The Church on the Hill

NOT LONG AFTER the Civil War, a Catholic missionary named Emil Fleury arrived in Boerne to build a church. Then, as now, Borne was an attractive little town about thirty miles northwest of San Antonio, pleasantly situated on Cibolo Creek with good farmland and excellent hunting nearby. Its founders were German families who had fled the revolutions and persecutions in Europe in the mid-nineteenth century. They were an independent, strong-willed lot whose descendants are prominent in the town even today. Enough of them were free thinkers, members of a progressive movement of the era that was suspicous of churches and organized religion, that Father Fleury was forced to build his church, St. Peter the Apostle, on a hill that was then just outside the town. Today, 120 years later, St. Peter’s is in contention with the city of Boerne once again. This little local dispute has hardened and dragged on until, to the surprise of everyone involved, it will soon be argued before the Supreme Court of the United States. The court will be asked to resolve a rather odd question: Can historicad preservation limit religious freedom? The church Father Fleury built—a small limesone box with a slanted roof—still stands on that hill today. It’s sweet, but unlovely and unremarkable. Next to it stands a much larger church, built in 1923; Father Fleury, then eighty years old, helped lay the cornerstone. This church has a facade of twin towers and is a loose replica of Mission Concepción in San Antonio. It’s attractive enough on the outside simply because it looks much older than it really is. On the inside, the architecture of St. Peter’s is ordinary at best. The only glimmer of charm comes from two stained-glass windows high in the sanctuary. But its real shortcoming is that it is too small. St. Peter’s holds only 200 people while the parish has grown to 1,050 families. Each

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