A mission of mud: Students, parishioners team up
About 50 New Mexico Tech students, community volunteers and parishioners gathered Saturday to re-plaster San Miguel Mission’s adobe walls.
Saturday’s event was the second mudding party New Mexico Tech student and San Miguel parishioner Victoria Ramirez has organized.
Rain and snow deteriorate the mud plaster protecting the lower sections of the church’s adobe brick walls, so it has to have a new coat of mud plaster every spring and fall, Ramirez said.
Mud plaster has to be used because coating the adobe walls with concrete would trap moisture, destroying the adobe bricks underneath, she said.
Last spring, Ramirez learned the church needed volunteers to plaster the walls, so she decided ask Tech students to pitch in.
“I heard they needed help, so I took the idea to the Newman Center and the Society of Women Engineers and other clubs,” she said. “It ended up being a lot of fun.”
Father Andy Pavlak, San Miguel’s pastor, wanted to have the walls re-done before the parish’s annual fall fiesta scheduled for Sept. 28 through 30, so Ramirez put out the word to the Tech community.
At least eight different Tech clubs, as well as Tech alumni, braved the rain to smooth mud onto the exposed adobe sections of the church’s walls.
“I thought it was fun,” said Andrew Matejunas, Tech knife-throwing club member. “But you have to make sure the mud is wet enough or it will fall off.”
Country treasurer Genevie Baca and her husband Sonny were among the volunteers who prepared and served a hot lunch for the plasterers in the courtyard behind the church.
Father Andy Pavlak was pleased with the collaboration between the Tech community and the parish.
“It’s awesome having this combination of folks coming together to take care of their church,” he said.
The problems with the church’s structural integrity have been solved.
“Everything’s been fixed,” he said.
The 1970s concrete plaster that trapped moisture and compromised the adobe walls and wiring has been removed and replaced with adobe mud plaster, and holes in the walls — some an arm’s length deep — have been filled with adobe, Pavlak said.
A new plywood floor rests on steel girders supported by new concrete pylons. Plans call for the floor to be finished with dark hardwood.
Several defective vigas have been strengthened by sistering them with pairs of wooden planks glued and bolted onto their sides.
The only unsolved construction problem is the beam supporting the clerestory, which is a raised section of the ceiling above the front of the sanctuary that was left open to the sky when the church was rebuilt in the 1800s.
Pavlak said the beam still needs additional reinforcement.
The previous roof covered the clerestory, but solar tubes now allow natural light to fall onto the ambo, or pulpit, as well as the sanctuary, as it did originally, he said.
Reconstruction is not without its costs, and the project had to be stopped for lack of funds, but in the last four months, supporters have raised the $75,000 that was needed to fix the most critical problems.
“All the work so far has cost about $300,000,” Pavlak said. “A lot is done — all the structural and roofing work and the electrical rough-in.”
“We’ve used local contractors. Dewey Christensen spearheaded the work,” Pavlak said. “New Mexico Travertine in Belen fabricated the sanctuary’s new stone altar.”
Pavlak said the company then donated the altar.
To have the basic work completed so the church can be open in time for the 2013 fiesta, the parish has to raise another $75,000, Pavlak said.
The whole restoration project calls for new rest rooms, a gift shop and museum, repairs to the statuary and parking lot upgrades.
“We will need an additional $450,000 to get all the work done,” Pavlak said.
The San Miguel Catholic Mission was first built in the early 1600s by the Franciscans, Piro Indians and early Spanish colonists. Today’s church was rebuilt in the early 1800s, using portions of the original mission walls.
Over the years, San Miguel has undergone numerous renovations, such as the addition of the bell towers and north sanctuary.