Change—a word which often sends fear and trepidation through our collective and/or individual minds. Change may not always be good, but according to the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament it can be a good opportunity. Take for instance in 1926, when the Congregation moved its Mother House to a 17-acre parcel of land on Mission Road, just shy of the San Antonio River. This represented an opportunity for the Sisters to provide an education for girls living on the Southside of San Antonio.
The four-story Convent doubled as the schoolhouse until enrollment grew enough to warrant a separate high school building. The new building opened in 1947, and except for the few years Blessed Sacrament Academy (BSA) included elementary school grades for both boys and girls, BSA was an all-girls school (see top photo from 1940).
Then, as Sister Odilia Korenek, the indisputable force in charge of BSA, explains, “things changed.” Throughout the years, the demographics of the area shifted, and the population became affected by socio-economic problems. The Sisters responded in the late 1980s by refocusing their programs on campus to serve the needs of an increasingly vulnerable population.
The Child Development Center launched in 1989. An alternative high school diploma program opened in ’91. This has since morphed into the current Por Vida Academy Charter High School (separate, non-religious affiliated). The Parents’ Academy followed in ‘94. The Bexar County Ropes Challenge Course was built in 1999 and Jewish Family Services (JFS) moved into a separate building on campus in 2002. All of these different programs successfully educate and encourage children, youth and families, many in the neighborhood and across San Antonio, by providing opportunities to develop a life of success and self-efficiency.
Now it seems the neighborhood is once again changing.
Working with the Archdiocese of San Antonio, 210Developers is close to repurposing St. John’s Seminary next to Mission Concepción into a multi-use complex. The old Lone Star Brewery off Roosevelt, recently purchased by AquaLand Development, will include an “entertainment complex” on part of the site. CPS Energy recently announced plans for a $15 million Energy Partnerships Innovation Center on the site of the historic Mission Road Power Plant. Right next door to the BSA property, in the former Mission Trails Mobile Home Park, White-Conlee Development will build the Mission Escondida Luxury Apartments, a multi-family apartment complex.
Sister Stephanie Marie Martinez remembers when she began teaching at BSA in 1972 the Mission Trails Park was already well established. “We had several girls who attended the high school,” she said. “We used to walk them to the back fence every day after school.” We promise it will be a “quality mobile home park” is what the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament were told when plans for building Mission Trails Park was proceeding forward in the 1960s.
“In the early 1990s our continuing position as the only immediate neighbors brought us opportunities to reach out to residents in need,” Sister Odilia said. “As the property was allowed to deteriorate, I made more frequent visits to managers to discuss situations, which impacted us negatively. Some of our more recent student population either lived in the park as residents or were there as ‘couch surfers.’ With that commonality we were able to work cooperatively more often than not.”
Sister Odilia continues, “As time went on and it became evident that there would be no repairs approved, the most excellent maintenance man of the park threw up his hands and walked off the ‘job,’ leaving open ditches in his wake. Empathy and prayers flowed freely from our chapel and hearts during this time and during the time new owners bought the park. A couple of our employees who were residents of the park shared their distress about living conditions. With this background, when the change was proposed and a generous process was used to help residents relocate, it warmed our hearts. That owners of private property would operate out of a stance such as this was amazing to us.”
“Despite some of us still pointing to the pain the residents expressed, we are ready to openly welcome our new neighbors and to work with them in continuing to enrich the meaning of ‘neighborhood,’” Sister Odilia concludes. “We hope to engage them in our high school gardening project which also serves as an excellent mentoring program. As we come to know each other, many other opportunities will open up for them and for the children and families of our programs. And, as the San Antonio River is redeveloped and embraces our neighborhood more intimately, we will have that beautiful resource to share and learn from, as well.”
*Top image: The Missionettes pose for a photo in front of the Blessed Sacrament Academy convent building in 1940. Historic photo courtesy of BSA.