The short span of time from the first St. Joan of Arc Capel to the present church is a flicker along the time line of Catholicism, it’s incession 2000 years ago. Without fail, we must at least once in our lives read the names of our valley pioneers whose God-driven souls brought the Catholic religion to this small but significant part of the world.
Close your eyes and imagine being in an unfamiliar land, a brush land without boundaries. A land uncivilized where the only human man who had walked among the Mesquites, the Rio Grande River, and the Gulf Coast were the Indians. The Franciscan Friars of Zacatecas and Queretaro ventured to this place that we now call the Rio Grande Valley as early as the 1600’s. In 1689, these friars began plans to begin establishing missions in Tejas. These men faced many obstacles such as disease, starvation, scorching weather, no roads and traveling on horseback or on foot. Yet, their spirit never ceasing to spread Christianity no matter what.
After the Texas Revolution, in 1836 the new nation no longer part of Mexico was taken over by the Diocesan which was predominately under French influence. In 1851, seven oblate priests were recruited by France by Bishop Odin of New Orleans. Five of the seven were assigned to the lower Rio Grande Valley: Fathers Jean Marie Casimir Verdet (Superior) Rigomer Oliver, Pierre Fourrier Parisot, Pierra Ives Keralum, and Jean Marie Gaye.
Traveling on horseback these oblate priests began distributing the sacred sacraments to the desolate ranches into the area. Bestowing upon them the name, the “Calvary of Christ.” The lower Rio Grande Valley remained under the administration of the oblates of Mary Immaculate from 1838 to 1904.
Let us offer a prayer of thanks for the Franciscan Friars of Mexico and the five French Oblate Priests which God used to deliver the Catholic Religion and His Church to us, His people, the St. Joan of Arc parishioners.
Until 1909, the Catholics of the area Ranchos attended mass at Our Lady of Mercy Mission in Mercedes or received their sacraments from the paredes on horseback. In that same year, Our Lady of Mercy was dedicated a parish.
Due to the growth of Catholics, St. Joan of Arc Chapel was first dedicated as a mission at Our Lady of Mercy, Mercedes, on December 11, 1921, and remained a chapel for eight years. During this time Father Paul Hally, OMI and Father YVO Gourmelen, OMI attended to the Catholics around the area. St. Joan of Arc (French) was colonized in 1920 which was during the time the chapel was built.
On April 3, 1929, St. Joan of Arc became an independent parish with Father Francis X. Gagnon, OMI, an Oblate of Immaculate Mary, as pastor. Father Gagnon remained pastor until 1938. During the early 1930’s, the second church was built along with a school and covenant.
In 1938, Father James R. Cassidy, OMI became pastor. He was pastor until 1952. During his pastorate, he enlarged the church and purchased land where St. Pius X was built.
Father Frank A. Kilday, OMI, became pastor on May 1, 1952. During his pastorate, St. Pius X Church was built, and the land where San Martin de Portes stand today was purchased.
In 1958, Father Ceferino Castellanos, OMI, was named pastor. San Martin de Porres Church was built in 1964, and he became the first pastor.
In 1964, St. Joan of Arc Parish was handed over to the Vicentian Fathers, with Father Carlos Langarica, CM, as pastor. During Father Langaricas pastorate, the new church was built as well as the new parish hall and CCD classrooms.
On May 3, 1970, Bishop Humberto Medeiros dedicated the new church.
Fathers Angel Escolar, CM, and Jose Antonio Almazan, CM, followed Father Langarica.
During Father Escolar’s pastorate, two married men from our parish, Jesus Aguayo and Francisco Caballero, were accepted into the diocesan permanent Diaconate program. Deacon Aguayo and Deacon Caballero were ordained permanent deacons on May 15th, 1980, by Bishop John J. Fitzpatrick.
In June 1987, the Vicentian Father left the parish and the parish was handed over to the Diocesan priests with Father Francisco Castillo Mendez becoming pastor on July 1, 1987.
Until Father Castillo’s spiritual guidance and leadership and with help of Deacons Aguayo and Caballero, and the support of the unselfish dedication of our people, we look to the future with faith and hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us reflect upon ourselves as the millennium nears, that each of us opens our hearts and our minds to the new beginning taking on the same hope and faith that our ancestors began here in Weslaco.