La Lomita Chapel

The small white chapel stands on La Lomita or “the little hill” located just a few miles south of the town of Mission. The restored chapel is a reminder of earlier days when the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) traveled by horseback up and down the Rio Grande Valley. These circuit-riding padres baptized babies, performed marriage ceremonies, gave last rights, and listened to confessions.
The land on which the mission stands was originally part of a Spanish land grant awarded in 1767. John Davis Bradburn purchased the property in 1842 and died two months later. His Mexican widow sold the property to a French merchant named René Guyard in 1845. Guyard died in 1861 and left the La Lomita grant to two Oblate priests “for the propagation of the faith among the barbarians.”
La Lomita played an instrumental role in the spread of Catholicism in South Texas. Located between mission centers in Brownsville and Roma, La Lomita became a strategic mission center for what became known as the Cavalry of Christ. These circuit-riding Oblates were some kind of tough. They faced all kinds of challenges and dangers in their efforts to spread their faith throughout South Texas.
The original chapel, built at a campsite along the Brownsville-Roma Trail, suffered flood damage more than once because of its proximity to the Rio Grande River. That original chapel was washed away by flood waters in 1865 and was rebuilt in 1899 at its present site at La Lomita. Over the years this chapel has sustained hurricane damage and suffered the normal deterioration caused by age. Today, thanks to restoration initiatives, the chapel is in good repair and continues to attract both the faithful and the curious.
When my hometown of Mission was founded in 1908, the town was named Mission in honor of the wide-ranging ministry of the Oblates. In 1975, La Lomita was added to the National Register of Historic Places, the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. In 1976, the city of Mission added visitor amenities to make the historic La Lomita a family friendly municipal park.
Places like La Lomita absolutely stir my imagination. As I walked the grounds I reflected on the hardy ranchers who tamed this southernmost part of the Lone Star State. I also thought about the tough cowboy-priests who rode from ranch to ranch to care for their flock. And, of course, I wondered about all who came (and still some) to this little place of worship with their burdens, anxieties, dreams and prayers — who lit their candles as an earnest expression of their hopes for answers and miracles.
La Lomita, like the Painted Churches and other historical places of worship, is a great road trip destination. Places like this remind us of an important part of our Texas history — the role of faith in the lives of those who settled the Lone Star State.

El Paso Mission Trail

El Paso may not be located deep in the heart of Texas but it is a city with Texas deep in its heart. This westernmost city in the Lone Star State is unquestionably rich in history. A lot of that history was made along an eight mile stretch of road that was a part of the Camino Real.

The Camino Real, or Royal Road, was a major route for transporting trade goods from Mexico City and Chihuahua in the South to Santa Fe and Taos to the North. Three of the oldest mission churches in the country were established along this route on the frontier with Mexico.

The Ysleta Mission is located closest to present-day El Paso. It is the oldest mission in Texas and the second oldest continually active parish in the United States. Established in the heart of Tigua Indian territory in 1680, the original mission was made of cottonwood branches and adobe mud.

Over the years the building was modified, enlarged, and improved — at times because of damage done by fires and floods. Today, the thick adobe-walled building stands as a testimony to the resolve of parishioners to continue to worship and practice their faith.
The Socorro Mission is located a short distance to the southeast of Ysleta and is considered the second oldest mission in Texas. Socorro is the Spanish word for help, relief, or assistance. Completed in 1691 to minister to Spaniards and also to the Piro, Tano, and Jemez Indians, this mission continues to live up to its name.

Through the years, the building suffered many of the same disasters as the Ysleta Mission. And, like the Ysleta community, the folks at Socorro came to the aid of their parish. The building that stands today was built in 1843 and features design inspired by both the Indians and the Spanish. The carved support beams are made of cottonwood and cypress and were salvaged from the original building.

The third mission on the El Paso Mission Trail is the San Elizario Presidio Chapel. In 1789, Spaniards established a presidio or fort to defend the frontier and supply lines. This presidio was named “San Elceario” after the French patron saint of the military, San Elcear. A chapel was built within the presidio walls and bears the same name as the military garrison.

Like the other early mission churches, the architecture of the San Elizario chapel is characterized by the adobe style that has become iconic in the southwest. I love these old structures that have endured for so long and have meant so much to their respective parishioners through the years.

There are lots of great things to do in El Paso, including driving the Mission Trail along Socorro Road. Each of these old missions welcome visitors. So, add this to your list of Texas adventures. You will enjoy learning about the role each of these missions and their parishioners have played through the years in the development of this part of the Lone Star State.

