vernacular, which for San Jose meant Spanish as well as English, into the Mass and the other services. Another was the repositioning of the altar. The communion rail, statues, shrines, and other appointments were also affected.
In 1964 San Jose observed its twenty-fifth anniversary as a parish. On May 31, it opened its celebration with an 8:00 Mass and general Communion for parish societies. Between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm a Bar-B-Q chicken dinner was served, with the Socios del Sagrado Corazon in charge. At 5:00 pm there was a Jubilee Mass followed by a Jamaica. The historical note printed with the program for the day stated: “In 25 years there were 3,846 Baptisms and 576 marriages. The families here now number 590.”
Father Houser might well look back with satisfaction upon all that had been accomplished. He was well aware, however, of all the good people who had helped him with it. His fellow priests and Sisters had done great service for the parish. Many people of the societies and of the parish generally had served far beyond the call of duty. And now, in the summer of 1967, Fathers Houser’s nineteen year pastorate was coming to an end. He said his farewell mass on July 2 and moved to a new assignment in Louisiana. At San Jose he left “todo arreglado” as an old parishioner put it. Achievements of the parish under his leadership had included the move to the new location: the construction of a rectory, a church, and a school: the acquisition of sundry supplementary facilities; and the introduction of the fresh devotional practices. So now, with its numbers growing and its programs thriving, San Jose was ready for new steps under new leadership.
The new pastor Father John Haley, C.S.C, had recently returned from Chile where he had worked for thirteen years, gaining ideas from the Latin American church. Moreover, the influence of Vatican II was being felt increasingly in the Church of the latter 1960’s. One of Father Haley’s innovations was the establishment of a Parish Council to help the pastor with decision making. One of the big questions they face was whether to keep the parish in existence. It was doing great work under the leadership of its principal, Sister Mary Angelina Alvarez, but the number of its pupils was small and the expense high. A first decision was to close the seventh and eighth grades, as it was particularly difficult to offer adequate programs at these levels for a few pupils. Later the council decided that there were fairer ways to use the resources of the parish than to put so large a part of them into a school which served only a small minority of all the children within boundaries of San Jose. So in 1973 the school was closed. This freed money and energy for the CCD program which now enrolled nearly 500 pupils. The parish hired a religious education coordinator and invested thousands of dollars in equipment and materials for the program. Youth activities, under the guidance of Assistant Pastor Mike Mikan, entered a Golden Age.
Another concept which had impressed Father Haley in Chile was that of the parish community center. He suggested that San Jose ought to have a more adequate hall for the realization of that concept. The Parish Council agreed, and the building of a new Community Center became the first major undertaking of the new administration. Dedicated on October 26, 1969, it was intended to be of use to people on the South Side generally as well as to parishioners. It was opened to a community-based nutrition program for the elderly. Meals were served in the Center to those who could come there and carried out (Meals on Wheels) to those who could not. (Later this program was moved to a new South Austin Recreation Center on Cumberland Street). For many parish activities – dinners, dances, games, and fiestas – the new center provided convenient and ample space. It was a bit small, however, for the major Annual Bazaar, and so that is usually held in Municipal Auditorium.
The old school buildings house the Day Care Center and the South Austin Neighborhood Center. A small clinic initiated by Doctor Will Van Weisse was set up in the old convent building the summer of 1973. As of this writing (1979), Dr. Van Weisse and his wife Celilia Ruiz Van Weisse (also surgeon) are still working with our people. Adult education, both secular and religious, was carried on in the new school building, which was available also for parish and neighborhood meetings. Father Robert Gilmour, an assistant pastor for this era, provided leadership for activities ranging from the Cub Scouts to Senior Citizens. The scout program at San Jose, it would be added, was built upon the pioneering work of Mr. Enrique Saenz and other parish leaders.
