Following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, we, the family of San Martin de Porres Parish endeavor to love God and one another through our worship, witness and service. Guided by the Holy Spirit, reconciled in His mercy and nourished by the Body of Christ, we welcome all people in fellowship as we journey the road of Discipleship.
A review of the almost four decades since San Martin de Porres became a mission and then a parish leads one to the conclusion that it has been a model of stewardship. Divine Providence blessed us not only with four dynamic pastors and supportive bishops and diocesan officials, but also with other clerics and deacons, with religious brothers and sisters, and with a committed laity. Without all of these elements working together, San Martin would not have become the model parish that it is.
Laredoans were stunned when the federal government deactivated the Laredo Air Force Base in September 1973. In early 1975 the federal General Service Administration (GSA) informed Bishop Thomas J. Drury of the Diocese of Corpus Christi that the government was to sell the 2.75 acres of land with the non-denominational Chapel and surrounding buildings for $124, 000. The Bishop met with the Laredo clergy to obtain their opinion on whether to buy or not. The vast majority of the priests were opposed to purchasing the property. They pointed out that the base was deserted, that no one was living on it, that the unemployment rate was as high as 30%, and that Laredo might become a ghost town. Fortunately, Fathers Aid8n Leddy of St. Peter’s Parish and Msgr. Thomas P. McGettrick of San Luis Rey Parish supported buying the property. Msgr. McGettrick was aware that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were interested in obtaining the property and he suspected that the Church of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) was too. Opposition ceased when Msgr. McGettrick offered to assume responsibility for the property.
On March, 26, 1975 Bishop Drury informed GSA that the diocese had the $124,000 on hand. The chapel would be used for religious services and instruction for the youth, for the current residents of the base, and those living in the surrounding area “who are presently attending religious services there, and those who are waiting to purchase the vacant homes on the base.” He pointed out that 50 to 100 individuals already formed a congregation that used a vacant building at the base for Sunday services. On July 15, 1975 the U.S. Government granted Bishop Drury a deed for the south half of Block 16.
The chapel had been built by the federal government in 1954 at a cost of $128,000. Although it was used by Catholics, non-Catholics, and Jews until the closure of the base, it was known as “Our Lady of Loretto” and many Laredoans were married there and/or had their children baptized. Also included in the 2.75 acres was a religious education facility that had been constructed in 1967 for $117,000.
Bishop Drury wanted the project parish to be called St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, after the first American who had recently been canonized a saint. Msgr. McGettrick suggested that the name would not be meaningful to the parishioners and instead suggested it be named San Martin de Porres since many people had a devotion to him. The Bishop accepted his suggestion and in November 1975, just four months after the purchase of the property, he blessed the Chapel and renamed it San Martin de Porres Mission. The mission was placed under the jurisdiction of San Luis Rey Parish. San Luis Rey’s pastor, Msgr. McGettrick, provided $15,000 for repairs and he and Father Bernardino Herrero began to say Masses on Saturdays and Sundays. In September 1976 Bishop Drury assigned Father Morgan Rowsome to San Luis Rey with the duty of building up the mission so it would eventually become a parish. Within a year Father Morgan had succeeded and he was officially named priest-in-charge on September 25, 1977. Two years and four months later, on December 15, 1979, the mission was upgraded to a parish. Father Morgan’s prayers that he be appointed pastor were answered.
The “Red Barn” as the church was affectionately called, and the Parish Hall were renovated between 1982 and 1987. In the meantime, between October 1985 and May 1987 Father Morgan and the parishioners struggled to obtain the northern half of Block 16 with its gymnasium and other athletic facilities in order to better attract the youth and provide the space necessary for future growth. With the help of Bishop Rene H. Gracida and the diocesan $540,000, major remodeling and the addition of five classrooms followed, and an additional 90 spaces were added to the church. The next pastor, Father Domingo de Llano, added five more classrooms, an administrative office, expanded parking spaces, added carillon bells, and renovated the sanctuary and the Parish Hall, added the Calvary and Resurrection Murals, and replaced the wind-damaged roofs of the church, nursery, Family Life Center, rectory, pavilion, and bus depot and renovated the interior of the church.
Buildings do not make a parish. Our parish has been blessed with dynamic pastors as well as Parochial Vicar Joel Perez, our Priest in Residence Father Anthony Mendoza and Deacon Leonel San Miguel along with other clerics and deacons, religious brothers and sisters, and a committed laity. Father Morgan was recognized to have set the tone for the spiritual, moral, intellectual, social, and physical development of the parish during his 12 years of service. He earned his flock’s love, admiration, and commitment to the local culture, and his demonstrable desire to accommodate parishioners as much as possible. He urged his congregation to imitate San Martin De Porres’ spirit of charity, prayer, and concern for the poor and hungry. Under his leadership the mission grew by leaps and bounds. When founded as a mission there were 50 families. A year later there were 170, and when San Martin became a parish in 1979 there were about 400 families. Currently we have over 1,300 families registered with our parish.
The founding beliefs have continued to grow with the support of all of our pastors, our deacon, our parochial vicar along with our religious brothers and sisters. None of the activities in our parish would be possible without their help and support. Eucharistic Ministers, ushers, lectors, altar servers and choirs helped the pastors attain a highly spiritual environment during Mass. Volunteers have helped to organize prayer groups and charismatic conferences. Many ministries have been formed and strongly maintained through the years such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society which was founded in October 1982 and the Summer Youth Program which began in 1987. Brother Philip Degagne, FMS, was hired in September 1987 as a full-time Director of the Parish Center. He wasted no time in organizing basketball, racquetball, volleyball, weight-loss, and aerobic exercise classes. Brother Philip has continued to serve our parish to this present day. The Christ Crew Youth Ministry which began in the 1990’s under Father Domingo de Llano and Msgr. Alex Salazar has continued to grow and remain strong promoting a life with Christ for all of the youth of our parish and community.
With continued faith and the support of our religious leaders and fellow parishioners, San Martin de Porres will continue to flourish and grow in its journey to full Stewardship. May Divine Providence continue to guide us toward our heavenly abode.
Credit to: Jose Roberto Juarez, Ph.D.