Antonio Margil de Jesus helped introduce Christianity to the wilderness
of East Texas, but his
story began in Valencia, Spain, where he was born in 1657.
Margil attended local schools where his mild manner and interest
in religion gave early evidence that he would devote his life to
the Church. Margil decided to become a Franciscan, and received
Holy Orders at La Carona de Cristo, in Valencia, in 1673. After
additional study Margil decided that he had been called to missionary
work in New Spain.
Margil arrived in Vera Cruz in 1683 and joined the missionary College
of Santa Cruz de Queretareo. He served as a missionary in Yucatan,
Costa Rica, and Guatemala, then, in 1797, founded the missionary
College of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Zacatecas.
San Francisco de las Tejas, founded by Father Damin Massanet
near the Neches River in 1690, closed, twenty years later Margil
was placed in charge of establishing six missions in East
Texas. The government agreed because a Frenchman, Louis Juchereau
de St. Denis, had crossed Texas to the Rio Grande in 1714 without
sighting a Spaniard. Government leaders, then, wanted Spanish institutions
in place to hold Texas against French penetration. Church leaders
wanted to spread the Good News.
Illness prevented Margil from accompanying the first expedition
to East Texas in 1716 and from founding the first four missions,
but he arrived in time to supervise construction of missions at
Texas, and Las
Adaes, near modern Robilene, Louisiana. Margil remained the
ecclesiastical leader of all six missions.
The absence of additional threats from France, resistance to Christianity
by the Caddo, and isolation and difficulties of supplies caused
all six missions to be abandoned within a few years, and but all
were reinstated in 1721 by the Marquis Aguayo and remained until
all missions in East Texas were closed by the New Regulation of
the Presidios in 1773.
Margil remains the "patron saint" of Roman Catholic activity in
East Texas, though the Church so far has failed to give him official
status, pending investigation of his miracles.
Dr. Francis Abernethy thinks he has found the twin springs, known
as "The Eyes of Father Margil" on LaNana Creek, that the priest
upcapped with two blows of his staff.
When I explained this to a visitor from Israel, he exclaimed, "Moses
did this!" I could only respond that I had never claimed that Margil
or Abernethy were original, only miraculous.