Refugio de la Garza, parish priest and political figure, was born in San Antonio on November 22, 1775, the second of six children of Mariano and María Josefa Flores de la Garza, both also natives of San Antonio. He left San Antonio by the age of fifteen, possibly to pursue his studies at a Mexican seminary. He was appointed parish priest of San Antonio in 1819 and arrived in January 1820 to begin a tenure that lasted two decades. His first two years were marked by efforts to rebuild and improve the parish church, but later he appears to have taken more interest in worldly pursuits than in spiritual matters. At various times during his tenure he was charged with poor management of the parish church and the religious lives of his parishioners. He acquired large acreage at Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña Mission and became one of Bexar's wealthiest men. He also fathered at least three children by one or more mistresses.
Garza was one of the few well-educated men in the community. In January 1822 he was chosen to represent Texas at the congress called in Mexico City to write a constitution for the new nation. While in Mexico City during 1822 and early 1823, he worked for the final secularization of the Spanish missions in Texas, the establishment of forts along the Indian frontier, a port on the Gulf Coast, and tax exemptions for the region. He also served on the colonization committee that drafted the legislation under which Stephen F. Austin established his first colony.
He ran afoul of both Tejanos and newly arrived Anglo-Americans during the late 1830s. Although he served as a messenger between Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos and Stephen F. Austin during the siege of Bexar in October and November 1835, his worldly activities won him no friends. His continued contacts with Mexico brought him under suspicion as a traitor. In January 1839 both Juan N. Seguín and José Antonio Navarro complained of his shortcomings as a priest to Father John Timon, who had been sent by the bishop of New Orleans to determine the state of the church in Texas. On August 3, 1840, Jean Marie Odin, vice prefect apostolic of Texas, withdrew Garza's priestly faculties. That same day Garza was sent to Austin for trial on charges of corresponding with Gen. Mariano Arista. He was found guilty but received only a reprimand.
In September 1842 Gen. Adrián Woll invaded Texas and occupied San Antonio. While in Bexar he restored Garza as parish priest. The appointment proved short-lived, as Woll's retreat within a few days nullified his actions. Garza left San Antonio with Woll and was named chaplain of the Presidial Company of the Rio Grande, a post he held until his death in 1845 or 1846.
Is history important to you?
We need your support because we are a non-profit organization that relies upon contributions from our community in order to record and preserve the history of our state. Every penny helps.
Please make your contribution today.
Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). Jesús F. de la Teja, ed., A Revolution Remembered: The Memoirs and Selected Correspondence of Juan N. Seguín (Austin: State House Press, 1991).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Jesús "Frank" de la Teja,
“Garza, José Refugio Guadalupe de la,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 18, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
January 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
August 2, 2020
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: