An Entrance into Roman Catholic Missionary Work:

San Antonio Missions


Convento Leading to Church, Mission San Jose

Convento Leading to Church, Mission San José

During the 16th, 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries as part of Spain's colonizing efforts, various Roman Catholic orders of Jesuits, Dominicans, and Franciscans evangelized New Spain (i.e., Mexico) and northward into present-day California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.  The five San Antonio Missions―established by Franciscans in the eighteenth century―provide a window into Roman Catholic missionary efforts in North America.

In his Enquiry (p. 38), William Carey categorized people throughout the world into four broad religious groups: Christians, Jews, Mahometans, and Pagans.  In the "America" section of his Enquiry (p. 56), Carey lists countries and regions in north, central, and south America, and he refers specifically to "Old Mexico" and "New Mexico."  Carey described the peoples of Old and New Mexico as "Pagans and Papists" (Enquiry, p. 56), which demonstrates Carey's awareness of Catholic missionary efforts in Old and New Mexico.

Throughout the Enquiry, Carey uses various terms for subcategories of Christians and Moslems.  He uses the terms "Catholic" (4x) and "Papist" (28x) as synonymous words.  Both of these terms are sub-categories along with other terms Carey uses to describe each "particular sect" (Enquiry, p. 38). For other Christians, Carey refers to them as "Protestant," "Moravian Christian," "Latin Christian," "Greek Christian," "Lutheran," "Calvinist,"  "Armenian Christian," "Eutychian Christian," "Christians of various denominations," etc.  In one reference, Carey recognized "the sect of Ali" as a sub-category within Islam.

Later in the Enquiry (p. 62), Carey estimates that throughout the world there are "an hundred millions catholics; forty-four millions protestants; [and] thirty millions of the greek and armenian churches."  Whether these numbers were accurate is unlikely, and Carey himself admitted "in many countries, as Turkey, Arabia, Great Tartary, Africa, and America, except the United States, and most of the Asiatic Islands, we have no accounts of the number of inhabitants, that can be relied on" (Enquiry, p. 62). 

In contemporary San Antonio, Texas, there are five historic Franciscan mission stations from the early to mid-1700s.  Four of these sites continue as parish churches (the Alamo is now a State Historical Site operated by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas), and around each site, the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, maintains and preserves the grounds.  The most famous of these missions is the Alamo, the historic site of Texans' Revolution against Mexico and General Antonio López de Santa Anna.


The Franciscan missions in the San Antonio area reveal the communal nature of eighteenth century Catholic missions.  Named for St. Francis of Assisi, Franciscan friars distinguished themselves for missionary work among the poor.  In these missions, the friars educated native Indians in Spanish, Christian doctrine, communal living, farming, craft-making, and Spanish forms of government; a policy of "convert and civilize" prevailed [Luis Torres, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, photography by George H. H. Huey (Tucson: Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, 1993), p. 10].


The photographs below illustrate the beautiful architecture of Spanish colonialism.  The style is a mixture of Renaissance, Romanesque, and Moorish themes.  Imported artisans and native American Indians constructed these missions from stone quarries in the San Antonio area.


Mission San Antonio de ValeroThe Alamo


Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo (commonly referred to as "The Queen of the Missions")


"It has a beautiful cupola, though it is overcrowded with unnecessary ornaments.  The façade is very costly because of the statues and ornaments with which it is heavily decorated, detracting somewhat from its natural beauty.  In a word, no one could have imagined that there were such good artisans in so desolate a place."

Fr. Juan Agustín Morfi, 1778 [as quoted in Torres, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, 1993, p. 24]


Mission Nuestra Señora de la Concepción de Acuña


Mission San Juan Capistrano


Mission San Francisco de la Espada

[All photographs by Bennie R. Crockett, Jr., June, 2005]


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Created:    June 9, 2005                    Updated:    June 28, 2005