`Mother Church’ Of Mercedes Gives Its Community Faith And History
Every community has its enduring touchstones that its residents turn to again and again.
Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church is one of those places for Mercedes.
The church’s first resident priest came to Mercedes in 1909, the same year the city was incorporated. The land for the first Our Lady of Mercy Church was donated the previous year, in 1908, by the Capisallo Land Company. It was the arrival of the land companies at the start of the 20th Century that led to Mercedes being founded and the beginnings of the institutions that would define it.
Establishing a church was one of the first orders of business in setting up a new town. The first Our Lady of Mercy sat on Hidalgo Street between Indiana and Washington avenues. It would move to the corner of Vermont Avenue and Third Street in October 1922 – and there it has stood ever since through the thousands of baptisms, confirmations, marriages and religious classes.
“I’ve received all my sacraments there,’’ said Edna Rincon Martinez, a senior vice president with Texas National Bank of Mercedes. “It’s been part of my life ever since I can remember.’’
A look through Mercedes history shows the connection Our Lady of Mercy has had to its community. A newspaper clipping with photos from early October 1921 shows the funeral procession of Sgt. Jose Antonio Garcia, a native son who gave his life in service to his country in World War I. The procession is making its way through city streets from the original Our Lady of Mercy en route to a cemetery.
Almost 100 years later, photos from one of the church’s Facebook pages shows smiling children celebrating and being recognized for completion of their CCD classes.
“These churches are not just buildings,’’ said Brenda Nettles Riojas, the Diocesan Relations Director for the Diocese of Brownsville. “They are keepers of peoples’ stories, their lives, the weddings, anniversaries, (and) the quinceaneras. They give witness as symbols of faith that have lasted and built and sustained communities.’’
Roberto Cantu, a longtime deacon of Our Lady of Mercy, can attest to the role the church has given to Mercedes through the ages and generations of community life.
“Churches give a city structure and traditions,’’ Cantu said “In turn, churches don’t exist alone. They must give something back to a community.’’
Riojas refers to Our Lady of Mercy as “a mother church.’’ In the early years, she said, priests would ride on horseback from the historic church in Mercedes to have Mass in rural areas that did not yet have churches but would someday. La Feria, Progreso and Las Rucias are some of the communities she mentioned that would have churches whose origins go back to Our Lady of Mercy.
A state historical plaque at Our Lady of Mercy attributes the creation of seven other Catholic churches and a dozen missions in the area to “the mother church’’ in Mercedes.
“These churches speak to our history and the work of the earliest priests in establishing the faith,’’ she said.
Ricardo D. Cavazos