Guadalupe El Torero Church

As I travel Texas backroads, I find myself irresistibly drawn to abandoned places — old and dilapidated structures slowly being erased by time. Not long ago I came across a photograph of an abandoned adobe style church taken in the fading light of day. The photo captivated me. I knew I had to find this place and go there to see it for myself.
El Torero Church Side ViewWith a little research I learned that the old church building is located along FM 1017, the road that connects San Manuel−Linn and San Isidro. This is in the heart of rugged South Texas ranch country. Many of the ranch owners in the area can trace their respective lineages back to the days of the Spanish Land Grants. These families have stewarded these lands for generations.
El Torero FrontThe old church, known as Guadalupe El Torero, was built between 1918 and 1920 in a place called San Luisito, a town that no longer exists. In those days, the only option for families was to travel ten miles one way by horse and buggy to worship at the old San Isidro Catholic Church. That was a long way to travel. So, the original El Torero Church was constructed in San Luisito behind the home of Juan and Luisa Bazan.
El Torero Back ViewOn January 5, 1924, Juan Cavazos purchased ten acres of land that was part of the San Ramon Land Grant that had originally been granted to Julian Farias. Juan gave a tithe of the land to the church under the pastorate of Father Gustavo Gollbach. A few years later, the original church building was moved to this new and permanent location and the entry tower bearing the cross was added.
El Torero InteriorA woman named Sylvia Perez Kotzur, who lives about a mile from the old church, attended services at El Torero when she was a child. She remembers that it had “a celestial blue trim and benches and wood plank floors.” She also recalled looking out the windows and watching the cattle grazing during Mass.
El Torero Side DoorI could not find any information about when the final service was held at El Torero. Whatever day that might have been, that became the first day that would lead to years of neglect — years that eventually took their toll on the building that Kotzur remembers as being “small and cute.”
IMG_0906When I walked through the weeds and into the old building, it was easy to envision what it must have looked like in its day. I could still see traces of the blue paint that Kotzur recalled. It was, however, sad to see a place that had once been so special to local residents in this condition.
El Torero SignThe good news is that Kotzur and other area residents started a fundraising campaign to build a new church. The old structure is beyond repair and must be torn down. The new structure will be built on the same footprint as the old church.
El Torero SteepleKudos to everyone involved in giving new life to El Torero Church. I hope that the new structure will bear some resemblance to the old church. I can’t wait to see the new house of worship and hope it will stand as an enduring symbol of faith in this rugged place for generations to come.

Church of the Guardian Angel

The painted churches of Texas are among the most beautiful architectural treasures in the Lone Star State. These simple yet elegant structures remain a vital part of the DNA of the small communities they have served for well over a hundred years.
Guardian Angel ChurchEvery detailed feature of these buildings is a lingering testimony to the talent of now-forgotten carpenters and craftsmen — men and women who built something that has outlived them and continues to inspire new generations of the faithful.
Guardian Angel Church BackThe original structure of the Guardian Angel Catholic Church in Wallis was built in 1899 to serve the small Czech community. Sadly, this building was destroyed by a cyclone the following year. Services were held in the homes of parishioners until a second structure was built in 1904.
Guardian Angel SteepleBy 1912, the parish had grown to about 75 families. So, parishioners raised funds for a new building. Wallis builder Jan Bujnoch was hired to build the new structure designed by German architect Leo Dielman of San Antonio. The new building was dedicated on October 21, 1915 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
Guardian AngelThe simple Gothic Revival exterior of the white structure is accented by the deep green foliage of the surrounding trees. It is a peaceful setting — the perfect place for a church building. The entry to the building is flanked by a small statue of Christ with His arms extended and a statue of a guardian angel protecting two children.
Guardian Angel Church InteriorThe interior of the building is quite simply magnificent. The arches, the ceiling with its gallery of biblical figures, the wooden pews, and the columns all serve to frame the ornate altar. The statutes of the Stations of the Cross depicting the passion of Christ line the walls on either side of the pews. And the beautiful stained glass windows soften the light that spills into the sanctuary.
Guardian Angel PewsEvery element in this building in some way contributes to creating a peaceful and worshipful setting — a refuge from the outside world. Once inside, I had to take a moment to put my camera down and to just sit and take it all in. To say “they don’t build them like this anymore” would be absolutely true. Most modern church building are functional but lack the inspiring elements of the painted churches.
Guardian Angel AltarThere are lots of great places to visit in the Lone Star State. We certainly have no shortage of natural wonders. But, as you plan your next Texas adventure, consider visiting some of the painted churches in the state. Most of these churches remain open throughout the week and welcome visitors. Enter with reverence. Linger for a while. Depart refreshed by the legacy of faith of our early Texas settlers.

Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo

The area around Goliad is rich in Texas history. The Goliad Massacre, regarded as the darkest day in Texas history, took place at Presidio La Bahia. On March 27, 1836, Colonel James Fannin and 342 of his men were put to death under orders of Mexican General Santa Anna. Texans were so outraged that they embraced the battle cry “Remember Goliad” and vowed to win the war for Texas independence.
Mission Espiritu SantoLess than one-quarter mile from Presidio La Bahia is Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga. This spiritual outpost was established by Franciscan priests. The first mission was built at Matagorda Bay in 1722 adjacent to Presidio La Bahía. In 1749, both the mission and the fort were relocated to their present sites on opposite banks of the San Antonio River and near Camino La Bahía, a major Spanish trade route.
Mission Espiritu Santo InteriorThe Franciscan priests reached out to the native Aranama peoples and involved them in life at the mission. Under the supervision of the priests, the Indians worked with cattle, tilled the soil, learned to build with stone and mortar, spun wool for clothing, and made clay pots. Ranching, however, eventually became the main occupation at the mission and the indians became accomplished vaqueros (the original cowboys). By 1830, the mission was forced to close because of declining Indian populations and lack of money.
Mission Espiritu Santo CourtyardIn 1886, a hurricane destroyed what was left of Mission Espíritu Santo. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps was tasked with the reconstruction of the historic mission complex and the nearby Presidio La Bahia. Along with the restoration work, archeologists excavated the site and uncovered artifacts from the original mission structure. These are now on display at the site. The mission received a historical park designation in 1931 and is today listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Mission Espiritu Santo AltarMission Espíritu Santo is part of Goliad State Park and Historic Site. You can take a self-guided tour of the mission’s church and grounds, the focal point of the park. Park personnel and volunteers are available to answer your questions and to give you insight into what life was like at the mission. Also, there is an informative museum adjacent to the church. I encourage you to add this beautiful and historic site to your list of places to visit in the Lone Star State.

St. Agnes Church in Terlingua

The ghost town of Terlingua is located in the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert, one of the most rugged and hostile environments in Texas. The name of the town is derived from the Spanish words “tres lenguas” meaning “three tongues.” The discovery of quicksilver in the mid-1880s turned Terlingua from a sleepy little village into a town of a thousand-plus residents.St. Agnes ChurchBy 1913, Terlingua had a dependable water supply, mail delivery, somewhat reliable telephone service, a hotel, and a physician. Sometime in 1914, St. Agnes Church, also known as Chisos Mission, was established and became the focal point of the mining town. Itinerant priests held services at the church once a month and also officiated at baptisms, weddings, and funerals.St. Agnes Church InteriorChurch records indicate the priests adopted the Terlingua Cemetery. The burial ground is listed as St. Agnes Chisos Cemetery on church records but the official death records continued to list it as the Terlingua Cemetery. And although the town was segregated with Mexican families living east of the company store and Anglo families to the west, both Mexicans and Anglos were laid to rest in the same cemetery.St. Agnes Church AltarThe adobe building was constructed on a raised stone foundation on the side of a hill overlooking the town. The building has survived the ravages of time and remains an iconic symbol of the importance of faith in this remote place. The interior is completely unpretentious — offering worshipers hard wooden benches, a weathered pine floor, painted adobe walls, and a simple altar. The spiritual comfort the faithful have received here, however, more than makes up for any lack of creature comforts.St. Agnes Church ExteriorI hope to return to Terlingua to learn more about the old church and its history. Suffice it to say that St. Agnes Church has a beauty all its own. We’ll never know how many people over the years found solace, refuge, and the help they longed for inside the walls of this old church. St. Agnes Church remains as an enduring reminder that faith is important and can thrive in the harshest of places.

