SAN ANTONIO - It was a historic day in San Antonio as the first parish in the archdiocese closed its doors.
St. Stephen's Catholic Church on the west side celebrated its final Mass at noon Sunday after more than 70 years of service.
"It's a very sad day for San Antonio and for the Catholic Church," said former St. Stephen's parishioner Alexandra Rodriguez.
Starting at 9:30 Sunday morning, parishioners and families who once attended St. Stephen's Catholic Church lined up for one more celebration inside the parish walls.
"I was confirmed and did my Communion here at St. Stephen's," Rodriguez said. "I even saw the Pope with the church back when Pope John Paul II came to San Antonio."
"I attended the first church that was done, then they started building this one and my father got involved building it," Rosalinda Robledo said. "I did my communion, my confirmation and my marriage took place here. Some of my children were baptized here also."
The building needed repair. The church didn't have a resident pastor for three years and many families moved out of the area.
In the past, thousands of families called St. Stephen's home. The church had a large youth group that participated in softball games and won several tournaments.
At last check, St. Stephen's had 50 families in their congregation.
With that and other maintenance factors, the Archdiocese decided it was best to close the 50-year-old parish.
"We have so many churches in this area, walking distance, in which we need to consolidate and give more quality to the celebrations, to the catechists and evangelization," Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller said.
Lee Ochoa Sr. married his childhood sweetheart inside St. Stephen's.
"I met her here [at church]," Ochoa recalled. "What can I say? The church got me together with her. She passed away in May four years ago, bless her heart."
For parishioners who walk to church, like Samuel Diaz, they'll be welcomed at any of six nearby parishes including St. John Berchmans and Immaculate Conception.
"I'm sick, and my wife and I live close by," said Diaz, a parishioner of 14 years. "We don't have a car, so I walk to church. The church won't exist anymore, except for in our memory."
It was standing room only. Many attendees brought their tissues in preparation for a tearful goodbye.
Archbishop Garcia-Siller says that the Catholic site will still stand. It could serve as a place to help the elderly or the poor in that west-side neighborhood.
"It's really hard," Robledo said. "It's felt like a funeral, but we'll go on."
The religious statues and relics from inside the church will be shared with other parish communities.
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