Continuing liturgical development helped to make this an exciting and stressful period. Things in the church that had grown familiar and dear to the people were changed. The altar was moved forward; statues and shrines were shifted. All of this required some time to adjust to. In 1975 Father Haley received a new assignment. His eight years at San Jose had been full ones. He had worked with the Parish Council to make big decisions that had seemed best for the parish. New directions had been set in educations, social and liturgical areas. It was in many ways a renewed parish that awaited its pastor. For several months before the new pastor was appointed, Father Lawrence Bauer, C.S.C., acted as administrator. A veteran of the missions in India and Pakistan, he emphasized religious fundamentals. He was assisted by Father Michael Simone, M.M., a Maryknoll Missionary.
In 1976 Father John Korcsmar became pastor. Trained for priesthood in the era of Vatican II, Father John, as everybody calls him, represents a new generation of leadership for the parish. He is gifted with delightful sense of humor which enlivens his homilies and endears him to the people. In the heart of Longhorn territory he speaks out courageously for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
With Sister Gloria Rodriguez as coordinator, the parish maintains its tradition of a strong religious education and youth program. Many dedicated parishioners are involved in CCD work. The C.Y.O carries on a lively program of religious, social, and apostolic activities. Its retreats and its summer volunteer service, first at El Castillo and then at Ahuacatlan, Mexico are particularly notable. A young man from the parish C.Y.O., Michael Edward Alcoser, is enrolled in the seminary at Notre Dame. Softball teams, both men’s and women’s provide great fun for participants. A number of parishioners have distinguished themselves as leaders for these youth activities.
For adults a Men’s club first and now a Catholic Adult Organization has been formed. The Socios del Sagrado Corazon and the Guadalupanas continue their long and faithful service to the parish. Care for senior citizens includes home visiting as well as visiting at nursing homes and hospitals. Father John offers Mass at the Austin Nursing and Convalescent Center on East Live Oak on Wednesdays.
The old school buildings now provide office space for the City of Austin’s Youth Employment Services as well as for the Day Care and Neighborhood Centers. Early in 1979 the Austin Independent School District rented classrooms in the new school for the operation of Alternative Education Center. The clinic for health services to women and children is still in the former convent building. Temporarily Brackenridge Hospital is using most of the space in the parish Community Center for an outpatient service.
Father John does not have a priest assistant but he does have a full time (1978-79) volunteer, Paul Brooker, of the Volunteers for Educational and Social Service (VESS) sponsored by the Texas Catholic Conference. Mrs. Gloria Cannon, Mrs. Romana Salazar, and Julian Herrera are also on the parish staff. On Sundays and Holy Days, parishioners serve as lectors and as lay ministers of the Eucharist. Three choirs enhance the parish liturgies and offer three very different musical styles to the Sunday Masses. Musica frontera, mariachi music, and traditional organ music may be heard according to one’s choice of Mass. The Choir Directors at this time are MR. Victor Balderas, Mrs. Isabel Reyes, and Mr. Reyes Cortez. After Mass parishioners may partake of breakfast served by the Breakfast Club in the Community Center. Father John especially calls attention to the good menudo. And we may add that is a place where the friendly spirit of San Jose may be felt, the spirit of the followers of Christ, of a people, in the words of Vatican II, united in Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit and pressing onward to the kingdom of the Father.
St. Edward’s University
June 29, 1979
Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul
La Parroquia de San José fue establecida en 1939, para servir primariamente a los hispanos viviendo al sur del Río Colorado. Un edificio de pierda, localizado en la esquina de la Calle West Mary y South 3rd, sirvió como la primera Iglesia hasta, Febrero de 1956. La Iglesia tercera y más grande recibió su bendición el 30 de Abril, 1988, y la Parroquia fue dedicada al santo, San José, el Trabajador. La Parroquia de San José, esta localizada sobre 14 acres, y consiste de un rectoría/base de Oficinas, una tienda de Artículos Religiosos, una Capilla, Una capilla de Adoración de 24 horas, una escuela y edificios de Educación Religiosa, un Salón Parroquial y algunas 4000 familias registradas.