The Church Near Altair

The Painted Churches of Texas are high on my list of favorite road trip destinations. Several of the best examples of these historic structures are clustered in the vicinity of Schulenburg. These churches represent some of the very best examples of German and Czech architecture in the Lone Star State. They have survived because of the loving concern of their respective congregations.
South Point Baptist ChurchEvery now and then I come across abandoned churches on my road trips — structures that are falling apart because they no longer have anyone to maintain them. One such structure is located along Highway 71 south of the tiny community of Altair. When I first drove past the old building with the wide-open doors, I had to turn around to check things out for myself.
South Point CornerstoneThe first thing I noticed was the cornerstone, indicating that this now-abandoned building was once home to Southpoint Baptist Church. According to the cornerstone, Southpoint was organized in 1883, the same year that the University of Texas opened its doors in Austin for its inaugural session.
South Point InteriorInside, the building was filled with jumbles of junk — odds and ends no longer of any use. A few remaining seats, some preschool furniture in a side room, an old podium, and some Sunday School quarterlies scattered among the debris. The oldest quarterly I found was dated 1926 and the latest was dated 2010.
South Point VersesYou can’t walk into an old building like this without letting your imagination off its leash. Mine certainly ran wild in this old place. I wondered about the folks who put on their Sunday best and made their way to this location through the years — walking, on horseback, perhaps carriages, and later in automobiles.
South Point QuarterlyLooking toward the now-silent pulpit, I wondered about the sermons preached in this place. What had those who stood behind the pulpit shared to comfort the flock, especially during the dark days of two world wars? How much hope was dispensed here and who had left this place determined make the world a better place?
South Point Offering EnvelopeJust before I walked out the doors, I noticed an offering envelope among the decaying dandruff of this old building. The name of the giver was scrawled in cursive letters across the face of the envelope along with the amount he had given. Offerings like this are what kept the building in repair and likely met needs beyond the modest little corner lot on which the church is situated.
South Point Side ViewThe church building now sits empty and is slowly being reclaimed by moth and rust and decay. It is no longer a destination for worshipers, only a curiosity to those who travel down Highway 71. In reality, the only thing of value that remains is what the folks who worshiped here did to live out their faith in their community.
South Point ClockI’m glad I pulled over to explore the old building. The clock has now stopped ticking on the life of this old church that survived more than a hundred years of Texas history. I hope that someone who attended took the time to record at least some of the history of this old church. I, for one, would love to know more about Southpoint — and other places like this tucked away on Texas back roads.

The Painted Church of Dubina

Dubina bears the distinction of being the first Czech settlement in the Lone Star State. In 1856, a group of Czech settlers arrived in the area on a cold November day. A fierce norther and freezing rain forced these pioneers to seek shelter under a grove of large oak trees. Soaked with rain and at the mercy of the weather, the men built a huge fire under the protective branches of the trees. No one slept that night, but all survived.

The settlers remained in the area, built homes, and planted crops. They named their community Navidad after the nearby Navidad River. They later changed the name to Bohemian Navidad. The name was later changed again to Dubina in recognition of the oaks that had sheltered the first settlers. Dubina is the Czech word for oak grove.

Building a house of worship was a priority for these early Czech settlers who had a deep faith in God. They built their first church in 1877 on land donated by Joseph Peter. The steeple of this church was topped with an iron cross made by Tom Lee, a freed slave who worked for Peter as a blacksmith. Sadly, this church was destroyed by a hurricane in 1909. The iron cross fashioned by Lee was salvaged from the debris.
Dubina Church SideviewAfter their first church was destroyed, the community raised funds to build a new church. They hired the German architect Leo Dielmann to design the new structure. By 1911, Dubina had a new place of worship and Tom Lee’s cross once again stood atop the steeple. The interior was painted with beautiful frescos and motifs of vines, oak leaves, and angels. Unfortunately, in the 1950s, the ornate interior was whitewashed.
Dubina Church InteriorIn 1983, Judge Ed Janeckas and Butch Koenig, led efforts to restore the church. Judge Janeckas had served as an altar boy at the church and recalled seeing faint traces of the original artwork beneath the whitewash. These original designs were uncovered during the renovation and restored using some of the original stencils.
Dubina Church Front ViewToday, Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church of Dubina stands as an enduring reminder of the early settlers strong faith in God and their determination to begin new lives in the Lone Star State. You can see the church standing proud against the Texas sky as you approach Dubina.
Dubina Church CrossThe front doors of the church are open during the week but entrance to the main sanctuary is blocked by an iron gate. Guests can see the interior through the gate but can have access to the interior on Sunday and through the painted churches tour offered by the Schulenberg Chamber of Commerce.

