Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 21, 2003
In search of Saint Joseph
Saint Joseph - Feast Day - May 1
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
San Antonio, Texas
Strolling along East Commerce Street, the tourist, amazed at the sudden appearance of an attractive, Neo-Gothic limestone church flanked by storefronts, wondered aloud, "Why would they build a church in the middle of a department store?"
Fronting on one of the city's busiest streets and just off San Antonio's famed Riverwalk and, yes, enclosed on three sides by Dillard's Department Store, St. Joseph's Downtown offers an island of serenity for office workers, shoppers and visitors amid the busy downtown world around it. It's open most daylight hours for visits, quiet reflection, prayer or just enjoyment of the beautiful interior of the historic church. Many stay for the popular, well-attended daily noon Eucharistic celebration.
St. Joseph's founders named their church to honour Mary's husband and Jesus' foster father. He is the guardian of the universal Church and has, since the 15th century, been venerated as a model father, husband and protector of the family. The feast of St. Joseph the Worker was instituted in 1956 by Pope Pius XII in part to recognize his attributes as an average working man and also to impart a Christian element to annual traditional May Day labour celebrations.
Referring to Jesus, Scripture says "This is the carpenter's son, surely?" (Matthew 13:55). Evidence from the Gospels also indicates that the family was poor. Presumably, father and son would both have been engaged in house building at Nazareth in an area where wood was the material of choice for construction. Joseph would seem to be a natural ideal and model for those who work with their hands at physical labour.
Visitors to St. Joseph's Downtown might get to view pastor T.J. Fitzgerald's pride and joy, a lifelike statue in the rectory parlor of the saint, grasping his hand saw, ready for his next project 2,000 years ago.
Begun in 1868 by German Catholic immigrants wanting a church of their own, the "German Catholic church," when completed in 1876, served a San Antonio where residents of German extraction outnumbered (5,630) both "Anglos" and Mexican-Americans. Four bells, two named "Joseph," were installed in 1891 in this thoroughly German church, followed in 1902 by beautiful stained glass windows from Munich.
So why are the church and rectory surrounded on three sides by a department store? In 1945, parishioners overwhelmingly refused to permit the sale of their Gothic jewel to accommodate expansion of their neighbour, Joske's. So the store built around St. Joseph's, Joske's claimed to be "the largest store in the largest state," and residents came to affectionately call the German church "St. Joske's."
It's said that long before anticipated Sunday Masses were introduced, Saturday evening Eucharist was celebrated to accommodate the Joske brothers desire to attend Mass after work. (Joske's is now Dillard's and is part of an expanded Rivercentre Mall.)
Entering St. Joseph's is a venture into another world. With traffic noise left outside, it's cool, quiet and coloured with soft diffused light. Tranquility enfolds the treasures of the church, an elaborate castellated reredos and statues of many saints. Talented early (1874) pastor Father Henry Pofferkorn created the large paintings of the Assumption and the Annunciation that flank the sanctuary.
Since 1982 the parish has been administered by fathers of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. Their particular devotion to the Eucharist has resulted in daily Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament between 8 a.m and 11:45 a.m. It's followed by Benediction before the noon Mass.
Five weekend Masses include a Guadalupana choir singing in Spanish at 9:30 a.m., joined on second Sundays by a Mariachi group. Once a month, the 11 a.m. Mass is sung in Latin and German by the all-male San Antonio Liederkranz, founded by Pofferkorn. Visitors at any time will find a useful walking tour brochure in St. Joseph's Downtown Church.