In 1532, work began on the construction of the “Santo Tomás de Aquino” Convent of the Order of the Dominicans of San Juan.
The building was located on a large plot north of the island of Puerto Rico, now known as San Juan, and donated by the first governor of the Island of San Juan Bautista, Juan Ponce de León. By the middle of the 16th century the construction of the Convent and its chapel, Cristo de los Ponce, was completed.
In the following years and with the patronage of the Ponce de León family, expansions and renovations were continued. The Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary is built in the seventeenth century. A Coat of Arms can still be seen on the wall of the chapel.
The convent and its chapels were closed in 1836 and it is not until 1858 that it is handed over to the Jesuit Fathers, who in addition to making great reforms in the temple, change the name to San José or Saint Joseph. The Paules Fathers were in charge of the complex from 1887 to 1968.
During the years 1978 to 1981 restoration work was carried out under Cardinal Luis Aponte Martínez and Don Ricardo E. Alegría. Due to the deterioration of the structure, presenting a security problem, the complex is closed again at the end of the 20th century by Bishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves.
Let’s review a bit of history, the first settlement on the Island of San Juan Bautista is established by Juan Ponce de León in what is known as Caparra. At the insistence of the villagers, the Villa de Caparra is abandoned in favor of the Islet, which was baptized with the name of Puerto Rico due to its location with respect to the bay. This occurs between 1519 and 1521. This move is the beginning of urban living in this sector of Puerto Rico, giving rise to military forts, residences, ports and churches, among others.
The Convent-Church Saint Joseph is one of the first constructions in the new town, being the second church constructed in Puerto Rico and at the moment one of the oldest temples of the Americas. The first church built was the Cathedral of “San Juan Bautista”, located on “Calle del Cristo” in Old San Juan.
A great gift for Catholics and visitors of Old San Juan, has been the opening of the Church-Convent Saint Joseph during Holy Week. The restoration of this church has been very long and it is already expected that by next year, 2020, the works will be completed.
The Church of Saint Joseph has been closed to visitors for around 20 years and the restoration work has taken about 10 years. Around $ 9 million dollars have been invested and it is estimated that $ 1 million is still needed to complete the work.
The “Patronato de Monumentos de San Juan”, a non-profit organization is in charge of the project. The architect Jorge Rigau, the engineer José Sánchez, together with a group of restoration specialists carry out the works.
If you wish to send your donations, you can do so at the following address:
Patronato de Monumentos de San Juan, Inc.
197 O’Neill Street
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00918-2404