As we head towards Holy Week, in Puerto Rico the Dominican Family has joined with great joy in the reopening of the San José Church in Old San Juan. After nineteen years in restoration, this chapel is considered the second oldest still standing in the New World. It was originally constructed as the chapel of Saint Dominic Priory in San Juan, sanctioned by the Dominican General Chapter of 1530. It was one of the convents of the new Province of the Holy Cross of the Indies. Friars such as Antón de Montesinos, who led the foundation, Bartolomé de las Casas, and Luis Cáncer, its first prior and martyr in Florida, passed through this convent.
When the Jesuits arrived in 1858 to run the first Seminary founded in Puerto Rico they were offered the chapel and they changed its name to San José. By the laws of Spanish Confiscation, the convent was dispossessed from the Church. With the US invasion of the Island in 1898 by Gen. Nelson Miles during the Spanish-American War, the convent and church were taken over by the American army. However, when the first American bishop Msgr. James Blenk (later Archbishop of New Orleans) arrived, he managed to have at the chapel turned over to the Diocese of Puerto Rico. During the 20th century, the Vincentians were also in charge of the church that today functions as a chapel of the archdiocesan cathedral.
The process of restoration of the Church took into account the many spiritual traditions that passed through it. However, it is clear that the Dominican iconography and the motifs of the Order stand out, showing off the four hundred years of Dominican preaching and teaching since San Juan. Architect Jorge Rigau, a very close friend and collaborator to the Dominicans in Puerto Rico was in charge of the restoration process.
On Friday, March 19, 2021, a solemn mass was celebrated to officially reopen San José Church, and on Saturday, March 20, the Archdiocese Day of Consecrated Life was held, which had been postponed to coincide with this historic moment. In memory of the Dominican origin of the church, Fr. José Santiago, OP was invited to concelebrate with the Archbishop of San Juan, Mons. Roberto González-Nieves, OFM, and Fr. Yamil Samalot, OP preached. Fr. Carlos Rodríguez-Villanueva, OP as well as representatives of the Dominican Sisters of Amityville, the Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima (Puerto Rican foundation), and the Dominican Sisters of Charity of the Presentation also participated in the Eucharist and renewal of religious vows.