San Miguel gets $1.1 million

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The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation of Los Angeles has stepped up to help Socorro build a bridge — a bridge from the rich past of the area to the expansive future of its children.

With a $1.1 million grant to the 400-year-old San Miguel Church, the foundation has pledged the money to complete the restoration process, remodel part of the former Mount Carmel/Hilton Catholic School and create a high tech “smart classroom” as part of an outreach program for at-risk youth in Socorro County.

During the unveiling of the grant Nov. 5 at San Miguel, parishioners, dignitaries and media gathered to hear Father Andy Pavlak talk about the potential the grant brings to the area.

Socorro’s Holm O. Bursum III is cousin to the Hilton Hotel chain’s Conrad Hilton and was instrumental in bringing the pieces together for the grant.

“You have to keep track of your relatives,” he said. “Don’t make ‘em mad.”

Bursum and his son Holm O. Bursum IV, working with the foundation, Dan Lopez and Van Romero of New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and many others have pulled together the plan for the grant, which will be implemented over the next two years.

“The thing is,” Bursum said, “San Miguel is so important to Socorro.”

It’s not only a significant religious institution, it’s integral to the whole history of the area having been here 400 years, he said.

Bursum said Conrad Hilton, who was born in San Antonio, was baptized at San Miguel and his children have maintained ties with Socorro.

Hilton grandson, Steve Hilton is now president and CEO of the foundation that manages the money received when the hotel chain was sold after Conrad died — “Connie” to Bursum.

So finally, after two or three years of working on the grant, Bursum and the others made it happen.

“They are going to complete the restoration of the church,” Bursum said.

Up until now, the restoration has been slow, dependent on a variety of funding sources. The mission church building closed to the public in November 2010 when it was determined no longer safe.

The second part of the grant is for remodeling part of the former school, which closed in 1998. The cafeteria area will be repurposed as restrooms for the church, a museum reflecting the history of the community and a gift shop.

The third part of the grant will remodel one of the classrooms into a smart classroom, a high tech connection through Tech to the Magdalena Ridge Observatory. It provides for an outreach program to be created for at risk youth of the area.

“This (grant) is a really big deal for our community,” Bursum said. “They’ll make good use of it.”

At the Tuesday event, Pavlak unveiled a board with a sketch of the completed project, a plan and a possible name for the renovated school project, the Mount Carmel-Hilton History and Hospitality Center at San Miguel.