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Alejo Hernandez

 

In memory of the Rev. 

ALEJO HERNANDEZ

Who was the first native 

Mexican preacher of the

Methodist E. Church, South.

Born in Aguascalientes

Mexico, Jul. 17, 1842, he was

ordained a deacon by Bishop

Enoch M. Marvin, Dec. 1871

Ordained an Elder by Bishop

John C. Keener, Feb. 8, 1874 in Mexico City

He was burning bush 

and the first to preach the gospel among the Mexicans 

in the manner done by the Methodists.

Restored 1971 as part of

the Centennial celebration

of Rev. Hernandez' ordination.

Died Sept. 27, 1875.

 

 

Santa Biblia

La esperanza de Mexico a la memoria del Rdo.

Alejo Hernandez

Quien fue el primer predicador

nativo Mexicano

de la Iglesia Metodista E. del Sur.

Nacio en el estado y ciudad

de Aguascalientes, Mexico,

el 17 de Julio de 1842.

Ordenado diacono

por el Obispo Enoch M. Marvin

el 24 de Diciembre de 1871

y Presbitero por

el Obispo John C. Keener

el 8 de Febrero de 1874,

en la ciudad de Mexico.

Era una lumbrera ar-

diente y el precurso

entre los Mexicano del

evangelio como se predica

entre los Metodistas.

Fallecio Sept. 27, 1875

Restaurada en 1971 con

motivo en la celebracion

del centenario

de la ordenacion del Rdo. Hernandez.

hernandesa

hernandesasp

Photo Credit:  Rosa G. Gonzales

United Methodist Historic Site No.173


1. "History of the Rio Grande Conference of the United Methodist Church"

            by Alfredo Nanez

After the Civil War interest in the mission to the Spanish-speaking population revived.  Corpus Christi became the center of interest.

In the summer of 1870, a young Mexican who had been converted some years prior in Brownsville, Texas, arrived in Corpus Christi searching for spiritual guidance.  His name was Alejo Hernandez.  Hernandez was born in Aguascalientes, Mexico, July 17, 1842, into a well-to-do family.  It was customary at that time for religious families to dedicate one of their sons to the service of the Church.  So Alejo Hernandez was dedicated.  In 1862, when the French invaded Mexico, Hernandez was attending the Roman Catholic seminary of his native city (Morelia, Michoacan).

Because the Catholic Church had allied itself with the Conservative Party in supporting the French invasion, many young people turned against the Church and against religion in general.  As a result great numbers of young people joined the liberal armies under Benito Juarez to fight against the invaders and against the leadership of the Church.

Under these circumstances Hernandez left the seminary and joined the liberal armies:

During his first years I the seminary he imbibed infidelity and determined never to be a priest, and without the knowledge of his father he left school and joined the armies against Maximilian; was taken prisoner by the French and after various misfortunes and great suffering he found himself upon the Rio Grande on the border of Texas.

When the army Hernandez had joined retreated to the Texas border in the vicinity of Mier, Tamaulipas, he came upon a book whose title enticed him.  The book was titled “Noches con los Romanistas (“Nights with the Romanists”), by the Reverend M. H. Seymour, translated by the Reverend H. B. Pratt, and published by the American Tract Society.  He thought the reading of the book would enhance his anti-clerical and anti-roman feeling and would strengthen him in his atheistic ideas.

This copy of the book had been left behind by a soldier of the American army that entered northern Mexico under General Zachary Taylor in 1846.

Hernandez read the book with great interest and was especially intrigued by the many references to the Bible.  To obtain a copy of the Bible he crossed the Rio Grande at Camargo, Mexico, and from what is now Rio Grande City, he went on to Brownsville, Texas.  In that city one day to escape from a sudden shower, he entered a small chapel where a religious service was being held and though the service was in English, and he did not understand a word of it, he had an extraordinary experience:

I was seated where I could see the congregation but few could see me.  I felt that God’s spirit was there, although I could not understand a word that was being said, I felt my heart strangely warmed.....  Never did I hear an organ play so sweetly, never did human voices sound so lovely to me, never did people look so beautiful as on that occasion.  I went away weeping for joy.

After this extraordinary experience, Hernandez remained in Brownsville for a short time and returned to Mexico to proclaim his newly found faith.  In Mexico he was bitterly persecuted and ridiculed, and upon the advice of an American friend, he decided to return to the United States.

