MISSION, Texas – Just a few hundred yards from the slow-moving waters of the Rio Grande sits a small chapel. Since 1899 this small structure has sat here doing exactly what the priests that built it all those years ago had hoped for, inspiring and guiding.
Luis Contreras from the Mission Historical Museum has no problem speaking from the pulpit about this place.
“It’s important to me because of where I come from,” Luis said. “I was born and raised in Mission. This is the foundation. It’s the beginning of the story.”
Any long-lasting building or belief has to have a good foundation and for the origin of La Lomita, you have to go back to 1849, when Oblate priests from France brought their missionary work to Texas.
“They reached out to about Roma, which was a hundred-mile stretch, and provided services to a lot of the working folk, ranch folk, that lived and worked on the ranch properties,” Luis explained.
Known as the Cavalry of Christ, the priests served 65 ranches when the chapel was built.
Father Roy Snipes from Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mission comes from the same line of Oblates that started their mission work here all those years ago.
“It was a continual, like a sacred, creative energy,” Father Roy informed us. “I hope we still have some of it, but they were free spirits. They were wild holly men, and there’s a lot of good stories about them.”
He relies on this old chapel for strength and guidance in his daily life as a priest.
“I go there all the time,” Father Roy said. “That’s where I go to pray almost everyday.”
It’s not hard to see that back then, life was a bit simpler.
“The world now is a little bit probably over institutionalized and sanitized and bureaucratized,” Father Roy says. “I’m sure those guys are telling us, ‘Get down off your damn high horse, and get a little bit more down to earth. Get a little bit more ranch style, a little bit more down home, a little bit more country style.’ We try to do that. Try to keep in touch with that.”
In 1912, the Oblates built the St. Joseph and Saint Peter Seminary, a site that was badly damaged by a fire in 2009. Its façade still stands, barley, but there are hopes to revitalize the old Novitiate. For now, the small chapel remains as the strongest physical connection we have to the holy riders who took to the Rio Grande to spread their message of love to the lands.
“The beginnings are always so, so important,” Luis said. “The experience doesn’t just come in what you read. It’s in your environment, your surroundings, and when you can actually sit and visit a site that was touched by many hands, including the Oblate fathers that came through here to establish this, and start the story of Mission, Texas, it’s definitely a site to come out and see, and visit.”
So, make it your mission to visit Mission and connect with a powerful presence in the Lone-Star State that helped build the border region while establishing a message of peace and a Texan favorite, friendship.