La Misión de Corpus Christi de San Antonio de la Ysleta del Sur, the oldest mission (by two days) in the present day State of Texas owes its heritage to Pueblo traditions, Franciscan Mission and Spanish Colonial life in Northern New Mexico. This and the other three missions established here after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 are children of the pain of intolerance between cultures and forced emigration. Though in the present day State of Texas, this missions life and identity is knitted integrally to the Missions of the Kingdom of St. Francis – present day New Mexico.
Ysleta Mission, along with the others, was established by
Antonio de Otermín and Fray Francisco de Ayeta in 1682. Spaniards and Native Americans arrived here, then south of the Rio Bravo, in October 1680. They had fled or were forced to accompany the refugees of the Pueblo Revolt in Northern New Mexico.
By 1659 Fray García had established a Mission to the Piro Indians who had moved into the Pass. This Mission, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, is today the side chapel to the cathedral church in la Ciudad Juárez, Chih., Mexico.
The people fleeing the Pope’s revolt arrived at the present site the Camino Real and “below” the Paso del Norte by October 9, 1680. On October 12, 1680, midway between the Spanish settlement of Santísimo Sacramento (Ysleta Mission) and the Indian settlement of San Antonio.
The Spanish and Native Americans who came from the north established four new communities: San Lorenzo, built by the Sumas which stood near where the present day Fox Plaza is. Governor Otermín used this site as his new administrative center. By the 1940s this Pueblo had been incorporated into the town of Ascarate now a part of El Paso’s East Side. Other missions were established at San Antonio de Senecu, established refugees from present day San Antonio, NM, and the Piro, and Tompiro people, originally from the area of the Salinas Pueblos; La Purísima de Socorro; for and by the Piro, Tano and Jemez peoples.
La Misión de la Ysleta del Sur was built by 1682 by the Tigua (Tiguex, Tiwa, Tihua) speaking Pueblo Natives from Isleta and Sandia Pueblos and served by Franciscans in order to serve the Christian the Tigua speaking people. In 1691, Governor Diego de Vargas, in the name of King Charles II of Spain, gave the mission its official name: Corpus Christi de los Tiguas de Ysleta. To the Tiguas having a tradition of having brought the image of San Antonio with them on the march, the mission church is known as San Antonio de Padua, after the patron saint of that Mission Church in Isleta, from where the majority had come: hence the name Ysleta del Sur Pueblo (Isleta of the South Pueblo), (another link).
The Rio Bravo or Rio Grande changed its course frequently carving itself through the desert clay. Floods inundated the valley regularly and at times knocked down or severely damaged the adobe structure of the mission in at least the 1740s, 1829 and the mid 1850s. The building was rebuilt each time. Finally in the late 1850s the current dimensions were established and the mission building was raised onto a type of platform or island.
In the flood seasons of 1829 and 1831 the Rio Grande cut a new channel. Once a mile north of the site of the mission and Pueblo, when the waters receded, the main channel of river was a mile south of the buildings. In 1848 when the border between the United States and Mexico was settled upon being the deepest of the channels, the land on which the mission stood was transferred from Mexico to the United States.
The missions then passed from the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Durango, Mexico, to that of the newly established Diocese of Santa Fe, NM. The friars abandoned Ysleta and Socorro Missions and returned to Mexico, Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, the first Bishop of Santa Fe, faced with a population without a shepherd recruited French diocesan priests to come to Ysleta and Socorro. They served the parish until 1881. The most notable action by the French clergy was the petitioning of a change of name of the parish from San Antonio to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Bishop Jean Baptiste Salpointe, Vicar Apostolic of Tucson, under whose jurisdiction the area had passed by this point. He was unaware (or unconcerned) of the opposition of the name change by the Pueblo residents. He approved the name change, but the Tigua members of the community continued to (and still) honor San Antonio de Padua as the patron of the Mission.
In 1881 the Jesuits took over the church serving the parish most of 110 years. One of them, Father Pinto, was influential in the development of many missions and parishes in the region. He moved the Jesuit residence and pastorate from Ysleta to Franklin when the parish of Sagrado Corazon was established. With the establishment of the Southern Pacific Railroad, the Jesuits were able to serve both Franklin and Ysleta/Socorro. Fr. Pinto also created parishes as far away as Carlsbad, NM.
During the century of service by the Jesuits a number of smaller communities were established as missions of Ysleta Mission and have become independent parishes. Among these are San Antonio Parish, Corpus Christi Parish, San José and Our Lady of the Valley.
In 1918 the first school was established at Ysleta Mission by the ??? Sisters. They staffed the school for only a few years. At that point, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of San Antonio came renaming the school to Incarnate Word School. In the 1960s, with the establishment of Our Lady of the Valley parish Incarnate Word School was split into Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School and Our Lady of the Valley School. Both schools continued to be operated by the Incarnate Word Sisters.
Mother Ana Luisa, CCVI, was the most famous of the sisters who served Incarnate Word School, as well as many people of the parish for many years.
Another famous Jesuit pastor of Mt. Carmel Parish was Fr. “Pete” Martinez, S.J. He served the parish for over a third of the time the Jesuits were at Ysleta.
Fire severely damaged the structure in 1907 burning the roof’s vigas structure away. The 1897 bell tower, constructed of adobe, as well as the original façade of the church collapsed. The building was repaired by 1908 with an arched entrance door, a narrower top of the tower and only one niche in the façade. The bell in the Mission Plaza is one of the surviving original bells. The current bells in the tower were cast in 1925.
The original church was just the central nave without bell tower. The dimensions of the present church were constructed in 1851. Its distinctive silver-domed bell tower was added in 1897.
In 1991 Bishop Peña of El Paso transferred the responsibility of Ysleta Mission from the Jesuits to the Conventual Franciscans of the Custody of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Franciscans have staffed the parish and mission since.
The Tigua people still identify with the Mission and observe several ritual days with dancing, drumming and chanting. The principle of those days is the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua, June 13th.