The Healy-Murphy Center‘s former St. Peter Claver chapel on the Eastside was packed with a standing room only crowd Friday morning to celebrate the newly-renovated structure’s dedication as the Holy Spirit Hall Center for Family and Community Engagement.

After six months of renovations, the community engagement center – which was named after the Sisters of the Holy Spirit, who dedicated their lives to the Healy-Murphy property since its beginning – features new audio/visual equipment and will act as a learning and gathering space for the youth Healy-Murphy serves with educational, social, and health resources.

As an Eastside landmark, the Healy-Murphy Center – located at 618 Live Oak St. – serves at-risk youth who either dropped out or are in danger of dropping out of the traditional school system. Healy-Murphy youth can participate in accredited high school diploma or G.E.D. programs, and receive literacy and career development and training. In addition, the organization also provides an on-site daycare and parenting classes to pregnant or parenting teens. All participants are able to receive health services such as check-ups and nutrition education, and any teen who has been a victim of abuse can take part in support groups and counseling services offered at the center.

Healy-Murphy officials envision the Center for Family and Community Engagement aiding in the continuing growth and neighborhood revitalization efforts on the Eastside.

Executive Director of the Healy-Murphy Center Douglas Watson applauds during the ceremony of The Center for Family and Community Engagement. Photo by Scott Ball.
Executive Director of the Healy-Murphy Center Douglas Watson applauds during the ceremony of The Center for Family and Community Engagement. Photo by Scott Ball.

“(The building) was in bad need of renovations,” said Healy-Murphy Executive Director Douglas Watson. The center also will welcome the broader community, he added, for activities such as parenting workshops, support groups, health fairs, and performing arts programs, among other things.

Friday’s dedication of the building comes 128 years to the day after Mother Margaret Mary Healy-Murphy, who strongly fought against prejudice toward the black community, welcomed the first group of people to St. Peter Claver, the first Catholic church and school for the black community in Texas.

“(The building) once served as a place of hope, of refuge, care, and freedom, of closeness to the sacred,” said Sr. Geraldine Klein, Healy-Murphy Center board president, during a prayer she led. “… It is no longer a church, but much effort, time, and resources have been put into renovating it in order to make it again a place of hope, of refuge, care and freedom and of relationship to others.”

Contributions from the Sisters of the Holy Spirit, the Harvey E. Najim Family Foundation, the San Antonio Area Foundation, the Greehey Family Foundation, the Valero Energy Foundation, the Mays Foundation, the Brown Foundation, the Ritter family, and the Myra Stafford Pryor Trust of Frost Bank brought the renovation project to fruition.

Students at Healy-Murphy walk through the courtyard in-between class. Photo by Scott Ball.
Students at Healy-Murphy walk through the courtyard in-between class. Photo by Scott Ball.

At the end of Friday’s dedication ceremony, the Herbalife Family Foundation presented Healy-Murphy with a $1,000 check to continue to grow its vital programming for the community that has changed countless lives.

Former student Enrique Serna gives a testimonial during the ceremony. Enrique was given a scholarship to the University of Incarnate Word courtesy of the Healy-Murphy Center. Photo by Scott Ball.
Former student Enrique Serna gives a testimonial during the ceremony. Enrique was given a scholarship to the University of Incarnate Word courtesy of the Healy-Murphy Center. Photo by Scott Ball.

Enrique Serna, Healy-Murphy class of 2001 graduate, spoke about his experience as a Healy-Murphy student. He was the first recipient of the center’s full scholarship – more than $125,000 – to the University of the Incarnate Word, where he graduated with a bachelor’s in business management.

Seeing the new Family and Community Engagement Center, and the rest of the evolving Healy-Murphy campus, was an inspiring experience, he said.

“The campus looks completely different but the faces look exactly the same,” Serna told the Rivard Report after the ceremony, adding that the new building, which will be rented out from time to time for various community gatherings, will bring in more funds for Healy-Murphy to reinvest in its programming and educational resources such as textbooks.

“It also gives (the students) a sense of pride to show that they enjoy where they come to school,” he said. “One of the things that I’ve always said is that Healy-Murphy and the staff here always have the best interest in mind and heart of the students. They’ve afforded me an opportunity that I’m forever grateful for.”

(left to right) Kamielle Collins and Claudia Coleman sing to close out the ceremony at Holy Spirit Hall. Photo by Scott Ball.
(From left): Kamielle Collins and Claudia Coleman sing to close out the ceremony at Holy Spirit Hall. Photo by Scott Ball.
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Top image: President of the Healy-Murphy Center Board of Directors Sr. Geraldine Skein gives a prayer during the ceremony.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Camille Garcia

Camille Garcia is a journalist born and raised in San Antonio. She formerly worked at the San Antonio Report as assistant editor and reporter. Her email is camillenicgarcia@gmail.com