Our History

For generations, pilgrims have journeyed to sacred sites for spiritual enrichment. The Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle in the Rio Grande Valley serves as such a beacon, drawing hundreds of seekers every day. With its annual visitor count surpassing a million, it stands among the most frequented Marian shrines in the United States.

The inception of this sacred site dates back to 1920, when Reverend Alfonso Jalbert, O.M.I., established a humble wooden chapel in San Juan, Texas. This chapel was initially a mission church affiliated with St. Margaret Mary Church in Pharr, Texas.

The veneration of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle has its roots in the town of San Juan de los Lagos, Mexico, which emerged near Guadalajara after the Spanish colonization. There, Spanish missionaries placed a revered image of the Immaculate Conception within the town’s church.

A miraculous event in 1623 catalyzed the devotion to Our Lady of San Juan. An acrobat’s family, performing in the area, suffered a tragedy when their youngest daughter fatally fell during a routine. In their grief, an indigenous caretaker of the church urged the parents to lay the image of the Virgin Mary atop their daughter, while she invoked the Virgin’s intercession. The child miraculously returned to life, which ignited the widespread devotion to “La Virgen de San Juan,” a devotion that now extends beyond Mexico into the United States.

Years later, in 1949, Reverend Jose Maria Azpiazu, O.M.I., took charge of St. John the Baptist parish in San Juan, Texas. Believing in the communal and spiritual benefits of Marian devotion, he obtained ecclesiastical approval to champion this cause. He then commissioned a Guadalajara artist to craft a statue mirroring the one in San Juan de Los Lagos, which he placed in the San Juan chapel.

Bishop Mariano S. Garriaga later endorsed the construction of a new church, culminating in the establishment of the Shrine in 1954, dedicated to the Virgen de San Juan. At this juncture, San Juan was part of the Corpus Christi Diocese. However, disaster struck in 1970 when a light aircraft crashed into the Shrine during Mass. Miraculously, despite the destruction and a loss valued at $1.5 million, there were no casualties among those present; only the pilot perished. It was seen as a divine protection by Our Lady of San Juan. In the midst of flames, Father Patricio Dominguez, O.M.I., and sacristan Pedro Rodriguez salvaged the statue of Our Lady, and Ron Anderson, a Diocesan Priest, saved the Blessed Sacrament.

Following the calamity, the Shrine’s dining hall temporarily became the statue’s sanctuary. By 1972, Bishop John J. Fitzpatrick had delineated the Shrine’s administration from the parish, embarking on the construction of a new church and an even grander shrine on adjacent land. The cornerstone of the new Shrine was laid in 1976, and by 1980, a grand dedication ceremony took place, attended by Cardinal Medeiros, Bishop Fitzpatrick, and a congregation of 50,000.

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops conferred the title of national Shrine upon Our Lady of San Juan del Valle in 1998. In a testament to its significance, Pope John Paul II bestowed upon it the honor of a minor Basilica in 1999. This Shrine remains a testament to faith, resilience, and the enduring grace of the Virgin Mary.

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