Church renovations complete

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His goal was to have the church ready for its 400th anniversary next month, and with the support and work of parishioners and the donation to $1.1 million from The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, that goal has been met.

File photo: Adobe bricks in the church’s wall had turned to mud.

His goal was to have the church ready for its 400th anniversary next month, and with the support and work of parishioners and the donation to $1.1 million from The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, that goal has been met.

Father Andrew Pavlak of San Miguel Catholic Church is planning to reopen the church for celebratory mass on the first day of this year’s Fiesta, Friday, Sep. 26.

San Miguel is one of the oldest churches in the state, and possibly in the nation, with a history that dates back to the first mission in New Mexico in 1598.

When Don Juan Onate stopped at Pilabo pueblo that year, two priests stayed behind to establish a mission, and by 1615 the first church was established and given the name Nuestra Senora de Perpetuo Socorro. The mission was the center of the 17,000-acre Socorro Land Grant and served the area for the next 65 years, but in 1680 the church was attacked during the Pueblo Revolt and most of the residents left.

For the next 125 years, the church lay in ruins.

Archaeological evidence shows that San Miguel Church is roughly on the site of the original Pilabo pueblo. Part of the foundation of the original mission can be viewed through an opening in the floor near the front of the sanctuary.

The last time mass was celebrated in the church was Nov. 7, 2010. The week before, an adobe specialist and an engineer did an assessment on the condition of the adobe walls. What was found was that many of the adobe bricks had turned to mud.

“We got the word it should be closed as soon as possible,” Rev. Andrew Pavlak said in 2010. “With the moisture sample and problems with the beams and continuing problems in the walls it was determined that we have to close the church.”

Church services have been held in the Parish Hall the last four years.

Since the time of that last mass, the roof has been completely restructured and the adobe walls have been repaired.

“We had to bring in hundreds of adobe bricks to fill spaces where others had completely rotted away,” Pavlak said.

The cement-based stucco and plaster, much of which was applied 50 years ago, was strategically removed to allow the adobes to expand and contract and, most importantly dry out, thus preserving the historical and structural integrity of the building.

Pews were taken out and all new wood pews were fabricated and installed by Frank Lewark of Socorro. All other aspects of the former French provincial style were replaced with a more Spanish/New Mexican style.

Other improvements include a new altar and matching ambo with appointments fabricated with travertine from the New Mexico Travertine quarry in Belen.

Two new stained glass windows, previously only having yellow wavy glass, have been added to the side chapel.

San Miguel Fiesta begins Friday, Sept. 26, with the 400th anniversary kickoff and continues through Sunday, Sept. 28.