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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Lajitas church

Nearly three decades ago I had posters printed featuring a painting I did of the church at Lajitas. Recently, a Lajitas resident, who is involved in getting some repairs done to the church, contacted me to see if I knew who had done the stained glass windows and when the church had been restored. My mind came up blank. Could barely remember the poster, much less names and dates. So I started digging. I finally located a snapshot of the painting I used for the poster. Haven't located an actual poster yet. (The original oil painting I gave away.)

Also visited the Archives of the Big Bend at Sul Ross. And when I got to CMO I visited my storage room. This is what I've pieced together.

In 1899 H. W. McGuirck, a devout Catholic, acquired the land where Lajitas is situated and built a trading post on in. Then in 1901 he built the church, called "Mission Santa Maria y San Jose," followed shortly thereafter by a school. Classes were held in the church while the school was being completed.

The March 1999 issue of the Lajitas Sun monthly newspaper featured this next photo and dated it to "around the turn of the century." However, the Archives dates it to 1940. (I intend to dig further into that date.)

1940 *  per Historian Dr. Clifford Casey
1960* per Historian Dr. Clifford Casey
This next undated photo was taken either before or after the previous one. My personal opinion is that the first old photo in this sequence was taken around the early 1900s (as the Lajitas Sun states), and this below photo was taken more like 1940. I think by the 1960s some work had to have been done on it for it to look that good in 1960. I don't think after 1960 it was left to get to this below ruinous state. But I could be wrong.

Undated, but I think it would logically be around 1940

At any rate, according to The Lajitas Sun, the church "was reconstructed in 1978."  However, the next couple of photos indicate that the reconstruction started well before then, so maybe that's the year the stained glass was installed. 

It's interesting that it appears as if a new door was installed, then shortly thereafter replaced with the stained glass and arched entrance we see today. When the arches were added to the top of the facade the square door no longer looked appropriate, I imagine. And perhaps the wooden door had been replaced well prior to the reconstruction, which may have continued on into 1981. 

Before 1977
Dated 1977

The next photo, published in The Lajitas Sun (Oct 1981) shows the stained glass windows for the first time. But still no date as to the exact year of installation or the artist who did the stained glass. Nevertheless, the process was obviously well underway in 1977.

From Lajitas Sun, Oct 1981
Here's a church photo that I took in 1990 and used as an inset on my poster.

By December of 1999 the little chapel still looked much the same. But preparations were in progress to upgrade it, about a hundred years after it was originally built, and as a new century dawned.

Elle Webb spearheaded that project, funded by her and private donations. That most recent renovation included a birch beamed ceiling, ceiling fans, central AC and heating, and much more. In the works at the time was scheduled a Saltillo floor, a new center aisle, new door, etc. Today the church is used for multi-denominational church services, as well as for weddings.


August 2018 update: The person who originally contacted me about the stained glass windows located the persons that created it. Peggy Phillips and Jim Box built it around 1982-3. The owner of Lajitas at the time, Walter Mischer, flew the artwork in his plane to Lajitas. Jim has since passed away, but Peggy has agreed to do the repairs to the stained glass at no charge. So a happy ending. She has never been to Lajitas so I hope that venture has a happy ending, as well.

* Photo credit to “Clifford B. Casey Collection, Archives of the Big Bend, [Bryan Wildenthal Memorial Library], Sul Ross State University, Alpine, Texas” 

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