LA LOMITA MISSION
LA LOMITA MISSION. La Lomita ("little hill") is a small hill and the adjoining historical site of a former mission and ranch headquarters maintained by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. It is located off Farm Road 1016 near the Rio Grande five miles south of Mission in southwestern Hidalgo County. The property comprised two Spanish land grants, or porciones, awarded in 1767. The little hill is on the western edge of Porción 57, which thus became known as the La Lomita grant. The adjoining historical site is on the eastern edge of the neighboring Porción 56. Through a succession of sales over the years the La Lomita grant came into the possession of John Davis Bradburn in 1842. Bradburn, of Anahuac fame but by then in Matamoros, died two months later and was buried somewhere on the property. His Mexican widow sold the land in 1845 to René Guyard, a French merchant in Reynosa. Upon Guyard's death in 1861, his will left the La Lomita grant to Oblate priests Pierre F. Parisot and Pierre Y. Keralumqqv "for the propagation of the faith among the barbarians." For the same purpose Guyard also left to the Oblates Porción 55 upriver, which he had acquired in 1851. The Oblates, Frenchmen like Guyard, had been traveling the Rio Grande country since 1849 to minister to the Catholic inhabitants scattered throughout the area. The priests had been using a small chapel on the ranch of the original La Lomita grant as the division point and meeting place or "tapadero" between their mission centers in Brownsville downriver and Roma upriver. In 1884 they finally managed to purchase Porción 56, the Spanish grant separating the two porciones bequeathed to them by Guyard. This gave them a large undivided tract of land extending two miles along the river and fifteen miles inland. The designation La Lomita was extended to the entire property, whereas previously it had referred to the original easternmost grant.
Upon acquiring the middle tract, the Oblates sought to develop a profitable ranching and farming operation on it at a site where two buildings made of poles and mud already existed. These buildings were used to house a hired overseer and the priests when they visited. As yet there was no chapel at this new La Lomita site. The effort to manage the enterprise from Brownsville collapsed. Attempts to raise grapes and potatoes around 1890 were big failures. At that same time a barbed wire fence was constructed around a large section of the property. In order to reduce the distances involved in visiting ranches and to provide closer supervision of the La Lomita enterprise, in 1899 the ranch center was made the residential headquarters of a new Oblate mission district comprising all of Hidalgo County, with its sixty-five or so ranches. At that time the old chapel, still standing today, was built next to the two pole-and-mud buildings of stones dug from the hill. Afterwards a brick house was built for the Oblates' residence. It is this cluster of buildings, of which only the chapel survives, that is memorialized in the La Lomita historic site. Nearby were the dwellings of a dozen Mexican families who lived on the ranch. By 1907 a railroad was being built into this area and major irrigation projects were being developed, thus opening a new economic era in the lower Rio Grande valley. To help provide for the churches and schools needed in the new towns springing up, the Oblates sold most of their La Lomita ranch property to James W. Conway and John J. Hoit in December 1907. Those developers gave the new townsite in the middle of this property the name of Mission, in honor of its historical and ongoing ties with the Oblate mission work. The Oblates kept for their own use 100 acres in the new town of Mission and 300 acres along the river, including the La Lomita hill, ranch buildings, and chapel.
When the Oblates transferred their mission center to Mission three years later, the ranch and chapel facilities at La Lomita began to deteriorate from lack of attention. On top of the hill of La Lomita itself, however, they built a large three-story brick building in 1912 to house their novitiate program. Although the novitiate was transferred to the La Parra Ranch in Kenedy County in 1962, the large building on the hill still dominates the countryside. For a few years it housed a Catholic congregation of women religious. Then, as Oblate leaders sought to respond to the nascent Chicano movement, the building was leased for migrant programs and briefly considered as a site for the Colegio Jacinto Treviño until a storm of public controversy sank that effort. In 1974 a hundred acres, including the hill, was nominally leased for fifty years to La Lomita Farms, a project of the Tropical Texas Center for Mental Health and Mental Retardation to provide long-term residential and work facilities for developmentally disabled adults. The old disused chapel at La Lomita was repaired and furnished in 1928 by Fr. Chateau, the director of the novitiate, "as a precious relic of the past and a Shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe." But regular religious services were not held there, and in 1933 a hurricane caused much damage. Chateau repaired the building in 1939 so that it could be used for religious services for the residents of the nearby settlement of Madero. In 1976 the chapel was again restored and visitor amenities and landscaping were added by the city of Mission to make La Lomita a municipal historical park through a lease agreement with the Oblates. In 1965 the Oblates agreed to a nominal ninety-nine-year lease of some riverfront property still owned by them that was necessary for proper river access for a planned recreational park for the area. Anzalduas Park has become a primary recreational site in Hidalgo County. In 1975 La Lomita was entered in the National Register of Historic Places due to the important role it played in the development of the lower Rio Grande valley.
Archives of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Southern United States Province, San Antonio.