After sustained criticism from local descendant groups, CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health System officials have decided to halt construction work and cease efforts to remove and relocate the human remains of early settlers discovered while renovating grounds at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio.

The remains were unearthed in September 2016 during construction of a prayer garden on the hospital’s grounds, which had been a cemetery for San Fernando Cathedral in the 1800s prior to being moved to San Fernando Cemetery No.1 on the city’s near-Westside in the 1920s. Archaeologists from the University of Texas at San Antonio concluded that there are about 70 sets of remains at the site.

Originally, hospital officials had planned to exhume and reinter the remains in accordance with the Catholic Church. In March, the hospital received a court order removing the area’s designation as a cemetery and approving plans to relocate the remains to consecrated ground at Sunset Memorial cemetery.

However, groups representing the descendants of those buried spoke out against this plan. Many of them were upset because they felt hospital leaders did not work hard enough to seek out and speak personally with the descendants prior to crafting a plan.

In May, the hospital put the court-ordered removal on hold after meeting with descendant groups – the Canary Islands Descendants Association and the American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions, among others – who requested that the remains be left undisturbed.

On Wednesday, June 21, hospital spokeswoman Melissa Krause issued an update, later emailed to the Rivard Report, stating that the hospital is “exploring a prayer garden re-design, which is currently with designers, that would not require removal of the remains.”

In a complete reversal from March, Krause stated that “[the hospital’s] attorney is prepared to return to the court to preserve the designation for cemetery purposes,” giving the legal precedent to keep the remains untouched as requested by descendants.

Once the reworked plans are done, Krause said, they will be shared with representatives of the descendants. In the meantime, the court order “continues to be paused,” and trenches where remains were discovered “have been covered with a layer of light sand.” 

Tom Bugg

Tom Bugg is a San Antonio native and student of English at Colorado College.