Mission opens doors: New pastor welcomed, building rededicated

Julia M. Dendinger— News-Bulletin: Celebrating the annual fiestas at San Antonio de Padua Catholic Mission in Abeytas, the procession carrying the saint included, from left, Archbishop Emeritus Michael J. Sheehan, Archbishop John C. Wester and the newly installed pastor at San Antonio, Rev. Felipe Valadez.

ABEYTAS — After months of renovations, San Antonio de Padua Catholic Mission threw open its doors, welcoming a new pastor and rededicating the building to the community and its faith on Sunday.

“This shows something, coming from the people, their faith,” said Esmerlindo Barela, a Bosque resident and parishioner. “They hold their faith very precious and valuable. Those who were here today, we’re lucky to be alive on this day. How many others in the world, how many Catholics, can say they have seen or been there for a ceremony like this?”

The three-hour ceremony, which included the rededication of the church and installation of the church’s new pastor, Rev. Felipe Valadez, was presided over by Archbishop John C. Wester, was something not seen often in the Catholic faith, Barela said.

“Most churches have been around a long time, so you don’t see dedications a lot, let alone rededications,” he said.

The ceremony began at the front doors of the church under a cloudy sky and spits of rain. Mayordomo Al Sandoval handed the key over to Archbishop Wester who, along with Valadez and Archbishop Emeritus Michael J. Sheehan, led the parishioners into the church.

Before he relinquished the key though, Sandoval made sure to thank all the volunteers from the community who dedicated time and labor to the renovation work, including the men of the New Mexico Men’s Recovery Academy in Los Lunas, who have been coming to the church helping with the renovations since work began late this winter.

The clients at the academy have worked on several church renovations in the area, including La Capilla de San Antonio de Los Lentes in 2012.

Following the final blessing and dismissal, the parishioners celebrated the church’s fiesta by carrying a figure of St. Anthony around the church in a formal processional.

After the ceremony, Barela said the renovations could not have been done without the help of the men from the NMMRA and the dedicated people of the community.

“This is such a beautiful day. The feeling of having this done is one of total serene peace and happiness,” he said. “I’m going to paraphrase something my uncle told me. ‘The magic of Abeytas will now live on.’ He once told me there is something about Abeytas that is magical. People come here from all over.”

Melissa and Carlos Valenzuela and their 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Lilianna, attended the ceremony. The couple grew up in the area and said they were very excited to witness the rededication.

“I’ve gone to church here all my life,” Melissa said. “All the mission churches mean a lot to us. I’m happy Lilianna could be a part of the day.”

Born and raised in Abeytas, Frances Abeyta Morgas lives in Albuquerque now but comes down to visit her community and family every weekend.

“This is amazing, wonderful. It is good to see it being restored so we are not going to lose it,” Morgas said. “It is important that we still have a church in our community.”

Her parents, Ramon and Lilly Abeyta, live adjacent to the church, and Morgas said her mother has been very involved with the restoration — making monetary donations for materials and cooking meals for the volunteers.

Family ties to the church run deep for Morgas and her family. Her father’s uncle, Felix Abeyta, who was afflicted with polio at a young age and spent most of his live moving about on his knees, laid the wood floor that still creaks underfoot inside the adobe church.

“It is a blessing to see this,” she said.

San Antonio de Padua Catholic Mission was originally dedicated to St. Rose of Lima, a 16th century Peruvian woman who was the first saint canonized in the New World and is considered by some the patroness of the Americas, according to John Taylor’s “Catholics Along the Rio Grande.”

Initially known as Ranchitos de Sabinal, Abeytas became a mission of Sabinal in 1880 and was rededicated to San Antonio in 1881 after a flood destroyed the Sabinal parish church.

Although San Antonio’s feast day is in June, the parishioners hold the annual church fiestas in August, in honor of St. Rose, said parishioner Al Sandoval. The goal was to complete the renovations in time for the fiestas, an end that was accomplished.

The renovation project began when church members decided to address the leaky roof. One of the challenges of reroofing adobe structures is if the mud-brick walls can bear the weight of modern roofs.

Stucco was removed from the outside of the north wall and with it came several courses of adobe bricks in a nearly 60-foot stretch, but moisture testing by an adobe expert from the archdiocese showed the walls could be repaired.

Many adobe churches around New Mexico have been damaged due to a material that was initially thought to be a boon to the structures — concrete stucco.

Traditionally, adobe buildings of all kinds were covered with mud plaster, which would over time wear and melt away, necessitating annual reapplications. When concrete-based stucco was introduced, it was heralded as not only a time saver but a better coating to protect the adobe bricks.

What most didn’t realize is that part of the structural integrity of adobe buildings was based on the mud plaster letting the bricks inside the walls “breath” and release moisture that wicked up from the foundations. With the concrete stucco, moisture became trapped in the walls and the bricks started to deteriorate.

In extreme cases, such as the west wall of the 179-year-old La Sagrada Familia Mission Church in Lemitar in 2010, parts of buildings have collapsed. The damage to the Lemitar church was so extensive, it had to be rebuilt and was rededicated in February.

High moisture content was also found in the mission church in San Antonio and in the walls of San Miguel Church in Socorro.

Before work on the walls of the Abeytas church began, the roof had to be repaired. To protect the fragile adobe, 2-by-4 foot frames were built inside the church, braced against the vigas to take the load off the walls while the old roof was stripped away, dirt from the original flat roof was shoveled off and a new deck and roof installed.

The frames remained inside the church until the wall repairs were completed. The interior also received a new coat of stucco, better lighting and a new heating and cooling system that will help keep the walls dry and safe.

Throughout the project, the men and women of the Abeytas community provided breakfast and lunch to the men from the NMMRA. Sandoval joked that all the men put on weight during the restoration, despite the intense physical labor.