In 1890, a large group of Italians from Calabria left loved ones and all they knew and crossed an ocean to an unfamiliar land and language. They chose to settle in San Antonio, Texas, and centered their lives around the traditions of their Catholic faith, with the goal of one day building a beautiful church in honor of the patron saint of Calabria, San Francesco di Paola.
In March 1926, a mission preached at San Fernando Cathedral in Italian by Rev. Saverio Vecchio became the community’s catalyst to build their own church. A group of men purchased property from the Christopher Columbus Italian Society and donated it to the Archdiocese of San Antonio to be the site of the envisioned church. Over the course of a year, the Italian community gave selflessly of their time, talent and the little money they had to make their dream a reality.
Archbishop Arthur Drossaerts solemnly blessed and dedicated the new church on Sunday, May 1, 1927. It was a beautiful Mass attended by a great multitude of people and followed by a sumptuous banquet of festivities and dancing. Fr. Vecchio was the first pastor of the “Italian Church” as it was (and still is) fondly called. San Francesco di Paola became a community not only for the Italians, but for all who love the beauty of worshiping in a magnificent space that represents a time gone by.
Columbus Hall was built
Archbishop Lucey placed San Francesco di Paola under the care of the Claretian Fathers
San Francesco di Paola served as the site of weekly novenas during WWII
Through the hard work of the Altar and Rosary Society, the San Francescani Society, and the Children of Mary, the church remained vibrant
Urban Renewal of downtown San Antonio forced many Italians who lived around the church to move to the suburbs
The Franciscan Order of Priests was given charge of the church. The church started a special ministry to the deaf community of San Antonio for almost 25 years
The church reverted to the care of the Archdiocese of San Antonio
The church celebrated its 75th anniversary with a grand gala event
The 80th and 85th anniversary brought hundreds of original members and their children and grandchildren back to celebrate and reaffirm their respect for the church
Archbishop Garcia-Siller assigned the church to be a mission of San Fernando Cathedral, with the rector of the Cathedral also serving as the pastor of San Francesco di Paola
The church celebrated its 90th anniversary with special events
The church will celebrate its 95th anniversary that reunites descendents of the original immigrant families with our current parishioners
Traditions brought over by the original members continue, such as the annual Procession of the Statue of San Francesco di Paola. The church remains a hub for weddings, baptisms and funerals of the Italian community in San Antonio, supported by generous donors, weekly collections and countless legendary spaghetti dinners
St. Francis of Paola was born in 1416 in Paola, Italy, which lies in the southern province of Cosenza, Calabria. He led a life of profound prayer, mortification and humility. He founded the Minim friars and embraced an apostolic call to share his gifts of miracles and prophecy, as well as defend the poor and oppressed. His feast day is April 2.
It was the unanimous decision of the founders of San Francesco di Paola to name the church after this patron saint of the area they emigrated from.