By Tonya Andris
Inside The Pew

Nearly 140 years after the death of Petra Vela Kenedy, residents inPetrasLegacy Brownsville, Texas, and Corpus Christi, Texas, are benefiting from her legacy.

It takes one person’s sacrifice and will to help make a difference in the lives of others. Keep in mind Petra died in 1875, but she taught her children at an early age the importance of helping others. This mindset was passed down through numerous generations. The biography of Petra is chronicled in the book, Petra’s Legacy: The South Texas Ranching Empire of Petra Vela and Mifflin Kenedy (Texas A&M University Press, $35). Written by Jane Clements Monday and Frances Vick, the authors surround their story around the creation of South Texas thanks in part to the efforts of Petra, her husband, Mifflin Kenedy, and his business partner, Richard King. All contributed to created King Ranch. Located between Corpus Christi and Brownsville, King Ranch is one of the largest ranches in the world.

Petra’s story is not exactly ordinary. In 1854, she married Mifflin Kenedy, who was raised a Quaker, and they had six children together. Petra was previously married to Luis Vidal – a Mexican general – who died in 1849. Petra’s and Luis’ union resulted in eight children. Although Mifflin wasn’t a Catholic (sources show Mifflin’s ancestors were Irish Catholics), Mifflin respected Petra’s Catholic beliefs, and he gave generously to the Catholic Church in honor of “Petrita.” While others might see this pairing as being unequally yoked, Petra and Mifflin placed their religion backgrounds aside and gave their money and time to establishing the foundation for two Catholic Churches in South Texas, Church of the Immaculate Conception in Brownsville and St. Patrick’s Church in Corpus Christi.

Whenever I read a book, I like to take into consideration the points the author is trying to convey. With Petra’s Legacy, there are more than a couple. According to a review in Catholic Southwest, Petra’s Legacy has provided “a valuable addition to the history of South Texas.” The book also highlights a faith journey. An aspect overlooked the most is Petra’s unwavering reliance on God, through the good and bad times. She experienced the death of two sons, Adrian Vidal and John William Kenedy, and one infant daughter, Phebe Kenedy. Although her heart was heavy, she prayed to God for strength (John 14:1-4) and understood Phebe’s death was God’s design (Matthew 5:8). When Brownsville was ravaged by a fire, she prayed for the safety of her home and children. Petra understood that blessings – the birth of a healthy child or a successful business venture – were the workings of God. And she read her Bible frequently. I don’t want to go too far into the prosperity gospel, but Petra’s Christ-like habits benefited her and her family (Matthew 21:12).

Since the Monday and Vick relied heavily on second-hand accounts of Petra’s life, the reader can only see a glimpse of Petra’s relationship with the Father. However, there is no assumption that Petra taught her children the important of helping others. If this wasn’t the case, the fortune and the desire to give back to the less fortunate would have fallen by the waist side. Two foundations exist in 2013 because a Petra knew it was her “Christian duty” to help the less fortunate. The John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation (established by Sarita Kenedy East, granddaughter of Petra Vela and Mifflin Kenedy) and The John G. Kenedy Jr. Charitable Trust are Petra’s legacy that honors her devotion to her family and her church. The quote from Sarita shows the legacy Petra passed on her children and on to her grandchildren – “Sarita Kenedy East never wanted her name on anything… she just wanted to help.”

I’m sure Petra would approve.


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