FOUNDATION IN SAN ANTONIO
Before the establishment of a Maronite Church in San Antonio, the spiritual needs of the community were being administered by the Claretian Fathers of San Fernando Cathedral and the Oblate Fathers of St. Mary’s Parish downtown.
The first meeting was held in January of 1925 to discuss the establishment of a Maronite Church in San Antonio at the Diocese of San Antonio Catholic Women’s House. It was there that plans were discussed and made to form a committee to approach the Latin Bishop and request that Father George Aziz be allowed to serve the Maronite faithful living in San Antonio.
When Bishop Drossaerts accepted the request, Anne Casseb and her son, Solomon Casseb, Sr., promised that they would match every dollar donated to provide a salary and living expenses for the new priest while the committee searched for a location for the Church.
In the interim and while awaiting the acquisition of a church and rectory, the Maronite mass was celebrated by Father Aziz in the Santa Rosa Infirmary Chapel every Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m.
By July of 1925, the committee found the property at 426 North Pecos Street at the corner of Martin Street, containing a small two-story frame building with gray clapboard siding. For almost six years, Father George Aziz said mass on the first floor of the framed house on North Pecos Street while living on the second floor.
Even though the community was poised to launch the construction of a new church on that site, Father Aziz was transferred in 1931 and Father Elias Nagem took his place. Upon Father Nagem’s arrival, construction for the new Church began. The financing for the new facility was again prompted by the generosity of Annie Casseb and her son, Solomon, who pledged $10,000 toward the new building. The new Church was built at the same site on North Pecos and dedicated on September 25, 1932.
On June 29, 1939, Father Elias Nagem passed away after months of illness. For a brief period the Rev. Father Marcus A. Valenta, Pastor of San Francesco Di Paola, administered to the needs of the parish. That same year, Father Anthony Daddah from Lebanon was appointed to fill the position and he served the parish for seven years until he was reassigned in 1946.
Father Alexander C. Wangler was appointed interim priest for the parish for almost two years until another priest could be sent from Lebanon.
On September 23, 1947, Father John Trad from Barhalyon, Becharrie District of North Lebanon, was appointed pastor, but he would not arrive until the beginning of the year.
When Father Trad arrived in San Antonio in early 1948, the Parish had just learned that the Church building on North Pecos would have to be relocated, as the site was in the path of the newly proposed IH 35 Expressway. The Parish was divided into a new site for the Church, half of them favoring relocation in the same neighborhood on North Frio and Morales Streets, and the other half favoring a site on San Pedro Avenue.
After many meetings held by the dedicated Father Trad, the motion to rebuild the Church on Frio Street was put to a vote. Church records reflect that 38 favored the relocation to Frio Street, while 39 opposed it. Because of the close vote, the final decision was presented to Archbishop Robert E. Lucey in a letter request dated October 26, 1951, signed by Father Trad, Solomon Casseb, Solomon Sfair, and Edward Karam.
The old Church on North Pecos Street was torn down and the materials moved to North Frio Street and Morales where the Church was then rebuilt, brick by brick, and completed in 1952. Except for new terrazzo floors (instead of wood floors), the new Church was identical to the original Church on North Pecos Street.
When Monsignor Trad was reassigned to Australia in 1966, he was succeeded for a year by Father Nehmatallah El-Hayek. Father Wlademer Akekee was then transferred to St. George, and when he arrived in 1967, he was presented with a major crisis facing the Parish: the impending condemnation of the Church, this time by the Urban Renewal Agency. On January 6, 1968, the Parish held a general meeting to discuss the predicament, and most all the families attended. All agreed that unity was critical; that site selection and raising funds for a new location were primary; that a hall would need to be built first to help raise money, and then church construction would follow. In 1974, a land on Babcock, comprising 15.4 acres, was purchased.
With a small house on the newly acquired Babcock Road property to serve as a rectory, and an old garage converted to serve as the Church, the Parish greeted its new pastor, Reverend Bernard Khachan, in 1974. A newly instituted twelve-member Church council was created, replacing the previous four-member trusteeship. Unified behind their determined and dedicated priest, the enthusiastic Council and congregation composed of approximately 150 families went to work to clear the land and raise the money to construct a Church Hall and Rectory on the property.
The Church Hall was constructed first and upon its completion in 1976, the dedication was celebrated by the Most Reverend Francis M. Zayek, the first Maronite Bishop for the United States. For the time being, the small wood-frame garage continued to be utilized for the liturgy.
The Hall was utilized for fund-raising activities, gradually allowing the community to raise the necessary funds to commence the construction of the Church. Before the Church construction began, however, Monsignor Bernard Khachan would be replaced in 1977 by Father James Khoury.
The new Church was designed by Parishioner-architect, Larry Raba, and constructed by Parishioner-contractor, Mitchell Battros in 1979. In 1980, Archbishop Frances Zayek celebrated the dedication of the new Maronite Church.
In 1985 Father James Khoury was replaced by Father Bernard Khachan who returned to San Antonio to complete the development on the property. Plans were again prepared this time for the addition of classrooms and meeting facilities to the original hall complex, and in 1987 Parishioner Frank Van Delden of Van Delden-Karam Construction Company commenced work.
Before the project was finished, however, Father Khachan would receive another assignment and he would be replaced in the latter part of 1987 by Monsignor Hector Y. Doueihi. Monsignor Doueihi would complete the classroom and meeting facilities project.
Toward the latter part of 1989, Monsignor Hector Y. Doueihi was transferred and Father Abdallah Zaidan, from the Congregation of Maronite Lebanese Missionaries, arrived in San Antonio. His assignment here was an experiment by the Diocese, the first attempt to allow a religious Order, the MLM’s, to take full charge of a United States Parish. During the tenure of Fr. Zaidan, in 1994, the five-acre tract at the southwest corner of Hollyhock and Babcock Road was acquired by the Church.
In 1994, Father Zaidan was reassigned to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Lebanon in Los Angeles. Father Marwan Tabet, MLM, was assigned to the Parish.
In 1996, Father John Al-Nahal, MLM, would be assigned to the Parish. Father John headed the committee to design and construct the Maronite Community Center containing a regulation size Basket Ball Court, Cafeteria area, and classrooms. The groundbreaking ceremony was held in 2000, the 75th Anniversary of the Parish, and the building was completed and dedicated in 2005.
In 2006 Fr. Ghassan Mattar, MLM was assigned as pastor of St. George. During the tenure of Fr. Mattar, the parish continued to grow in size and in activities. In 2007, the parish started the Lebanese Food Festival. The festival keeps on growing and becoming one of San Antonio’s unique food and cultural festivals. In October 2011, His Beatitude Bechara Peter El Rai, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, chose San Antonio to make a stop during his pastoral visit to the United States. In 2012, the parish hosted the 49th annual NAM convention. In 2013, Fr. Ghassan Mattar was reassigned to Lebanon after his elections as a counselor at the MLM order. He was replaced by the new pastor, Fr. Charles Khachan, MLM.
Today we are a parish growing in size and activity. The motivation of those early pioneer families is still present in the many descendants. We strive to educate and teach everyone about the richness of the Maronite Catholic Church, its Liturgy, and traditions. Now in the 21st Century, we are even more committed to meeting the challenge of defining and preserving our faith and our Syriac Maronite Tradition for our children and our children’s children.