San Miguel Mission is 400 years of tradition

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San Miguel Mission is known for being one of the oldest Catholic churches in the United States — founded in 1598.

File photo: Heading off in the procession to the Plaza from San Miguel during the 2011 Fiesta, an age old tradition of recognizing all the churches in the mission continues.

Father Andy Pavlak said San Miguel Mission is the mother church of Socorro County, and it represents the faith and life of the Catholic Church. Sept. 29 is the patron saint San Miguel’s feast day. The church celebrates the San Miguel Fiesta closest to the feast day as possible, and it’s a three day celebration. This is the sixth fiesta Pavlak has participated in. The tradition of having a king and a queen had been discontinued, but when he became the pastor at San Miguel Mission, he brought back the homecoming and the recognition of royalty, Pavlak said.

At the fiesta kings and queens are crowned, and this year’s senior king and queen are Elva and Carlos Lucero, and the youth queen is Rhiannon Salazar.

When the first fiesta took place in the 1950s, it was just a queen competition, Pavlak said.

Rowena Baca claimed the title as the first San Miguel Mission fiesta queen. Baca is from San Antonio. She said being the first queen of the San Miguel Mission fiesta was an experience.

“There was a bunch of us girls running for queen our sophomore year in high school,” she said. “My dad had a jar for customers to put in change or cash for fundraising at the Owl Bar Cafe. That’s how I won the title.”

Youth queens are decided by how much they rise in fundraising for the mission. Whoever collects the most in bake sales, dinners or other activities, will earn the title of queen.

The San Miguel Mission Fiesta begins at 5 p.m. Friday Sept. 29, and is held through Sunday Sept. 30. This year there is a parade that starts at Sedillo Park and ends at the church grounds. The fiesta also includes a classic car show. At the fiesta there will be food booths, music and prayer services, as well as a silent auction, Pavlak said. The mass is held on Saturday and Sunday and everyone is welcome.

The money raised at the fiesta will help pay for property insurance. Last year, the fiesta brought in $40,000 he said. Over 20,000 drawing tickets have been handed out and on Friday, Saturday and Sunday cash prizes will be given out. They will use the remainder of the money raised from the fiesta for restoration work on the church, Pavlak said.

“We make a decent profit because all items are donated, such as food, chile, paper products,” Pavlak said.

The community buys tickets when they arrive at the fiesta and use tickets for items at the booths. The money collected is kept safe at a bank, and the raffle tickets are given out before hand. The events that go on at the fiesta are very important; it’s a way of praying and praising God, Pavlak said. People who are chosen as candidates for king and queen are members of the church. The parish council gives recommendations to Pavlak about who they think should be the senior king and queen, he said. For the youth queen, it depends on who wants to be an ambassador of the church, he said.

San Miguel has 850 registered parishioners.

The main church has been closed since 2010, Pavlak said, because it’s currently being restored and there are structural problems which need to be fixed. Church services are currently held in the gymnasium. San Miguel Mission used to have a convent for a Catholic School which closed three times because the community couldn’t support it for a while. The cost of education was a lot more than what families could afford. The last and final time the school closed was 15 years ago, he said.

“On behalf of the San Miguel family we welcome everyone to join us for the fiesta,” Pavlak said. “¡Viva la fiesta!”