A Short History of
St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Benevolent Association
of San Antonio, Texas
from the 1960 Diamond Jubilee of St. Joseph’s R.C.B.A. program
At the time of the founding of St. Joseph’s Church in 1868 then, and for many decades thereafter known as the German Parish, there was also organized a St. Joseph’s Benevolent Society.
One of the worthwhile attributes of the German people is their knowledge of and interest in organizations which have for their purpose mutual protection and social and spiritual advantages. This desire for organization was certainly not lacking in the pioneer German immigrant parishioners of St. Joseph’s. The purpose of the society was to assist in the completion of the Church and rectory, and to aid the pastor in all his undertakings for the well-being of the parish.
After a few years, because of differences, a division occurred, and two distinct societies of men – one known as St. Joseph’s Catholic Benevolent Society and the other as the Roman Catholic Benevolent Society, functioned independently of each other within the confines of the parish.
Both groups, however, soon realized the ineffectiveness of dual societies organized for the same purposes, and therefore resolved to reunite. On Sunday afternoon, January 18, 1885, meeting in Meyer’s Hall on Alamo Plaza, the two societies were merged into one single unit to be known as St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Benevolent Association – the legal title of our Society. The Bishop of San Antonio, the saintly John C. Neraz, honored this meeting with his presence. The wise counsel of Father Henry Pefferkorn, the pastor of St. Joseph’s, played no small part in effecting the merger of the two groups into one strong society.
The Society was chartered on February 6, 1885.
The first officers of the new society were: Rev. Henry Pefferkorn, Spiritual Advisor; John C. Dielmann, President; L. Willlam Menger, Vice-president; Anton Adam, Secretary; George Mandry, Treasurer. The first Trustees were: Henry Pauly, Peter Schiffers, Jacob Wietzel and Peter Eiserloh.
The society celebrated its first St. Joseph’s Day on March 19th, 1885. It was a holiday for the Society and for the entire parish. Solemn High Mass was sung in St. Joseph’s after the Society, in procession, had escorted the children of St. Joseph’s Academy located nearby, and the reverend clergy to church. In the evening the day was commemorated by a social gathering for members and their families: To this day, the Feast of St. Joseph – our patron – is celebrated essentially in a like manner by our Society.
In May 1885: at the suggestion of Father Pefferkorn, the Society adopted the insignia of the Catholic Central Union (Vereln) of America as the official emblem of St. Joseph’s Society. Throughout the years the Society has always been represented at the annual conventions of that century old organization of Catholic men.
The first meetings of the Society were held in Meyer’s Hall, at the invitation of its generous owner. When St. Joseph’s rectory was completed the Society moved into its own quarters on the second floor and held its meetings there.
In 1892 the Society erected its own hall across the street from the rectory at the cost of $14,000.00. It was dedicated on October 12th, and coincided with the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. An excerpt from an account of the celebration recites the following: “After the Solemn High Mass ln San Fernando Cathedral, the parade formed and proceeded to St. Joseph Society’s new hall adjoining the church, which was solemnly blessed by Bishop Neraz.
San Fernando Cathedral, the church of the Spaniards, was decked in gala costume, and mingling with the Papal colors were the Stars and Stripes of our United States of America, the black, white and red of Germany, the Irish Green, the fleur de lis of France and the Mexican red, white and green. It was a day which the Catholics of San Antonio can look upon with pride, and we must always look back upon that day with feelings of joy.”
On the 11th of July 1892, a group of members of St. Joseph’s Society, all music lovers, met in St. Joseph’s rectory at the invitation of Father Pefferkorn, for the purpose of forming a choir to sing at Divine Services in St. Joseph’s Church. Assured of a choir, Father Pefferkorn encouraged the singers to form a permanent organization and to sponsor and to participate in musicals and concerts open to the general public: Thus was born the San Antonio Liederkranz – a singing organization which has taken its appropriate part in all religious and public functions of the Society since that time.
The year 1893 marked the appointment of the Society’s first “sick committee” whose function it was to visit and to aid the sick and indigent members of the Society.
In 1898 the Society participated in the Silver Sacerdotal Jubilee of its first Spiritual Advisor, Father Pefferkorn, who was then the chaplain of Our Lady of the Lake Convent.
On St. Louis Day, August 25th, 1898, the Catholic State League of Texas (Deutsch Roemisch Katholischer Staatsverband von Texas) was organized at Castroville, Texas. St. Joseph’s Soceity together with St. Louis Society of Castroville and SS. Peter and Paul Society of New Braunfels, were the three societies represented at the founding of the League. The League held its first convention in San Antonio – St. Joseph’s Society being the host society – in 1899. Its first Spiritual Advisor was Rev. Wm. A. Fuhrwerk, and its first president was John C. Dielmann both members of St. Joseph’s Society. The members of St. Joseph’s Society have always been active in the Catholic State League, Many members having served as presidents of it.
