St. John Berchmans Church History
St. John Berchmans Church traces its origin to a chapel that was built on three acres of land on the corner of Zarzamora and Brady Streets that were donated by Stephanie Hooge in 1903. This land was donated for the purpose of building a chapel for the Catholic Belgians who settled in the San Antonio area. There was a definite need to have a priest who could speak their national Flemish language. Plans were made and the Belgian community began to build its chapel. But, not without difficulties since some had to travel 15 to 30 miles by horse and wagon to offer their labor and skills. They had to bring their own lunches and whatever tools of their trade they had.
With Rev. Richard Vershaffelt, a Belgian priest, as pastor and 152 members, the church was completed in 1910. The chapel had been incorporated as the sanctuary of the new building. The church building had no bell, bell tower or money. However, a bell was needed and through the ingenuity of a farmer, a plowshare was placed in a tree striking it with a pipe made a loud sound that could be heard from afar and summoned people to worship. Six months elapsed before a bell tower could be erected. The bell was dedicated and christened August 28, 1912, by Bishop Shaw and there was a joyous celebration on that day.
It was in the mid 40′s that the growth of the parish bloomed and the church became too small to hold all the parishioners who were attending. At the same time Bishop Lucey approached Monsignor John Dubourgel, the parish priest, about the need for a school in this district. There was very little money available for such a project. However, a family in the parish donated three and one-half acres on Harriman and Kirk Place. The new church and school had begun.
Until 1965 the buildings on West Harriman Place served the people of St. John Berchmans. The school, which opened in September 1949, became a source of pride for the parishioners. St. John Berchmans achieved recognition as one of the outstanding elementary schools in the city in both scholastics and sports. The CCD program started while the church was on West Harriman, and many of the eighth grade students, after attending special classes, became teachers in this program.
In early 1962, word was received by the pastor, Father Michael Cattaert, that a right of way for the new Kelly Access Road (later renamed General Hudnell Drive) would necessitate another relocation of our parish plant. Consultations were held, property was purchased, and on August 23, 1964 ground was broken at Cupples Road and Weir Avenue for the erection of a new church, school, rectory and convent.
The remarkable story of the beginnings of St. John Berchmans has left a lasting mark on this community of faith. Most parishes start because the bishop decides to set up a new parish in a growing neighborhood. The early parishioners of SJB took the initiative themselves. They built a chapel, they went looking for a priest and they decided on a suitable name for the parish. Finally they got the official approval of their Bishop. When one looks at our parish today, one would still find the same spirit of initiative and enthusiasm in our midst.