Gilbert Ralph Cruz, historian, writer, scholar, educator, and award-winning author, was born in San Antonio, Texas, on December 6, 1929. He was the son of Gilberto A. Cruz and Hilaria “Lottie” (Rivas) Cruz. After graduating from Central Catholic High School, he entered Assumption Seminary and served the Archdiocese of San Antonio. In 1962, as a means to expand his ministry services, he attended the Catholic University of America in Washington, D. C., and received certification as a hospital chaplain. He served as chaplain at the San Antonio State Hospital. Cruz was also elected president of the Catholic Chaplains in Texas Hospitals.
He obtained permission from the San Antonio Archdiocese to pursue a college education and received a B. A. (1968) and M.A. (1970) degree in Texas history and Spanish borderlands history from St. Mary’s University, under the tutelage of history professor Félix D. Almaráz, Jr. In one of Almaráz’s classes, he wrote a term paper on the first municipal government in Spanish Texas, which was expanded into a master’s thesis. Shortly thereafter, Cruz began his teaching career at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas, and continued at the University of Texas Pan American (now part of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley) in Edinburg, Texas. While he was at Pan American he received a Senior Fulbright Lecture Scholar Award to Colombia. He later taught at Arizona State University-West Campus in Phoenix, Arizona, and at Glendale Community College in Glendale, Arizona.
In November 1970 he married Martha Oppert. They had two sons—Andrés Antonio and Miguel Luis. The couple divorced in 1981. The Reverend John Francis Bannon, S. J., Ph.D., a renowned historian on the American Spanish southwestern frontier, had heard of Cruz’s scholarly reputation and recruited him for the doctoral program at St. Louis University. Cruz earned his Ph.D. in 1974. His dissertation became an award-winning book, Let There Be Towns: Spanish Municipal Origins in the American Southwest, 1610–1810, published in 1988 by Texas A&M University Press.
In 1980 Cruz went to work as the first head historian for the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. In this capacity, he “implemented a research program in history; he explained and/or interpreted the cooperative agreement between the Catholic Church and the National Park Service and he rescued many pieces of ecclesiastical art for later restoration by the National Park Service.” Cruz continued writing historical monographs and articles. And, for his distinguished scholarly published works, the Texas State Historical Association bestowed on him the title of “Fellow” in 2000.
After moving back from Arizona to San Antonio, Cruz quickly became involved with several historical writing projects and other undertakings with his mentor, Félix Almaráz, in the San Antonio Historical Association and the Bexar County Historical Commission. He participated in the Tricentennial Celebration of the city of San Antonio by presenting a paper entitled “Fray Francisco Hidalgo: Prototypical Texas Missionary and the Founding of Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción” at a symposia on June 17, 2016. During the production of the two-hour documentary film, Texas Before the Alamo, director William Millett asked Cruz to portray Fray Isidro Félix Espinosa, which he did, and he also provided historical insights and interpretations to the narrative.
Cruz was a consulting editor for Catholic Southwest, A Journal of History and Culture. He co-authored a number of books, including with James A. Irby, Texas Bibliography: A Manuel on History Research Materials (1982). With James D. McBride he wrote Arizona: Heartland of the Southwest: A Handbook of History Research Materials (2004). In addition, Cruz published La Madre del Maiz: A Botanical and Historical Perspective on Our Lady of Guadalupe, 1531–1810, (2012). He also co-authored with Patrick Foley Missionary Bishop: Jean-Marie Odin in Galveston and New Orleans (2013).
In early 2017 Cruz continued his commitment to research and writing and completed an article entitled “The Vicariate Apostolic of Brownsville: Frontier Bishops Of The Roman Catholic Church In South Texas 1874–1966” for publication in the December 2017 issue of Catholic Southwest, A Journal of History and Culture. He also wrote a memorial for his friend and former professor, Hubert J. Miller, and submitted it for publication in the same Catholic journal. However, he did not get to see his last two articles in print. On October 17, 2017, Gilbert R. Cruz passed away unexpectedly in San Antonio. His survivors included his two sons and his second wife Patricia. He was entombed in the Holy Cross Mausoleum in San Antonio. As a fitting tribute for his contributions to the movie, Texas Before the Alamo, his name was included in memoriam when the film was telecast by Univisión in 2018.
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Félix D. Almaráz, Jr., Ph.D., “The Professor and the Three Gilbertos,” Gold & BlueSt. Mary’s University, Alumni Magazine, Winter 2000. J. Gilberto Quezada, “Remembering Gilbert R. Cruz,” Catholic Southwest, A Journal of History and Culture 29 (2018). San Antonio Express-News, October 22, 2017.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
J. Gilberto Quezada,
“Cruz, Gilbert Ralph,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 27, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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