P.O. Box 910, San Elizario, Texas 79849
915-851-2333 Fax: 851-3511
San Elceario Parish and Mission
San Elizario – 1845
San Elceario Parish is located in the Mission Valley on El Paso's Historic Mission Trail and is a designated Texas historic site. The chapel of San Elizario, founded in 1789, is an outstanding example of late adobe church architecture of the Spanish colonial period and today is the centerpiece of the town plaza in San Elizario. The community was originally part of the Camino Real de la Tierra Andentro that the Spanish used to travel between Mexico City and the New Mexico colonies. In 1581, three Franciscans led by Friar Agustin Rodriguez initiated an expedition to the north “to enter those new lands to preach the Gospel to the Indians,” arriving in the San Elizario area in July.
In 1598, the Spanish conquistador Don Juan de Oñate led a group of 500 colonists and 7,000 head of livestock including horses, oxen, and cattle from southern Chihuahua to settle the province of New Mexico. Traveling in 83 wagons, the caravan traveled a northeasterly route for weeks across the desert until it reached the banks of the Rio Grande in the San Elizario area. On April 30, 1598, the travelers celebrated a Thanksgiving Mass and enjoyed a feast of fish, fowl, and deer. This is considered the first Thanksgiving to be celebrated in the present day United States.
In 1683, the Governor of New Mexico, Don Jironza Petriz de Crúzate, established the Presidio de Nuestra Señora del Pilar y Glorioso San José in the vicinity of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in Juárez, which was transferred to San Elizario in 1773 and renamed Presidio de San Eleázaro. The chapel was rebuilt in 1789 at its current location to protect the settlements on both sides of the river. The community was named for Saint Elzear, a nobleman of the Diocese of Avignon, Count of Ariano in the Kingdom of Naples, who was canonized in the 13th century. The Spanish version of the name is San Elzeario. Around the time of the American takeover in 1850, the name San Elizario began being used and is most likely an Anglicized version of the Spanish.
After the chapel was destroyed by flooding in 1829, a new chapel was built in 1840 before the permanent church in San Elizario was constructed in 1877. American troops were assigned to the presidio in 1850 and during the Civil War volunteers from California were stationed there to prevent a reoccupation of the area by Confederate forces. In 1879, five Sisters of Loretto arrived in San Elizario and opened the first Catholic school in the region, St. Joseph Academy. The Academy flourished as a boarding and day school for girls from the Mission Valley, El Paso, and Mexico before the Sisters moved it to El Paso in 1892. Under the Jesuits in the early 20th century, San Elizario served as the center of missionary work throughout the Mission Valley.
San Elceario Parish today continues its proud tradition of serving Catholics in the Mission Valley. The religious education program includes First Holy Communion, Confirmation, Adult Formation, baptisms, marriage preparation, and quinceañeras. In addition, San Elceario has a Prayer Group, Eucharistic Ministry, Ministry of Lectors, Music Ministry, Legion of Mary, Pastoral Families, Guadalupanas and a Singles Ministry. The church has a shrine to the Blessed Mother with plagues filled with the names of veterans who served in the military. The back wall of the church contains a list of veterans from the area who died in service to their country. The historic church receives visitors and tourists daily and the parish is the site of the town’s summer festival.