Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 7, 2004
Frescos adorn Texas church
Water damage threatens 50-year-old artwork
Sacred Heart -- June 18
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Corpus Christi, Texas
On the upland above the Bluff that separates it from the old waterfront Corpus Christi city centre, the mission-style church of the Sacred Heart hides some fine art treasures behind its stuccoed walls.
Labours of love and deep faith, the building's interior is lavishly ornamented with 50-year-old frescoes. Its imposing fa‡ade, bell tower and dome also hold secrets not obvious to the passerby. This church was literally built by "the faith and calloused hands" of its parishioners.
The church faith built
Amazingly, no machinery was used and all labour was donated. The only expenses during construction were for materials.
Soon after the placing of the 10-foot high statue of the Sacred Heart on the fa‡ade in 1942, the church was blessed by Bishop E.B. Ledvina. Then, under the direction of pastor Father Anthony Elsing, the parish (which had been established in 1920, the first in Corpus Christi to serve the Hispanic community), grew and matured over the years.
Later on, major civic and county government buildings were relocated into the West End, the area served by Sacred Heart. This urban renewal saw many parish residences demolished with a resultant decline in attendance at the church.
Still, today the prominent tower and dome are visible for long distances and, surrounded by schools and church offices, are a familiar landmark rising above government parking lots and the low-rise remnants of the neighbourhood.
Visitors to the church enter through the parabolic arch of the front door beneath a stunning stained glass window portraying the Sacred Heart.
Once inside, first-time visitors are often awed by the decoration of the church walls. Areas between the graceful parabolic arches that surround the dome are illuminated with the frescos of Antonio Garcia, said by some to be "the Picasso of south Texas." Enthusiastic long-time Deacon Rudy Ramirez will explain the stories behind the images and can identify the artist's relatives and other parishioners who served as models for much of the art.
Dominant in the church is the portrayal of St. Margaret-Mary Alacoque, experiencing a vision of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. To the left, the local Garza family are shown receiving Holy Communion from Father Elsing.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart was initiated by Margaret-Mary, a Visitation sister who lived in France win the 17th century. She experienced a series of revelations in which Christ asked that his heart become an object of veneration and that an annual feast of reparation be established. Despite much opposition from her community, the devotion became a formal part of Church teaching.
Art rooted in theology
Garcia, who died in 1997, loved art and worked hard to put himself through art school. Well grounded in theology, his desire was to inspire people to a deeper appreciation of their faith. His figures seem to approach viewers in a mastery of colours and detail. His frescos include images of the Holy Family (the artist's wife is Mary), Our Lady of the Scapular (including three of Garcia's aunts) and St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Today, the parish is experiencing a renewed vigour as new life is being put into the old downtown area and as more people are attracted to Sacred Heart.
Unfortunately, serious water damage is threatening the survival of the church's unique frescos. Few artists are trained today to restore Garcia's art and skyrocketing costs for building repairs make this a real concern. Without the internal resources to finance the project, pastor Father Jose Almazon is praying that help may be found beyond the parish to preserve these historical works that are also a part of the legacy of south Texas.