In early February 1908, the Catholic Church built in 1867 by Father Claude Jaillet on the east side of the main plaza in San Diego was torn down and moved to the north plaza where it was made ready within days for the celebration of Mass. The move became necessary because parishioners planned to build a new church at the old site. Contractors hoped to complete the new improvements within six months.
On Sunday, June 1, 2008, parishioners at St. Francis de Paula celebrated 100 years of memories in this house of worship. Father Benito Retortillo and parishioners marked the occasion with Mass at 11 a.m. and a luncheon in the parish hall immediately following Mass.
Father Pedro Bard built the present church at a cost of $15,000 with the generous donation of the estate of Anna Collins, widow of Norman Collins who was the first state senator elected from Duval County. The estate, with properties in both Duval and Nueces counties, was one of the richest in South Texas.
|Father Pedro Bard|
In addition to the church, the estate also left money for construction of a new school. Norman Collins moved to San Diego in 1866 to become a merchant; that same year Father Jaillet came to San Diego to found St. Francis de Paula Catholic Church.
Collins, born in New Woodstock, New York in 1829, first became a dentist. He moved to Texas at the age of 22 and eventually amassed a fortune in livestock and land acquisitions. He was the premiere political figure in Duval County for the first quarter century of its existence.
Unlike his successor Archie Parr who built a political empire and left a legacy of corruption, Collins left more the $1 million for improvements to his adopted town.
By mid-March 1908, Father Bard was holding services in the old church on the north plaza, as material piled up at the construction site of the new church. Two months later, contractors changed the plans for the church to use yellow pressed brick as the facing of both the church and the new school. Contractors rushed completion of both buildings.
Father Bard formally presided over the sanctification of the new St. Francis de Paula Church on April 18, 1909. Father Bard died in March 1920 and in 1933, parishioners expanded the church to include a vestibule, and they moved Father Bard’s remains to the church where they remain today.
Like St. Francis de Paula, Father Bard contributed greatly to the rich history to Duval County and the surrounding area. After arriving in San Diego on April 14, 1877, he performed thousands of weddings and baptisms, administered thousands of First Holy Communions and presided over thousands of funerals. He still found time to open churches in many towns in his area of service, which covered the area from Banquete to Concepcion; among the towns in which he founded churches were Concepcion in 1892; Collins (now Alice) in 1885; and Falfurrias in 1903.