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SAC Catholic Student Center has more tales to tell as it celebrates 40 years

by Carol Sowa
Today's Catholic

The San Antonio Catholic Student Center parlor is a welcome haven.
Photo by Carol Sowa

    Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series on the history of the SAC Catholic Student Center. See the March 18 issue of Today’s Catholic for part one.

    SAN ANTONIO • In the previous issue we chronicled the early history of the San Antonio College (SAC) Catholic Student Center (CSC), which also serves as headquarters for Catholic Campus Ministries for the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Located at 312 W. Courtland, the walls of this stately, two-story home have seen many eventful stories unfold in the years since it was built as a family home around 1917 and later purchased by the archdiocese in 1965.

    Father (now Monsignor) Balthasar “Balty” Janacek was one of many notable priests, nuns and lay persons who directed Catholic Campus Ministry for SAC and for the archdiocese over the years, taking the helm from 1978 to 1981 after four years in campus ministry at Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU).
    He noted that the SAC CSC’s ministry was primarily one of presence. At that time, out of the 25,000 students at SAC, 12,000 were registered Catholics. “It was like a large parish,” he said. “It was wonderful to have been a part of the life of so many young people.”
    Masses by this time were not always the “standing room only” of the early years, but participation in many of the programs, such as the retreats, remained high. Holding two retreats yearly at H-E-B’s camp was the norm, and Msgr. Janacek especially remembers the start of the popular “cross-cultural” retreats.
    They began with a team retreat in Detroit led by Father Alex Steinmueller, CP, and continued later back in San Antonio. “We had at least two people from all the different cultures,” said Msgr. Janacek. “It would be blacks, browns; Protestants, Catholics; gays, straights. Whatever cultures were around, we tried to find someone to represent. The idea was to allow people to tell their story.” Before the retreat ended, the students had truly begun to understand one another, he noted.

    Another highlight of his directorship was the group’s sponsoring a statewide campus ministries conference, where Father Clarence Rivers’ banquet address was punctuated musically by appropriate vocal selections from a local non-denominational black choir, headed by Oscar Ford. “It was fascinating to hear the two of them, these two musicians — their creativity,” recalled Msgr. Janacek.
    Also memorable was the long-standing ecumenical Thanksgiving celebrations at SAC, where the different denominational student centers would provide various portions of the moving feast. “The Baptists had the main entrée because they had the biggest kitchen,” said Msgr. Janacek. “They ended up at the Catholic Student Center because they could dance there.”
    The previously unused room on the topmost floor was utilized during Msgr. Janacek’s time by a theater group from OLLU as rehearsal space and for costume storage. Sister Maria Carolina Flores, CDP, a professor at OLLU, was the group’s director. “They were really good,” noted Msgr. Janacek. “They did a lot of Spanish theater.” Some students from SAC were also involved, as were students from UTSA under Dr. Félix Almaráz.
    “Those were the years of the Chicano Movement,” said Msgr. Janacek. “They did some really interesting stuff.” One of the plays he recalls, written by the students themselves, was Los Dichos, based on the “dichos” or old Spanish sayings. Another memorable play they performed was Hombres Necios by 17th century poet nun,???Sor Juana de la Cruz.

    Msgr. Janacek well remembers his first meeting with John Igo, Newman Club sponsor at SAC for 25 years. He related Igo’s telling him, “Father Balty, I’m the head of the English Department and if anybody in the university wants to know something about English, about the English language, they come to me. But I want you to know that it was your sister (Sister Aquinas Janacek, IWBS), back at St. Agnes School who gave me the yen for English grammar.” Msgr. Janacek immediately wrote his sister to tell her of her far-reaching influence as a teacher.
    Following Msgr. Janacek, Sister Maria Teresa Flores, CCVI, took over the archdiocesan campus ministry in 1982, a time when women were breaking new ground in archdiocesan positions. In the early ’90s, with the opening of additional campuses in the area, the SAC post became two separate positions, one overseeing the archdiocesan program and another heading campus ministry at SAC. Both continue to operate out of the house on Courtland. Since 2000, Carol F. White has headed the archdiocesan Catholic Campus Ministry program, which oversees 12 colleges and universities, while Joseph Liedecke Jr. has served as SAC campus minister since 2002.

    Many changes have taken place at the center over the years. In 2003, the chapel was moved to the larger room on the third floor, which had once been the playroom for the Thompson family (the home’s last owners) and ballroom for the Hughes family who built the house. Students spent several weekends renovating the room themselves, with various items being donated to the project. There is a baptismal font, a reconciliation room off to the side and a beautiful stained glass window of Our Lady of Guadalupe that overlooks the SAC campus. Liedecke refers to the window as “a beacon to students on campus, to bring them up to our center.” Noon Masses are held here on Fridays.
    A former side porch on the first floor has been converted into a cozy “Vocation Zone” room, with “cushy” sofa and lots of pertinent literature, plus a soft drink machine and TV to draw students in. The home’s former dining room is still that, with an additional table alongside the Thompson’s long one. The room holds books as well and a chalkboard for meetings. An interesting little glass-doored cabinet, built into the room’s fireplace, originally was the Hughes’ liquor cabinet in Prohibition days, but now contains books on Cardinal John Henry Newman.

    Liedecke plans to move books and other memorabilia of the center’s history into glass cases in the hall, establishing a small museum there this fall. The home’s spacious parlor is still a comfortable meeting area for students and site of weekly Tuesday rosaries, a joint faculty-student endeavor.
Confirmation, baptism and other classes are taught in the former chapel/bedroom and big plans are in the works for renovating the basement recreational area, which presently holds a TV, stereo, foosball game and pool table — all of “advanced age.” The pool table is especially in dire need of replacement.
    In honor of the center’s 40th anniversary this year, Liedecke has planned a special event each month, giving the old home’s walls new memories to record. January saw an open house, February featured a ’60s dance party, and the blessing of a time capsule was held in March. Future events include: April 22, blessing and planting of an oak tree; May 6, Parents/Grandparents Day; Aug. 26, a get-together with past Catholic campus ministers; Sept. 30, Alumni Day; Oct. 28, event honoring past and present faculty advisers; and Nov. 29 (the actual anniversary date), a Mass and reception with Msgr. Alois Goertz, first director of campus ministry. For more information call (210) 736-3752 or e-mail


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