How a Secular, Non-profit Organization Saved Santa Fe’s Most Religious Site

“Angels” Helped Preserve Santuario de Guadalupe
      Jackie Jadrnak
            Longtime journalist Kay Lockridge says she always recognizes a good story when she hears it.
            So when she heard the history of how a secular group plunged into the fray when some parishioners favored knocking down the old Santuario de Guadalupe to expand the parking lot for their new church, she grabbed on to the tale. The result is a slim volume, “The Guadalupe Historic Foundation: How a Secular, Non-profit Organization Saved Santa Fe’s Most Religious Site,” published by the local Sunstone Press.
            While the story is a good one, the old photographs included in the book are just as good – maybe even better. The oldest image, taken in the 19th century, shows a mule-drawn cart in front of the adobe building, with none of the bustle and construction that has hemmed it in since that time. Photos in the early 1900s show a pitched roof and New England-style steeple on the church behind a picket fence, remodeling done in 1881 renovations under Father De Fouri. And in a 1941 shot, you can see the narrow-gauge Chile Line train puffing its way past the church and over the Santa Fe River.
            After all its iterations, the church settled into a California Mission style, according to Lockridge. And almost 200 years after its initial construction in 1781 as the Santuario de Guadalupe, it was well into disrepair, with nesting sites for birds and rodents, along with vagrants who periodically broke into the building and spent the night there.
            Knock it down and expand the parking, Lockridge said many parishioners suggested. Their new Our Lady of Guadalupe Church was built nearby in 1961 and that’s where their religious rituals now were centered. Given the cost of maintaining the structure, the archdiocese didn’t offer any better ideas. But Santa Fe Catholics with a history in the church – perhaps they were married or baptized there – and historic preservationists wanted to see it saved. The parish priest, the Rev. Leo Lucero, and historian Gabrielle Palmer took the lead in establishing the Guadalupe Historic Foundation, according to the book. It was set up as non-religious in order to attract government funding, Lockridge noted. The archdiocese even turned the deed of the property over to the foundation.
            “Over the next 20 years, from 1975 to 1995, they redid that place,” Lockridge said during an interview. The foundation also held art exhibitions and performance events in the space – many Santa Feans might remember concerts by the Santa Fe Desert Chorale that took advantage of the structure’s fine acoustics. (Water began to leak down the bell tower and into a box of programs during one of the concerts, according to the book.)
            A succession of “small miracles” and generous “angels” popped up throughout the process, though, saving the beautiful structure that still sits on Guadalupe Street near the Railyard District.
            But we haven’t seen any exhibitions or heard any concerts there in quite a while. The deed was returned to the archdiocese in 1991, yet the foundation continued to manage the building until it disbanded in 2006, and things have been pretty quiet there since—except for the installation of a Mexican statue of Our Lady in front of the church.
            Controversy did break out over activities at the site in 1997, when the parish’s Rev. Bill Sanchez led vocal protests against the arts activities and a wedding reception in the santuario, arguing that it was a sacred space that should be used for “perpetual adoration,” the book states. But in 1998, Archbishop Michael Sheehan instructed the priest to transfer to another parish, apparently in support of the foundation’s continued activities at the santuario.
            Lockridge said most of the book is told from the point of view of Edward “Gonzo” Gonzales, a former city councilor and a foundation board member. He was the one who initially exposed her to the foundation’s story, she said. He also essentially wrote the first four chapters, which she “heavily edited,” Lockridge said. “I feel it is a story more than worth telling. I admire, respect and like him (Gonzales) so very much.”
            Without the work by him and many others, all of them volunteers except for one paid director, the church that is such a landmark in today’s Santa Fe might not still be standing, she noted.
      Albuquerque Journal North
      January 5, 2017