Fray José de Santiesteban Aberín, one of two Franciscan priests martyred at Santa Cruz de San Sabá Mission, was born in Muniáin de la Solana, Navarro, Spain, and was baptized in Asunción parish on March 15, 1719. He professed the Franciscan rule in the monastery of San Francisco de Pamplona and at age thirty sailed from Cádiz, on December 31, 1749, to join the mission movement in New Spain. Upon his arrival in Mexico in 1750, he went to the missionary college of San Fernando de México "on mission." In 1756, "because of his piety, he felt called to the conquest and reduction of the Apache Indians in the mission on the San Saba River." He was one of two friars sent by the College of San Fernando to that enterprise. With five others-one from San Fernando and three from Santa Cruz de Querétaro-he arrived at San Antonio on December 14, 1756, and continued to the San Saba River the following April. While several of the missionaries withdrew in despair, Fray José remained steadfast in his commitment. When the "Indians of the North"-including Comanches, Wichitas, and members of several other tribes-attacked the mission on March 16, 1758, only he and the mission president, Fray Alonso Giraldo de Terreros, remained of the original group. Both lost their lives in the ensuing melee, along with at least six other persons. When the Indians approached, Father Santiesteban was celebrating Mass in the mission's crude chapel. He suspended the service but remained before the altar in prayer. The Indians apparently overtook him there, although none of the survivors who reached San Luis de las Amarillas Presidio had witnessed his death or even seen him after the attack began. Eight days later his headless body was found among the ashes, his head in the ruins of the clothing storehouse. Like Father Terreros, Father Santiesteban was proposed for canonization by the Catholic bishops of the United States in 1941. The matter was still pending in 1994.
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Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). Paul D. Nathan, trans., and Lesley Byrd Simpson, ed., The San Sabá Papers (San Francisco: Howell, 1959). Robert S. Weddle, The San Sabá Mission (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Robert S. Weddle,
“Santiesteban Aberin, Jose de,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 11, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
July 1, 1995
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