In 1901 an important affiliate of the Catholic State League was founded-the Catholic Life Insurance Union. It is one of the strongest fraternal life insurance societies operating only in Texas. Members of St. Joseph’s Society have always occupied its important offices and directed its policies ever since its inception.
One of the important events of 1903 was the laying of the corner stone of the Oblate Fathers St. Anthony Seminary by the Apostolic Delegate to the United States, Most Rev. Diomede Falconio. The Society participated In the parade staged for the occasion, and formed the guard of honor to his Excellency.
The Society contributed funds for the relief of the sufferers of two major disasters which occurred at the beginning of the 20th century – the Galveston Storm of 1900 and the San Francisco Fire of 1906. It contributed to the fund raised in 1908 incident to the fiftieth anniversary of the ordination of the then reigning Holy Father, Pius X. As early as 1909 the Society sponsored concerts to raise funds to be used in the restoration of our Franciscan Missions.
The Silver Jubilee of the Society was celebrated in 1910. The Catholic State League, meeting in San Antonio for the second time, took part in the celebration. (Altogether, St. Joseph’s Society was to host nine annual conventions of the Catholic State League). All Catholic societies of the city as well as many from out of the city participated. The Bishop of San Antonio, Most Rev. John W. Shaw, presided at the Solemn Pontifical Mass in St. Joseph’s church which inaugurated the Silver Jubilee festivities, and graced the various scheduled affairs marking this milestone in the Society’s history.
A committee of St. Joseph’s Society members, at the request of Father Fuhrwerk, the pastor of St. Joseph’s, formulated plans for the establishment of a ladies society in the parish, and on March 22nd, 1914 St. Elizabeth’s Benevolent Society was formally organized.
The constitution of the Society provides that the pastor of St. Joseph’s church shall be the Spiritual Advisor of the Society. The seventy five year history of the Society records only five priests as having functioned in that capacity. Rev. Henry Pefferkorn ( 1885-1897) brought order out of concussion and laid the groundwork for the path the Society was to follow in the future. Rev. Wm. A. Fuhrwerk ( 1898-1916) whose tenure as pastor is often called “the golden age of St. Joseph’s Parish”, drew the Society ever closer to himself and it truly became his “strong right arm”. Rt. Rev. Msgr. Joseph Jacobi the second assistant appointed to St. Joseph’s Parish was Spiritual Advisor during the interval between Father Fuhrwerk’s death in 1916 and the appointment of Father Schnetzer – the Parish’s first assistant pastor – as his successor as pastor of St. Joseph’s. Rt. Rev. Msgr. Peter J. Schnetzer witnessed the trials and tribulations, the achievements and accomplishments of the Society for more than half of its existence from 1916 to 1955 – 39 years. Very Rev. Msgr. Paul T. Ehlinger is our present Spiritual Advisor. His wise counsel and great interest in the Society have endeared him to its members. He is truly a worthy successor of his illustrious predecessors.
In World Wars I and II the Society furnished its quota of young men for our armed services, perhaps in greater proportion to its membership than societies of a similar nature.
It may be said without fear of contradiction, that during World War I, ( 1917-1918) the dedication of the men of St. Joseph’s Soclety who held key positions in the Catholic State League prevented the dissolution of that statewide organization.
The Society members took an active part in 1918 in soliciting funds for the erection of the new Archdiocesan St. John’s Seminary building adjacent to the Immaculate Conception mission.
The first convention of nationwide proportion ever to convene in San Antonio was the 64th annual meeting of the Catholic Central Union (Verein) of America held in 1920. It was a great responsibility assumed by a society numbering a little more than 200 members. It was an elaborate convention and a fruitful one. Delegates from societies of men, women and youth were assembled, and many nationally known religious leaders and prominent laymen attended. At this convention the $250,000.00 Endowment Fund for the support of the Central Bureau – the clearing house for the propagation of the principles of a sound social order, the educational and charitable activities and the business office of the Catholic Central Union (Verein) of America was inaugurated.
The Society again was host to the 81st Convention of the Central Union (Verein) in 1936 – the Texas Centennial Year. Upon the invitation of the Society, the Central Union (Verein) and its affiliated groups convened for the third time in San Antonio in 1953 for its 98th Convention.
