Nationally renowned Norman Vincent Peale visited the small church of San Antonio de La Villita


It’s an interesting story of the church, an alcoholic, a carillon and Dr. Peale… all in one. This is my transcript of a sermon he gave, probably in the mid-1980s. I grew up in Scarsdale, NY, less than a 30 minute Sunday morning drive from Lower Manhattan and Peale Church. at 29th Street and Fifth Avenue. I already lived in San Antonio but still received tapes (tapes) of his Sunday sermons. When I heard this one, my jaw dropped. I think the story may have been repeated in his autobiography.

The small church of La Villita has had a turbulent history, but this is the only episode that involves someone who was nationally famous at the time.

Norman Vincent Peale, a Methodist pastor, was chief pastor of Marble Collegiate Church from 1932 to 1984, had longtime radio and television broadcasts, and wrote over 40 books. One of them was “The True Joy of Positive Thinking: An Autobiography,” a collection of essays and sermons published in 1984 that includes a mention of Rev. Paul Soupiset – one of Peale’s many works.

Soupiset, a former clothing store manager and salesperson, felt called to enter the ministry in his late forties – inspired by Peale, according to his son, Fred Soupiset.

Not a staunch devotee, Paul stayed home on his only day off while his wife and children attended St. Matthew’s Methodist Church in north Houston. “One Sunday, he turned on our new RCA 10 inch tabletop television and listened to Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. The pastor’s upbeat mix of psychology and religion “lit a fire under daddy and he dedicated his life to serving God and man in a meaningful way,” his son recalls. “He became active in our church and began to study for ministry in the Methodist Church. “

Soupiset took correspondence courses to become a Certified Local Preacher or LLP in the Methodist Church, which he achieved by the time the family moved to San Antonio in 1955. Still working in the clothing store retail business Russell on Alamo Plaza, he completed his supervision at Highland Terrace Methodist Church and filled in for pastors from other churches in the area. Busy as he was, Soupiset was always looking for a greater challenge… and he found it when he discovered what was then La Villita Church, closed and empty at 508, rue Villita.

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As he told the San Antonio Light on April 18, 1960, he was inspired by Peale’s broadcasts “to have a little chapel in the heart of a city”. Since he could not find one in Houston or San Antonio, he decided to found one.

The small neo-Gothic stone building he had seen on lunchtime walks had been cut in 1939 when the city undertook a federally funded restoration of the Old Quarter of 200 years of La Villita – by cleaning cabins and sparing structures of historical value. The church dates back to 1878, when the German Methodist congregation that built it received its charter from the Southern Methodist Church. After they got too big and moved, it was one of the first homes of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, a historically black congregation.

The church had some downtime and received a needed renovation in 1941, when La Villita was ready to be a municipal performance venue. In the early 1940s, it was La Villita Theater for puppet shows and experimental productions. Renamed The Little Church Around the Corner, echoing the name of a favorite show business wedding in New York City, it hosted an evangelical mission that broadcast guest speakers on radio in 1943 and then housed a training center of the Red Cross during the war. II. After that, the city promoted the church as a venue for conventions and weddings. The Daughters of the American Revolution, or DAR, used it for a memorial service at their convention in 1945, and the church was part of the La Villita tour offered to visiting dignitaries. Couples without a church who wanted a religious site for their nuptials could choose from a list of clergy of different faiths to act as celebrants.

From 1947 to 1954, the Business Men’s Bible Class met every Sunday morning in what they called “La Villita Chapel” for discussions and conferences. A non-sectarian group that dates back to the mid-1920s, the class had previously gathered in the ballrooms of the Gunter, Plaza, and Menger hotels. After an hour and a half in La Villita, members were to attend services in their home churches. When the businessmen – who reached over 2,000 bulky members – disbanded for good to start smaller groups elsewhere, the small church was again left alone.

When Soupiset first visited the church, according to Peale’s story in an undated reprint of Guideposts magazine, of which he was co-editor, “cobwebs and dust were everywhere. The only equipment: benches stacked in a corner and a rickety table. Unperturbed, he asked the city and received a monthly rental. Because he still had commitments to two other churches, Soupiset scheduled his Sunday candlelight vespers service at 6 p.m.

When he began his ministry at the small non-denominational church of La Villita, the pastor was still working full time in retail. There was no official membership, no donation cards, and a need to fund bi-weekly food and clothing distributions to the needy. The church was funded entirely by donations, and Soupiset did not receive a salary for the first year or so.

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“He gave up a good income in the clothing business and walked in the faith that the Lord would provide for our family,” said Fred Soupiset. “(Eventually) he received income from the little his ministry contributed. There were times of no income and times of moderate income, but he was so committed to his calling that he relied on God’s provision. “

The first year, a friend of the church donated an anonymous new carillon (bell tower) and an organ. Wanting to honor Peale’s inspiration, Soupiset wrote him a letter inviting him to their dedication. As Peale said in the taped sermon you transcribed, “Since I had never had any bells dedicated to me before, I thought I had to go. I had a vision of them all over the city of San Antonio. So I went downstairs and helped him dedicate the bells and gave a talk – sure.

It was around this time that an alcoholic made history – but it was not the Reverend Paul Soupiset.

At the 1957 dedication ceremony, as Peale puts it in his autobiography, “the man who made the statement” when dedicating the bells, “an ex-alcoholic”, got angry and said “in memory Instead of “in honor of” the still existing Peale. The unnamed man got confused with Soupiset, who is presented by Peale as “lost”, “confused”, “depressed” and “drunk Saturday night” in more than one account.

The pastor of the Little Church looked after alcoholics but was not one himself, his son said. “He received the label from one of Dr Peale’s ghost writers. When it appeared in a national publication, I immediately wrote to Dr Peale requesting a retraction. He responded with a letter of sincere apology, explained what had happened and offered to fix it. “

With the best of intentions, this is not what happened. The amalgamation between Soupiset and the unnamed reader of the alcoholic declaration in recovery has been recycled by Peale on several occasions… but always in a context of great admiration for Soupiset’s ministry and of pride in being associated with it.

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During his decade as pastor, the Little Church established traditions of serving Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, hosted the Starving Artists Show, and pushed back his efforts to oust him along with unsightly food lines. before HemisFair ’68.

Soupiset died on December 11, 1968 from a heart attack. The funeral was held in the small church, with wealthy benefactors crowded alongside the humblest of his flock – so many that windows were open on both sides for people to stand outside and listen.

In his eulogy, Assistant Pastor David Edmunds called him “a man of great faith who wanted to meet the needs of the people in a very practical way.”

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