Oblates were early pioneer priests in the Rio Grande Valley, Brush Country of Texas

It is always encouraging to receive feedback on a blog, but it is doubly encouraging when you can use the information you received from your readers. Such was the case with a photo I received from my friend and fellow historian R.J. Molina from Austin, by way of Hebbronville.

R.J. sent me a photo of his granduncle Manuel Molina on horseback talking with a priest who was standing in front of him and his horse. R.J. did not know the name of the priest. I did not know whether or not the photo was significant to my research, but I felt it deserved further investigation because, depending on the timeframe, the priest could be an Oblate, who were the pioneer priests in the Rio Grande Valley, who occasionally made forays into Duval County.   

The Oblates

The new bishop of the new diocese of Galveston, Jean Marie Odin, sent the The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, known simply as the Oblates, to the Rio Grande Valley in 1849. Two wonderful accounts of their ministry can be found in “The Reminiscences of a Texas Missionary” and “The Cavalry of Christ on the Rio Grande, 1849-1883”. Another book that mentions the work done by the Oblates is “Bordertown: the odyssey of an American place,” which is a history of Roma, Texas. The Oblates did their missionary work from Brownsville to Roma, from where the Oblates made their outreach into Duval County ranches.

According the the archivist for the Oblates in San Antonio, the encounter between Manuel Molina and the Oblate priest, who turned out to be Father Hendrik Laenen, occurred between 1956-1960. Father Laenen was—like many of his predecessors in the Oblate community—a Belgian priest who worked in Texas for most of his career, and passed away in San Antonio in 2013. He was stationed at Our Lady of Refuge in Roma from 1956-1960, so that would most likely be the time the photograph was taken. The Archives has a second photo, very similar to the one pictured above, which were taken by Felix Studio from Mission, Texas.

The people

While this photo was taken in the second half of the 20th century, it is very representative of what encounters between the Oblates and the Tejanos would have been like 100 years earlier. R.J. gives us a brief rundown of the Molina family from that part of the country, which very typical of Tejano families from that area and era.

My Tio Manuel Molina was my grandfather Agapito Molina’s brother. There were siblings of Papa Tomas Ramon and Dionicia (Garcia) Molina.  Their two other children were Tio Jorge Molina and Tia Pepa (Josefa?) Molina Ramirez. Great grandmother Mama Dionicia was from the same Garcia family from the historic crossroads Rancho de La Noria de Santo Domingo. The horse, cattle and ox or mule carts traveled from Laredo to Brownsville and from historic Mier or Roma/Los Saenz, Texas to San Diego, Texas  and La Bahia/Goliad.

Like the Molinas, many other Tejano families had encounters with the Belgian priests that ministered in the Roma area. Like the Belgian missionaries, French priests came to Duval County in the second half of the nineteenth century and harvested the seeds of faith, planted by the Oblates in the Brush Country.

7 Comments on "Oblates were early pioneer priests in the Rio Grande Valley, Brush Country of Texas"

  1. Dr Garcia, Roberto | April 24, 2017 at 8:33 am | Reply

    Alfredo, thank you for keeping our history alive.

  2. Chuck Burnett | April 24, 2017 at 1:36 pm | Reply

    Thank you,
    I love Texas and south Texas history.

  3. Eduardo Perales | April 24, 2017 at 4:30 pm | Reply

    I enjoy your writing about South Texas. Keepp up the good work.

  4. Anne Hoffman | May 18, 2017 at 9:35 am | Reply

    I remember reading that during the Yellow Priest had to come from
    San Diego for the dead & dying in Corpus Christi.
    Thanks for your wonderful articles.

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