Now Reading
Good In Faith

Subscribe to Authentic Texas

Good In Faith

  • Franciscan friars constructed missions across Texas for both religious and vocational purposes

Faith is central to the story of Texas. One of the most iconic scenes in the story of our state took place at the Misión de San Antonio de Valero which, in case you’ve forgotten, is also referred to as the Alamo.

The Alamo was but one of many missions that dotted the landscape of Texas. From 1632 to 1793, Spaniards built missions and presidios, military forts, as far west as El Paso and as far east as what is now Louisiana. The Franciscan friars who built the missions did so to spread their faith “first, last and always,” according to scholar Herbert E. Bolton.

THE FAITH OF TEXAS has never been singular. The people of Texas have practiced their faith in ways as diverse as the Texas landscape, from the numerous tribal religions and spiritual practices of precolonial times to the mix of religions that Texans from all over the world brought with them to shape today’s vibrant culture of faith.
Christianity is, by far, the largest religious tradition in Texas, even today. In 2014, more than 70 percent of the Texans surveyed identified as a Christian. But even in centuries past, there were Texans who worshipped in other ways.
The first Jews came to Texas at around the same time as the first Christians, though in much smaller numbers. However, between 1907 and 1914, there was a coordinated effort called the Galveston Movement to bring Jewish immigrants fleeing anti-Semitic violence in eastern Europe and Russia through Galveston rather than the more populated ports of entry in the Northeastern United States. Many feared that an influx of Jewish immigrants would lead to an increase in anti-Semitism and immigration restrictions as a result. Several groups, including the Jewish Immigrants’ Information Bureau, collaborated to bring 10,000 Jews to the United States through Galveston between 1907 and 1914.

Converting Native Americans to the Catholic faith might have been the first priority for the friars, but the missions also served as vocational learning centers where Native Americans were taught the skills necessary to create and sustain a colonial community that more closely mirrored the way of life in Spain.

The church and government of Spain were so intertwined at the time that it was natural for the missions to provide both religious and vocational education. Native Americans learned how to worship according to the teaching of the friars and the customs of the colonists. This was all done under the watchful eye of the Spanish government.

Once the mission had transitioned the community to conform to the expectations of the Spaniards, the mission was “secularized,” therefore losing its mission status and establishing the settlement fully as part of colonial Spanish society.

The missions were all secularized by 1830, minus the El Paso mission, which wasn’t handed over to local clergy until 1852. The process of secularization meant the friars were replaced by local priests, and the and was given to the Christianized Native Americans. Eventually, the protection of the presidios wasn’t enough to keep the influx of immigrant farmers and ranchers from taking much of this land from Native Americans. Catholicism continues to be a prevalent faith in Texas, and it’s far from single-faceted. Throughout the history of the state, waves of Catholic immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Poland and other European countries brought different perspectives to the rich culture of Texas Catholicism.

© 2020 Authentic Texas Magazine. All Rights Reserved.
Published by Texas Heritage Trails LLC