Chapter 5 Towards a New Millennium: 1988 to 2011
Updated: Mar 30
Guiding Guadalupe Church into the next two decades were two beloved pastors: Father Marty Elsner, SJ (1988-1996, and again from 2000-2008), and Father Jim Lambert, SJ (1996-2000). Fathers Elsner and Lambert continued to throw their support behind COPS, recruiting parishioners to work both for infrastructural improvements in the neighborhood and to tackle other local issues such as the neighborhood's drug problems, voter registration, and local energy company policies. Though the parish school moved to the campus of Immaculate Conception Church on Merida Street in 1985 (under the new name of West side Catholic High School, which it bore until closing its doors in 20XX?), Father Elsner rallied support around a network of civic leaders aiming to decrease truancy and improve scholarship and graduation rates at Lanier Public High School, across the street from the church.
As part and parcel of their community outreach, Fathers Elsner and Lambert also encouraged lay leadership in Guadalupe Church. Sunday Masses are amply assisted by lay coordinators and deacons, and the Guadalupana Society of Catholic laywomen – in existence since 1912, a year after the foundation of the parish – is stronger and more vibrant than ever. In the 1980's (EXACT DATE??), the Jesuit Volunteer Corps – a national network of young adult lay volunteers – was invited to Guadalupe Church to staff the parish's social service office, which remains one of the best known sources of charitable aid in the city. Since 2001, with the departure of the last religious sisters from the church campus, where they had run a small orphanage subsequent to the end of their teaching ministry at the former parish school, the entire JVC community of San Antonio has lived in the one-time convent beside the church. When Father Ron Gonzales, SJ, became pastor in 2008, one of his first major initiatives was the creation of a permanent parish council, whose members – a third of whom are elected annually – serve terms of three years each.
Guadalupe Church, as a Jesuit parish, has also cultivated and enjoyed good relations with the local archdiocese. The church collaborates on several annual events – from Guadalupe Day festivities to Christmas gift drives – with a sister parish in Helotes, formerly run by the Marianists, though a diocesan parish since 2006. in San antonio, for the next eight years, Father Elsner was chosen by the archbishop to head the planning committee for the presbyterate's annual conference, a great sign of esteem for a religious order priest. Father Lambert was elected chair of this presbyteral council in 2000, but three months later his Jesuit superior reassigned him to Louisiana, and he was unable to accept the archbishop's request.
One other great issue has taken up all of the Jesuit pastors' attention. The first major renovations to the church property occurred in the 1950's under the pastoral care of Father William Dillon, who remodeled the interior of the church and paved the church and school grounds. By then the church was already pushing half a century, and this would be just the first of many major projects to stave off the inevitable wear and tear of time.
For a few decades, repairs came in fits and starts. In 1976, the church received a new set of pews. In 1986, local artist Al Medina designed and began creating a set of new stained class windows, finally completed and dedicated on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the year 2000. No sooner had this project been finished, though, then a major new restoration initiative commenced. In 2001, the exterior of the school building and parish hall were restored. In 2002, famed mural artist John Martinez painted a Guadalupe-themed mural on the side of the hall, featuring a number of kids from the parish youth group who served as models. In 2005, from January through May, liturgies were held in the parish hall, as Donald Wendt executed an extensive renovation and repainting of the church interior.
When Father Ron Gonzales became the pastor of Guadalupe Church in 2008, he continued the foregoing renovations. The interior of the parish hall was cleaned up, and the entire building was given a new foundation. The facade of the school building was repainted, and a collection of condemned buildings on the east side of the church property – which had included a guest house and the social service office, prior to its move to the bottom story of the school building – was demolished. A small chapel dedicated to Cristo de la Agonia was remodeled by Michael Wendt and local parishioners, led by brothers Carlos and Juan Chavez. Most recently, an adoration chapel has been set up in Room 1 of the school building by Associate Pastor James Marshall, SJ, and parishioner Shannon Haase.
After one hundred years, the creativity, faith, and spirit of Guadalupe Church has not been exhausted. This parish, originally founded to serve the needs of a small, poor, and exploited community, has grown into one of the landmarks of San Antonio's cultural, historical, and religious heritage, and it only continues to grow. It has been a place of pilgrimage for many: for Eleanor Roosevelt in 1937, and for Pope John Paul II half a century later. For Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who visited Guadalupe Plaza in 1991, and for then-Senator Barack Obama, who visited the same plaza in 2008. For a group of students of the University of Texas in San Antonio, who manifested in front of the church during their twenty-two-day hunger strike in support of the tragically defeated pro-immigrant DREAM Act. For Miss San Antonio 2011 Domonique Ramirez, who bequeathed her crown to the church in honor of la Virgen, “the queen of queens, the keeper of all crowns.”
But most of all, this is a place of pilgrimage for the hundreds of thousands of Catholics who have lived their lives here under the protection of Our Lady of Guadalupe and contributed to the parish community – or who have visited this beautiful sanctuary from near and far to plead for help and healing, to offer thanks and praise, and to pray for the Church and for the world.