Don Pedrito Jaramillo

Known as the Healer of Los Olmos and the Saint of Falfurrias, Don Pedrito Jaramillo remains highly regarded by folks in South Texas. He was born to Indian parents sometime around 1829 in Guadalajara, Mexico. After the death of his mother in 1881, Jaramillo moved to the Los Olmos Ranch near present-day Falfurrias.
Don Pedrito JaramilloAccording to legend, this poor Mexican laborer fell off his horse and broke his nose while working as a cowboy on the Los Olmos Ranch. The pain of his injury kept him awake for several days. When he was finally able to sleep, he was told by God in a dream that he had been given the gift to heal people.
Don Pedrito Shrine ExteriorDon Pedrito, as he affectionately came to be known, started treating the sick and injured who lived on the surrounding ranches. He quickly earned a reputation as a curandero, the Spanish word for healer. Curanderos are a part of the rich texture of Hispanic culture in Texas. In days when doctors were few and far between and folks had little money to pay a physician, curanderos offered palliative solutions and cures to the poor.
Don Pedrito Shrine InteriorDon Pedrito’s cures included mud packs (what he had used when he broke his nose), various poultices, herbal plants, and drinking large quantities of water. The compassionate healer often provided what he prescribed to his impoverished patients. His cures were so effective that people from throughout the region and, reportedly, from as far away as New York sought him out. In the years before easy access to medical care, Don Pedrito was to the folks of his day what dialing 9-1-1 and emergency rooms are to us today.

Although Don Pedrito never charged for his services, he regularly received unsolicited donations. He gave much of this money to local churches and kept some on hand to fund a large food pantry to help people in need. By some reports, Don Pedrito would spend hundreds of dollars at a time to buy food to give away. When he died in 1907, he still had more than $5,000 in 50-cent pieces set aside for his philanthropic work.
Don Pedrito Pics and NotesToday, more than a hundred years after his death, the faithful and the curious continue to visit the shrine of this South Texas folk saint — his final resting place. The whitewashed interior walls of the modest building are adorned with handwritten notes and photos of those either seeking help or who claim to have been helped or healed as a result of their visit to the shrine of Don Pedrito. Don, by the way, was not Pedro Jaramillo’s first name. Don is a title of esteem and respect in the Hispanic community.
Don Pedrito SignThe shrine is open daily from sunup to sunset. To get to the shrine, take Highway 285 east out of Falfurrias and look for the sign pointing the way just before you get to FM 1418. The shrine is located two miles north of Highway 285 on your right. Everyone is welcome. The curio shop next door sells candles, herbs, incense, and snacks.

Regardless of your own spiritual beliefs, take a quick detour to visit the shrine if you happen to be in the area to see the place where a poor Mexican laborer earned a widespread reputation as a beloved curandero. The story of this South Texas folk saint is, after all, a part of our rich Texas history.

The Pink Church of Ammannsville

Ammannsville is a tiny community located about nine miles southeast of La Grange. German and Czech immigrant farmers first settled in this region in the 1870s. The town is named after Andrew Ammann who just happened to be the first settler to arrive on March 12, 1870.

Ammannsville is also home to St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, also known as the Pink Church — one of the Lone Star State’s historic painted churches. This church opened its doors in 1890 and served the people of the area until it was destroyed by the Velasco Hurricane of 1909.

The second church to occupy the site was built by Leo Dielmann, the young German architect who designed and built the beautiful St. Mary’s Catholic Church in High Hill. Architectural plans and photographs on file at the Dielmann archives in San Antonio reveal that this second structure had a beautifully ornate interior, much like St. Mary’s church.
St. John the Baptist Catholic ChurchSadly, the second church building was destroyed by fire eight years after it was built. One woman, who was just a child at the time of the fire, recalled that the fire was so intense that it melted the church bells. When folks saw the smoke, she said, they raced to the church to try to save it. Only a few of church’s statues escaped the flames.
St. John the Baptist Interior ViewThe people of Ammannsville, determined to have their place of worship, immediately made plans to rebuild their beloved church on the same site. This third church was completed in 1909. Although the interior is beautiful, it is less ornate than that of the previous structure. The interior, sans columns, is open and bathed by the natural light that pours in through the large windows.
St. John WindowsWhile the exterior of the church is white, the interior is painted in a rosy pink color — thus the name, The Pink Church. According to a legend, an unknown artist painted and embellished the interior of the church and then vanished, never to be seen again. Although the legend adds an aura of mystery to the church’s interesting history, the community actually hired a painter named Fred Donecker. Little is known about this decorative painter who is believed to have also painted the Catholic Church in Moravia, Texas.
St. John Church AltarLike the other painted churches in the area, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church has a beautiful and worshipful interior. The altar is a masterpiece of carpentry. The walls on either side are adorned with the familiar stations of the cross that portray the events of the Passion of Christ. The welcoming angel statues at the entrance of the church hold sea shell shaped containers of holy water for those who come to pray and worship.
St. John Church AngelsSt. John the Baptist Catholic Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The church is open daily to visitors who venture off busy Interstate 10 or who meander down the surrounding farm to market roads. Set your GPS to Ammannsville — that’s all the address you need. You can’t miss the church. It’s the tallest structure in the area, and the most beautiful.