Catholic Shrines & Places of Interest in San Antonio, Texas
The Catholic history of San Antonio:
The city of San Antonio has become a tourist mecca over the past several decades, with the Riverwalk, Sea World and other popular attractions. It is also known for its deep Catholic roots. It is one of America’s oldest cities and has much to offer for the Catholic traveler.
The Spanish arrived here early on and left an indelible imprint upon the area. The first Mass was held here on June 13, 1691. Since that day was the Feast of St. Anthony, they renamed the river San Antonio.
The city itself was founded by a group of 16 families, consisting of 55 immigrants, who came here from the Canary Islands (a possession of Spain) in 1731. In 1738 they broke ground for the San Fernando Cathedral.
There was also a large German population that settled in the area, most of whom arrived through the port of Galveston, which had earned the nickname “The Ellis Island of the West”.
Although it retains a small-town feel, San Antonio has a population of over 2 million and is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. When the city hosted the HemisFair in 1968, it extended its River Walk (Paseo del Rio) one-quarter of a mile into the site of the HemisFair. Up unitl that time, the river area had such a bad reputation that is was posted “off limits” to military personnel in the area. But the Hemisfair changed all that: the extension linked the River Walk with the World’s Fair grounds and helped San Antonio develop into one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations.
It is also one of the oldest cities in the U.S. and is home to many sites of interest to Catholics. For those who live in the U.S., a trip here is like going to another country without needing a passport!
Here are just a few of the Catholic places of interest in San Antonio:
The Spanish Missions of San Antonio (including the Alamo)
A chain of five missions established in the early days of “New Spain”.
The Alamo is just one of them. Four of them are still active parishes.
Basilica of the National Shrine of The Little Flower
The National Shrine of the Little Flower was founded by the Spanish Friars
who came to San Antonio by way of Torreon, Mexico in 1926. The Basilica
has been called the most beautiful church in San Antonio.
The Oblate Grotto
Here in San Antonio is the spiritual center of the
Missionary Association of Mary Immaculate.
San Fernando Cathedral The oldest Cathedral in the United States.
Shrine of Saint Padre Pio: including an authorized copy of the Pieta
As you wander the famous River Walk, look for a statue of Saint Anthony, This bronze statue of San Antonio’s patron saint, by sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida, was presented to the city by the Portuguese government at the 1968 HemisFair.
The inscription reads: “San Antonio – For whom the city and the river are named – Gift of Portugal.” And near the Arneson River Theater there is a plaque in the pavement commemorating the site of the first Catholic Mass in San Antonio as mentioned above. The Mass was held on the Feast of Saint Anthony, and that is how the city came to be named San Antonio.
And one hotel here…La Mansion del Rio….was originally a school founded by a group of brothers of The Society of Mary. It later became the Saint Mary’s University School of Law. You can read the story here.
An an added bonus for history buffs…be sure to visit the bar in the Menger Hotel…it is where Teddy Roosevelt recruited his “Rough Riders”. Read about it here.
Traveling to San Antonio:
There is a major airport in the city as well as an Amtrak train station (trains are infrequent, there is service from Chicago as well as New Orleans on the “Sunset Limited” route from New Orleans to Los Angeles).