In the summer of 1870 we find Hernandez in Corpus Christi, where he was welcomed by William Headen and his family and by the pastor of the Methodist church, the Rev. J. W. Brown, who opened his home to him.  He joined the Methodist church and was licensed to preach.  At the suggestion of his friends, he spent four months in the Medina River region in company with the Rev. John W. DeVilbiss, presiding elder of the Corpus Christi district.  He preached very successfully in the numerous Mexican communities along the Medina River and returned to Corpus Christi at the end of 1871.  By that time Hernandez had decided to enter the Methodist ministry.  To do this, he attended the annual conference that met in Leesburg, Texas, December 20-25, 1871, presided over by Bishop Enoch M. Marvin.

Hernandez was admitted on trial and due to the nature of his case the Bishop announced that “he had selected Alejo Hernandez for the missionary work among the Mexicans, whereupon, in view of the necessities of the work, he was elected to Deacon’s orders.”  Hernandez received his first appointment at the end of the conference and was sent to Laredo.

Two resolutions regarding the new missionary work were passed:  1)  that a request be sent to the American Bible Society for Bibles, Testaments and Sunday School materials in the Spanish language to aid Hernandez in his work;  2)  that the first Friday in April 1872 be designated as a day of fasting and prayer for the success of the Mexican mission.

Hernandez spent very little time in his charge in Laredo due to the fact that he went down to Monterrey to get married and was caught in the revolution in that country.

At the annual conference held in Victoria, Texas in 1872, Hernandez was sent to Corpus Christi.  He preached there in Rockport with a great deal of success, but only for a short time, for he received orders from Bishop John C. Keener to go to Mexico City to take charge of a newly organized church in that city.  He stayed in Mexico City only about a year and a half, for he suffered a stroke that left him a semi-invalid.  Fearing that the end was near, he decided to return to his spiritual home, Corpus Christi.  He made the long trip by stagecoach to Matamoros and by wagon to Corpus Christi, where he passed away on the night of September 27, 1875.

The ministry of Alejo Hernandez was very brief.  In Texas it consisted of a few months at best and in Mexico a little over a year; yet it was of great significance, because it dramatized in a very clear way both to the Wes Texas Conference and to the Church in general the spiritual needs of the Spanish-speaking world south of the border.

The Nashville Christian Advocate, the New Orleans Christian Advocate, and the Texas Christian Advocate of the time all carried notices of the death of Hernandez and articles of appreciation for his ministry.

William Headen, who had been a close friend of Hernandez, was greatly moved by his death.  He ends a letter to the Texas Christian Advocate thus:

The requiem song in Spanish floated off and upward as an incense upon the still air.  The benediction was pronounced, and at half past five p.m. his friends, let by the pastors of the Mexican and American churches, and the Reverend W. E. Caldwell of the Presbyterian, did the last kindly office for him, and closed his grave.

The Church should erect a monument to mark the spot where now rests the body of the first Mexican missionary of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.

 

Source:

Nanez, Alfredo.  “History of the Rio Grande Conference of the United Methodist Church.”  Bridwell Library, Southern Methodist University 1980.

Transcription by:  Rosa G. Gonzales

 

2.  News item, 1875

Death of a Minister 

 

The Rev. Alejo Hernandez died in this City on the night of the 27th. He was born in Aguas Calientes, Mexico, in 1837, and had not quite finished his collegiate course when his studies were interrupted by the Maximillian war.  He was led to embrace Protestantism by reading the Bible and __________ to Matamoros in 18(?)7, shortly after which he came to this City and completed __________ with the Methodist church.  He was shortly afterwards sent to the City of Mexico and placed in charge of the Methodist church in the Capillia de A(Andres?).  After about a year's labor he was stricken with inflammatory rheumatism and returned to his friends among whom he first began his ministerial labors.  In the evening preceding his death there was nothing in his condition indicating any decided change.  He was seated in his invalid chair, to which he had been confined during his long illness, and while all around him were calmly sleeping his spirit passed from earth to heaven.  He was buried on the 28th with the (illegible) of the Methodist church which were conducted by the Rev. D (Doroteo?) Garcia.  He leaves a young family.