In 1929 the Society moved into it’s new quarters, the property and building at 314 East Commerce street having been purchased by the Society in 1925. The new home was renovated. embellished and enlarged so that today it is one of the most pleasant homes of any fraternal society in our city.
In 1945 the original St. Joseph’s Hall was sold.
Bowling has been and still is one of the favorite pastimes of our members. In 1946 therefore, an addition to our Hall was erected to house four modern bowling lanes.
On February 5, 1927 the Society participated in the festivities incident to the elevation to Archbishop of San Antonio of our late beloved Most Reverend Arthur Jerome Drossaerts.
The 25th anniversary of the ordination to the priesthood of our highly esteemed Spiritual Advisor, Monsignor Peter J. Schnetzer on June 13, 1933, afforded the members of the Society an opportunity to show their filial affection and loyalty to the one who had served them in that capacity, faithfully and understandingly, for nearly forty years.
In the same year – 1933 – San Antonio’s first parish credit union, St. Joseph’s Credit Union, was organized by members of St. Joseph’s Society. It is in flourishing condition and its field of activity is now county-wide.
On Tuesday, March 19th, 1935, the Society celebrated its Golden Jubilee with solemn and inspiring services and an elaborate social program. The event was graced by the presence of Archbishop Drossaerts, many of the clergy, the heads of our city and county governments and of civic organizations, and by a large number of members and their ladies.
The Society was present at the Solemn Pontifical Mass celebrated in front of the Alamo on March 6, 1936, – commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Fall of the Alamo.
On March 18th, 1945, the Society celebrated its 60th anniversary. Most Rev. Robert E. Lucey, Archbishop of San Antonio, presided at the Solemn High Mass in St. Joseph’s Church on that day, and addressed the Society after Mass at the Communion breakfast in St. Joseph’s Hall.
In 1952 the Society assumed, by mandate from the proper authority, sponsorship of the celebration of the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. This Feast Day is celebrated by a Solemn Pontifical Field Mass at Mission San Jose.
For the past 15 years the Society has set aside one day in the year for a “Day of Recollection” – a one day “Retreat”. The Society engages outstanding retreat masters and the “Day of Recollection” has found a permanent place among events sponsored annually by the Society.
St. Joseph’s Society cemetery site – the land for which was deeded to the Society by the City of San Antonio at the time the Society was organized in 1885 – was extensively improved during 1957, chiefly through the efforts of a past president of the Society who unselfishly, but with determination, carried out this project which had been under discussion by the society for many years.
St. Joseph’s Society throughout the seven and one half decades since its founding has experienced manifold and diversified activities. Lack of time and space will not permit elaboration. It is the pioneer in Catholic Action in our city. Its members have always taken an active part in religious, fraternal and civic affairs. When a project or undertaking needed stimulating, it was and still is the particular aptitude of the men of St. Joseph’s to bring it to a successful conclusion. lts members have held and still hold important positions in the state groups with which the Society is affiliated-the Catholic State League and the Catholic Life Insurance Union. Our members continue to serve as officers of the Catholic Central Union (Verein) of America, the present head of that national body being a member of St. Joseph’s Society. The Society is well represented in the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Men, and its members are the leaders in the various parish Holy Name Societies. Needless to say, every move for the benefit of the Catholic Cause in San Antonio has found the members of St. Joseph’s Society cooperating wholeheartedly.
With one or two exceptions, societies of a similar nature, founded either before or after St. Joseph’s Society, have ceased to exist. Our long history draws attention to the fact that our forefathers founded wisely and well. St. Joseph, our Patron, must have taken us under his very special care and protection. The Society has ever been solicitous of the welfare of its members and the well-being of Church and State. Its physical properties are unencumbered, and its membership at the present time is the largest in its history. Our Society is truly a society of Catholic men.
We today enjoy the fruits of the labors of our founders and of those who have guided and who were loyal to the Society throughout its glorious history, and who have gone to their Eternal Reward. In gratitude, we pray that God may grant them eternal peace and happiness.
We who comprise the membership of St. Joseph’s Society today, pay tribute to the memory of the hardy, courageous, dedicated, farseeing pioneers of our Society, and to their worthy sons who have raised the Society to its present enviable position and grandeur. It is neither fitting nor proper that we should rest on the laurels won by our forefathers. We are dedicated to continue to develop and to complement the work begun by them.
May the Centennial of our beloved Society – a mere quarter century hence – be a glorious summation of the achievements for Church and State by a group of men ever devoted to the teachings of our Holy Mother the Church, and guided by the powerful intercession of the Spouse of the Mother of God – our patron – St. Joseph.