WHAT: Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church
WHERE: 1008 S. Alamo St., Refugio
For more information, call 361-526-2083.
BY ALLISON MILES
REFUGIO – The stained-glass windows lining Refugio’s Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church tell many a vibrant story: the crucifixion, Christ’s baptism, the Virgin Mary’s crowning and more.
But it doesn’t end there. With the church’s centuries-old and obstacle-ridden past, it has a story all its own.
Our Lady of Refuge’s history stretches back to 1795, before it was a church at all.
It began with the Rev. Manuel Silva and Francisco Garza, members of the Franciscan Order of Friars, who founded Mission Nuestra Senora del Refugio, according to a church historical book. Located where the church sits today, it was the last of the Texas missions.
The mission church building went up in the early 1800s and remained in use until it suffered hurricane damage about 1820, said Bart Wales, Refugio historian and director of the Refugio County Museum. The ruins sat unattended until 1834, he said, when Irish immigrants made repairs and used the space as a church and hospital.
Further obstacles, however, lay ahead.
The mission played home to the Battle of Refugio in 1836, where it found itself bombarded by cannon balls, Wales said. Although the building remained in use for some time, it was eventually torn down and stone from the old mission went to create what was known as the “Rock Church.”
“This church was built in 1900,” Wales said sitting on a pew, noting that the Rock Church eventually became structurally unsound. “At the time, it was the largest sanctuary in South Texas.”
That wasn’t the only thing that distinguished Our Lady of Refuge’s latest incarnation. It took just one week to raise funds for the new building.
“At the time, Refugio had about 600 to 800 people, and every eighth person was a millionaire,” Wales explained. “It was cattle money. It didn’t take them long.”
While today’s structure has stood the test of time so far, it hasn’t been without its hurdles.
Wales said a 1942 hurricane moved the church off its foundation while, in the mid-1980s, a truck carrying the flammable liquid Naptha overturned just outside, causing an explosion.
The blast scorched the doors and melted the metal siding, Wales said, and killed the truck’s driver. Still, the monsignor closed the heavy wooden doors before the church’s interior suffered damage.
“If only we could get these walls to talk,” Wales said, “they could tell some amazing stories.”
The church is a part of the Catholic Diocese of Corpus Christi.
Today, the church, which has undergone multiple renovations, is home to weekly Masses and many a tour group. And Wales, a lifelong member of the church, said he’s glad.
It’s weathered the storms, he said, and is still here to offer some insight to people looking to dig deeper into Texas’ past.
“It kind of is the story of Refugio,” he said. “If the church wasn’t here, it would be a disaster.”
To schedule a tour of Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church, contact Bart Wales with the Refugio County Museum at 361-526-5555 or 361-646-9508, or call the church office at 361-526-2083.
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