 

Source: Corpus Christi Weekly Gazette, Saturday, October 2, 1875, p. 3, col. 2

Research by:  Msgr. Michael A. Howell

Transcription by:  Geraldine D. McGloin, Nueces County Historical Commission

 

3.  Photograph of original headstone

            Corpus Christi Caller Times (May 3, 1942)

 

4.  "The Rev. Alejo Hernandez, zealot buried here, was the founder of Methodist Mission Work

      among the Mexicans"   by Bernard Brister 

              Corpus Christi Caller Times (May 3, 1942)

The Rev. Alejo Hernandez, zealot buried here, was the founder of Methodist Mission Work among the Mexicans

by Bernard Brister 

 

He was a burning and a gleaming light, and the forerunner among the Mexicans of the Gospel as preached by the Methodist.  These words mark the grave of the Rev. Alejo Hernandez in Corpus Christi's Old Bayview Cemetery. They describe the work of the man who opened a new vein of religious thought to the Mexican people. Widely he spread his newfound faith as the first Mexican missionary of the Methodist Church, and when worn and weary, he was ready to die, he returned to Corpus Christi where his work was begun. For nearly 70 years he has lain under a mesquite tree in Old Bayview Cemetery, and in recent years his gravesite was marked with a stone chiseled with versions of his career in Spanish and English. The Stone reads, "In memory of Rev. Alejo Hernandez, first native Mexican preacher of the Meth. E. Church, South. Born in the City and State of Aguas Calientes, Mex., July 17, 1842, ordained Deacon by Bp.

Marvin, Dec. 25, 1871; Elder by Bp. Keener, Jan. 28, 1874, died in Corpus Christi, Tex., Sept. 27, 1875."

 

He was a burning, and gleaming light and the forerunner among the Mexicans of the Gospel as preached by the Methodist. This monument was erected by his successors in the Mexican Mission work.  The Rev. B. Y. Dickinson, pastor of the Corpus Christi Mexican Methodist

church, says that the Southwest Mexican Conference which originated with the conversion of Hernandez is now the largest and most important of the foreign speaking conferences of the Methodist Church in the world. In Aguas Calientes Hernandez wealthy father made plans for him to become a priest, but while in college the youth imbibed infidel sentiments and enlisted in the army against Maximilian to avoid the life of a cleric. He was taken prisoner of war and confined in one of the hamlets along the Rio Grande. Here a pamphlet, 'Evenings with the Romanists,'  distributed by members of Gen. Zachary Taylor's army, fell into his hands. He read its brief quotations from the Bible, and became at once ambitious to obtain a copy of the book from which the quotations were taken. To determine for himself, the claims of Protestantism, he visited Brownsville. The story goes that he walked into the Presbyterian Church while a service was in progress. I felt that God spirit was there, he said, and although I could

not understand a word that was said, I felt my heart strangely warmed. Never did I hear an organ play so sweetly, never did human voices sound so lovely to me, never did people look so beautiful as on that occasion. I went away weeping for joy. In Mexico he preached his new found religion for a while, but on the advice of an American friend, he came to Texas. In Corpus Christi he was  welcomed by William Headen, business man of the city and superintendent of the Methodist Sunday School. He was admitted to the Methodist Church,

licensed to preach in due time, and in 1871 ordained by Bishop Marvin who appointed him to the Laredo Mexican Mission. In 1872 he returned to Corpus Christi and 1873 he was sent to Mexico, to initiate the Methodist  movement there.

While in Mexico he became ill, and desiring to die in Corpus Christi, he returned to Brownsville. The father of Mrs. Virginia Villanueva, who still resides at her home here, went to Brownsville and brought the preacher by wagon home to Corpus Christi to die. Villanueva then followed in his footsteps as a missionary among the Mexicans. Sketchy is the picture of the Rev. Mr. Hernandez that remains today. It is certain that he must have had many of the firey qualities of the zealot, were into a short four years this bearded, burning eyed man crowded a whole career. The intensity of his personality and the fullness of his belief was transmitted to others, and the movement he started goes on gaining new strength each year.

 

Source: Corpus Christi Caller Times, May 3, 1942,6A, col.1-4.

Research: Msgr. Michael A. Howell

Transcription: Geraldine D. McGloin

 

5.  "New Marker"

           Corpus Christi Caller Times (June 7, 1971)

New Marker

Earlier in the day a marker service was held at Bayview Cemetery to honor Alejo Hernandez, the first native Mexican preacher of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The new monument replaced on which was destroyed by Hurricane Celia.

Selection from article Spanish-Authored Literature Asked by Methodist Unit 

 

 

Source: Corpus Christi Caller Times, June 7, 1971,14B, col.1-2.

Research: Msgr. Michael A. Howell

Transcription: Geraldine D. McGloin