Restored to its original Byzantine structural glory, St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church shines its aura of more than 87 years of faith, fellowship and love as strongly as ever today.
Orthodox Christians from Greece and Asia Minor founded St. Sophia, and today our Community serves many from all corners of the Orthodox world. Our faith and traditions are alive and well in the Alamo City as Eastern Orthodoxy moves into its Second Millennium. We all look forward in our hearts to the time when the children and young adults of today will celebrate the Centenary of our beloved St. Sophia Church in 2026.
Great courage, daring, bravery and perseverance were shown by immigrants who came to the United States from Greece and the Hellenic world in the years just before the 1900 and the decades after. They came with not only a different language in a very different classic alphabet but also a historic Christian faith-- all relatively new to America. The freedoms here permitted these immigrants to thrive over subsequent years by learning a second language, acquiring new skills and higher education, and establishing their faith for their own needs and for passing along to their descendants.
The departure from Greece and its traditional Mediterranean settlements during this period was prompted by severe economic depression, political instability, persecution, and general lack of opportunity for a decent livelihood - all traditional reasons at that time for the millions of immigrants who arrived in America from 1890 through 1930. In addition to the United States, this great Diaspora led to the establishment of dozens of Hellenic communities in many countries on every continent.
As the new Century progressed through the first and second decades, a mounting concern in San Antonio was the need for a spiritual home for the increasing community. A priest from Dallas or Houston would serve emergency needs with services at St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Pecan St., but in January 1924 a week passed before a priest could come to bury the daughter of George and Vaso Dounson. He and other men started meeting later that spring at Southwest Jacket Manufacturing Co., owned by A. Frank Petrutas and Bill Pappas, to organize the community and build a church.
These dedicated men organized The Society and Church of Aghia Sophia ("Holy Wisdom") on June 12, 1924. On August 7 they filed a charter with the Texas Secretary of State and were incorporated with the purpose of "building, maintaining and supporting a Church of the Greek Orthodox religion, and the maintenance of the religious society."
The Greek families raised $12,000 and another $10,000 from non-Greek businesses to begin plans for God’s house and their spiritual home. These dreams began with the purchase of land from San Antonio Water Supply Co. (SAWS) at a cost of $5,000 in November 1924. Construction documents were prepared by Emmitt Jackson, Architect, and W. E. Simpson, Structural Engineer by November 1925. The actual construction began late December 1925. Another year later, with God’s blessings, Rev. Emmanuel Panos officiated at the first Liturgy, although there was neither an iconostasion nor interior furnishings. The furnishings came June of 1926 when icons were shipped from the Joasaph Brotherhood (a group of icon painters) at the Karyai Monastery on Mount Athos. The total furnishings cost was $10,000.
November 6, 1927 a formal dedication was given by Bishop Joanidis of Chicago. Total cost of St. Sophia was $86,000 ($1 million in today’s value).
St. Sophia experienced a period of quiet growth as the 1950's arrived. A 1951 survey showed there were 623 parish members of whom 386 were considered active. A rectory (now the Church Office) was constructed in 1955 for $15,000, and air conditioning, a speaker system and central heating were added in the Church two years later. A budget of $110,000 was approved in 1960 to construct the present Education and Community Hall (now named Mangos Community Center) adjacent to the Church, and it was opened in 1961.
To help raise money to pay for the new hall and other parish needs, as well to celebrate the Greek heritage for the community and for San Antonio, Demetres Catacalos started in 1961 the first annual Greek FUNstival. It was held downtown in the La Villita yard the first year, then in the new Church Hall for about three years, and then it was relocated to the La Villita Assembly Hall downtown, where it remained until it returned to the Church property in 1988. This major three-day event is planned and staffed by parishioners who prepare and sell Greek food, offer programs of Greek folk-dancing, offer Greek merchandise for sale, provide tours of the Church by the priests, and generally show and explain other aspects of Greek culture and traditions to San Antonio.
When the University of Texas' Institute of Texan Cultures began its annual Folklife Festival in Hemisfair Park in 1972 to celebrate the contributions of the major ethnic groups that have populated San Antonio over the past three centuries, the Greek community was there with a food booth. This continuing tradition (now with the help of AHEPA members) promotes the local Greek presence while raising additional funds to support Church projects. For Hemisfair in 1968, a permanent display area of artifacts from Texas and San Antonio Greek settlers was assembled in and remains today in the Institute.
Significant in our thriving community are youth and young adult programs, services to the elderly and infirm, an outstanding program of religious education for children and adults, and an excellent reputation within the city's religious community.