Before the Catholic Church in downtown San Antonio became ‘St. Joske’s,’ St. Joseph’s Catholic Church was one of the few buildings near the Alamo.


Many San Antonians still affectionately refer to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church as “St. Joske’s,” a nod to the old-fashioned department store that failed to buy the downtown church in. 1945 and who instead built it around.

But Saint Joseph was not always surrounded by the former retail giant, or by the mall that later took its place and still surrounds the church to this day. In 1868, a procession of German-Catholic families laid the cornerstone of what is now East Commerce Street, when only the Menger Hotel and a few small buildings and horse-drawn carriages occupied nearby Alamo Plaza.

Now this hidden church is home to a few hundred registered families, thousands of visitors from around the world, and even a two-story parish hall named “Mother of the Americas” – and most parishioners prefer a more illustrative name for the enshrined property: ” the gem in the heart of San Antonio. “

“In the beginning, of course, the church was not at all like it is today,” said Charles Fisk, longtime Saint Joseph parishioner and historian. “But we understand how that (nickname) came about.”

When it comes to the history of St. Joseph’s Church, this “St. Joske’s Church is literally only half of it.”

Saint Joseph occupies what is believed to be the second site of the Alamo mission before it was moved in 1724 to its present home some 350 meters away. German Catholics would have obtained the Alamo itself for their parish, if the army had not used it as a storage location.

The cornerstone of St. Joseph bears a German inscription which translates as “Here is the dwelling place of God among men”. Just the fourth Catholic parish of San Antonio, this mansion was completed and first consecrated in 1871 as a relatively low-key Gothic Revival structure, with no steeple and just canvas to cover the windows.

That was to change, especially with the pastorate of Reverend Henry Pefferkorn. Both artist and priest, Pefferkorn painted the church’s Renaissance-style representations of the Annunciation and Assumption on its side altars, as well as its Stations of the Cross hanging on the interior walls of the church. He also acquired a pipe organ and four church bells.

An undated photo of Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church in San Antonio, probably taken before the church got its steeple in 1898. The church dates from 1868.

Saint Joseph Catholic Church

St. Joseph then added its bell tower in 1898. Then in 1902 the church acquired Bavarian stained glass windows from Munich.

Meanwhile, the adjacent Joske’s flagship store has seen its own growth. After moving to the corner of Alamo and Commerce in 1887, the store added two floors and elevators in 1909, then expanded again in 1939 with an Art Deco facade and the first escalators in a Texas store. .

Soon Joske sought forays into St. Joseph’s territory for further expansion, with memorable results.

In 1944, the church sold its St-Joseph College to Joske’s, located a few lots away. But when Joske offered to buy the church itself, parishioners unanimously rejected the offer, which reached $ 200,000, or nearly $ 3 million today.

“And so, since they were opposed to that, Joske built himself around that,” Fisk said. “So we’re locked into this. Which, you know, looks pretty pretty.

Although Joske nearly engulfed St. Joseph’s, the separation of church and sales was relatively amicable. On his history website,, Fisk noted that Joske paid for exterior lighting that improved the church’s aesthetics and nighttime safety, while St. Joseph’s Masses were to coincide with the Joske’s closing time.

A modern view of the Saint-Joseph Catholic Church, surrounded by the shops of Rivercenter.

A modern view of the Saint-Joseph Catholic Church, surrounded by the shops of Rivercenter.

Kin Man Hui / Personal photographer

“People at lunch were going to… eat, pray and shop,” said Kathy Rhoads, president of the Conservation Society of San Antonio.

St. Joseph’s eventually outlived Joske’s when the store was acquired and renamed Dillard’s in 1987. The following year, Dillard’s adjacent retail space opened as Rivercenter Mall, now known as name of Shops at Rivercenter, which continues to surround the church on three sides.

Then there is St. Joseph’s own enlarged imprint. Despite its narrow boundaries, the church added a 6,500 square foot two-story parish center in 2017 to its already tiny parking lot. Fisk noted that the church provides Rivercenter with an emergency exit through its patio in exchange for validated parking for its parishioners and visitors.

“It’s a work of art,” Fisk said. “He has that charm that hasn’t changed from the start.

It doesn’t matter what surrounds him. | Twitter: @reneguz

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