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Mission Espada — Restored, refurbished, rededicated

July 08, 2015 | posted by

Mission Espada — Restored, refurbished, rededicated

By Carol Baass Sowa
Today's Catholic

SAN ANTONIO • Mission San Francisco de la Espada, had to wait her turn for restoration, but it was worth it. The completed refurbishment was celebrated on June 19 with a Mass of Dedication offered by Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS, followed by dinner on the mission grounds for 100 invited supporters of the missions.

Archbishop Gustavo noted that Old Spanish Missions Director Father David Garcia had “picked the best day” for this event as — in a week of heavy rain — fair skies prevailed that day. In his homily, he thanked both Father Garcia for his work on behalf of the missions and their Franciscan founders who trekked all the way from central Mexico. “They did it because they had faith,” he said. “Faith endures. Faith moves mountains.”

The day was not just a celebration of the restoration of a beautiful, historic building, the archbishop related, but “a celebration of the God who loves us and dwells among us.” This, he noted, ties in with Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Laudato Si' (on care for our common home), which makes clear “how we are responsible to God and to others and to creation.” Surrounded by nature, the mission’s beauty stems from the simplicity of life and the depth of faith of its builders, he explained, and is akin to the pope’s encyclical on climate change and creation, which speaks about simplicity and beauty.

“The beauty of this place lies in the fact that this is the house of the Lord and it is for the people of God,” he said, adding that Pope Francis echoes the bishops of Brazil in asserting that “nature as a whole not only manifests God, but is also a locus of his presence.” The spirit of life dwells in every living creature, he said, calling us to relationship.

Thanking all responsible for the mission’s restoration and invoking Our Lady of Guadalupe, the archbishop said, “May the angels and saints sing your praise, O God, forever in this temple and in the lives of all those who would meet their Lord here.”

At the dinner which followed, Father Garcia, explained this had been a rededication, rather than a dedication, as the church was originally blessed at the time of its construction in the 1700s. The rededication included a blessing of the people with holy water as a remembrance of their baptism, consecration of the altar and walls of the church with holy chrism, incensation of the altar and a lighting ceremony using oil lamps.

The event marked completion of restoration at all four mission churches, but the work is never really finished, Father Garcia explained, as there are maintenance issues that must continually be dealt with. “But we are committed to doing it,” he said, “and we’re very blessed that many of you have been supporters and that many of you have helped.”

The Las Misiones Capital Campaign had, in the depths of the Great Recession, he noted, raised $15.5 million, which has been used to slowly restore the four missions and establish a permanent endowment fund for their future. That fund has grown from an initial $4.5 million in 2011 to $7.1 million as of the end of May. “We want to be sure that these missions are here for another 300 years,” said Father Garcia, “when all of us are long gone.” The biennial Rose Window Gala raises funds for the endowment, the next being set for October 2016.

Father Garcia announced he would be flying to Spain the next day to walk the Camino de Santiago, taking one of three ancient pilgrimage routes ending at the shrine of St. James in Santiago de Compostela. “San Antonio could be the Camino of the United States,” he observed, as there is already in place a wonderful walk, starting at the cathedral downtown and extending down the Mission Reach along the river, with portals giving access to each of the missions. “You could do a Camino de las Misiones,” he related, which, with community support, could draw the country and the world.

Also looming large in the missions’ future that evening was their impending inscription as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. “On July 5, in Bonn, Germany,” said Father Garcia, “we expect and hope and are cautiously optimistic that San Antonio will be up there with the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal and we deserve to be there!”

Among a host of acknowledgments, Father Garcia first recognized committee members of Las Misiones, the Old Spanish Missions’ fundraising arm. He introduced and thanked Superintendent Mardi Arce of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, relating Congressman Lloyd Doggett had announced that morning the official addition to the park of around 137 acres.

“This insures that it’s parkland now,” said Father Garcia. “Nobody can get it, nobody can develop it, nobody can obstruct our views of the missions.” It also gives a boost to the demonstration farm at Mission San Juan, which enables visitors to enter more fully into the experience of the missions. Also thanked were Susan Snow of the Park Service and Paul Ringenbach, leaders in preparing the massive and detailed nomination of the missions for World Heritage status.

Speaking on details of the restoration was Anna Nau, architectural conservator of Ford, Powell & Carson Architects & Planners (FPC), who acknowledged the presence of Carolyn Peterson, principal, and Alison Chambers of FPC in the audience. She also thanked William Pugh and Pugh Constructors for their work on the project, the archbishop for his support and Father Garcia for his leadership. Nau related restoration at Espada began with a structural monitoring project by structural engineer Bob Sparks. The project required some stabilization and included structural stitching with stainless steel tie-rods as well as grout injections and a full repointing of the stone walls beyond the façade.

“The façade, of course, is the gem of the colonial portion of this church,” said Nau, “so we did very minimal work on the façade.” Roof leaks were tackled and interior plaster repair carried out in the church and adjoining offices and priests quarters. Improvements to the offices, a kitchen and a restroom accessible for parish use were also part of the project, as well as upgrading of the sound and lighting systems.

A new paved area adjacent to the pavers in front of the church provides more space for parish functions and the parking lot now features a combination of grass and paving more integrated with the rest of the site. Remnants of an archaeological stone wall were discovered just below grade nearby and are now marked by a line of boulders, adding to the site’s history.

Nau reported a matching grant was awarded by the Texas Historical Commission to complete a conditions assessment which will be an update to the 2003 assessment that initiated the recently completed restoration of the four mission churches. This will provide information as to what needs to be addressed in the future. A maintenance contract will provide the parishes with a set formula for handling of day-to-day maintenance issues.

The church also has a beautifully carved new tabernacle (resembling Espada’s iconic door), altar, ambo, processional crucifix and other furnishings commissioned by former pastor, Father Herb Jones, OFM, and custom-built by Brother Bart Wolf, OFM, of Franciscan Studio in Albuquerque, NM. Father Garcia thanked Bexar County’s congressional delegation for their support of the missions, including Congressman Will Hurd, who praised San Antonio as a place where people of all political philosophies work together to accomplish things. Chris Cheever, past chairman of Las Misiones, echoed this, noting how San Antonians came together to support the restoration project. “There’s people who bring treasure to it, people who bring time to it, people who bring political skills to it,” he said, “and people who spiritually support this project.”

Also recognized by Father Garcia were parish priests Father Rommell Perez-Flores, OFM, (pastor) and Father Nick Baxter, OFM; parishioners present; Nancy Steves, former commissioner of the Texas Historical Commission; Director of Development Diana Aguirre-Martinez of the Old Spanish Missions; and entry table volunteers.

Archbishop Gustavo gave the final blessing, thanking “everyone who has contributed to the work of these missions.” Touching again on the relevance of Laudato Si' and the relation of its context of integral ecology to the missions, he urged all to read it. “We need to know what is in that document and to study it and to reflect on it,” he said. “That will be an opening for many, many conversations, as has happened with our missions.”

Father Garcia encouraged reading St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Creatures, and thanked Las Misiones and all present.

“Without you, these missions cannot be restored,” he said, promising to continue to preserve and maintain them at the highest quality possible “We need your support to do that,” he said, “but I am confident that we can all continue to do this together.”