Saint Peter Claver (Mission) Church was the first AfricanAmerican Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas. The church was built by Irish-born Margaret Mary Healy Murphy, the widowof John Bernard Murphy, who was the mayor of Corpus Christi from 1889 to1884. Margaret Mary Healy Murphy movedfrom Corpus Christi to San Antonio in 1887. Murphy was a devout Catholic and longtime race activist. She was related to Daniel O’Connell, thefirst Catholic in centuries to have a seat in British Parliament. O’Connell voiced opposition to slavery in Parliamentin 1829, and later helped implement the Slave Emancipation Act of 1833. His beliefs sailed with Murphy to America.
At mass one Sunday at St. Mary’s Church, Father John Maloney stressed the needfor schools and churches for African Americans in San Antonio. His directive came from the Third PlenaryCouncil meeting in Baltimore, Maryland in 1884, which addressed concerns about thechurch’s rapid growth. Archbishop JohnIreland also voiced his opinion that the church needed to embrace all people, amessage the bishops carried back to their diocese. After hearing Maloney’s lengthy sermon,Murphy went to Bishop John C. (Jean Claude) Neraz and discussed the possibilityof building a church and a school for black children. With the Bishop’s favorable response, Murphysold part of her ranch, Mount Echo, and with this $20,000, she purchased a plotof land on Nolan and Live Oak Street in San Antonio and began construction.
The completed mission had a high gabled roof which covered a pressed-brickstructure with gothic windows that captured the light. At the front of thechurch stood a natural wood altar and in the vestibule sat an organ. Murphy adopted the name St. Peter Claver fromthe 17th-century Spanish priest who taught African slaves in Lisbon, Portugal formost of his life, and who was finally canonized by Pope Leo XIII in 1888. Bishop Neraz consecrated St. Peter ClaverMission and gave special attention to the fact that all three buildings—thechurch, and two free schools for 500