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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical :

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FATHER MARGIL

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.

Father 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.

When Mission 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 San Augustine, 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.

Archie P. McDonald
All Things Historical

May 22, 2006 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.)
 
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