Francis Bouchu, a Catholic priest described in 1890 as a lawyer, bricklayer, stonemason, photographer, printer, and historian, was born in Ste. Colombe-Vienne, Department of Isère, France, on April 15, 1829. He moved to Texas as a young man and was ordained in Galveston on March 19, 1855, one of the first priests ordained in Texas. The same year Father Claude Marie Dubuis, who later became bishop of Galveston, assigned Bouchu to the Church of San Fernando (see SAN FERNANDO DE BÉXAR CATHEDRAL) in San Antonio as assistant pastor. Bouchu served as itinerant priest for the outlying settlements and ranches in the largely Spanish-speaking areas south of the city.
In 1858 he was appointed pastor of the former Spanish missions of San Francisco de la Espada and San Juan de Capistrano. In addition to fulfilling his duties as priest, he worked tirelessly to restore the old missions; he is remembered chiefly for this work. When he moved to Espada in 1858, he found the complex in ruins. Most of the outbuildings and walls had collapsed, and the stones had been carried off for building materials. Only the façade and rear wall of the chapel were still standing. Working largely by himself, Bouchu rebuilt the side walls of the chapel on the old foundations. He constructed a new roof and regilded the surviving statues of St. Francis, the Virgin Mary, and Christ on the Cross, which he mounted on the altar in the sanctuary. He also restored the two-story colonial convent that served as his residence. It was renovated between 1955 and 1958. Although less well known than his work at Espada, Bouchu's restoration of San Juan Capistrano, which was in a similar state, was equally as important. He restored the church and a postcolonial house in the compound and rebuilt portions of the old walls. His work came at a critical time for the missions, which had been threatened for years and might have disappeared completely. Because of his restoration work, Espada and San Juan Capistrano were spared the extensive damage suffered by San José y San Miguel de Aguayo and San Antonio de Valero missions.
Finding that there was no adequate catechism in Spanish, Bouchu wrote one in 1872 and printed several thousand copies himself on a hand printing press. In 1896 his catechism became the official catechism of the diocese of San Antonio, and by 1897 it had gone through four editions. It was used throughout South Texas and New Mexico for many years. Bouchu died in San Antonio on August 19, 1907, and is buried there. See also SAN ANTONIO MISSIONS NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK and articles on individual missions.