Any attempt to write the history of Blanco and the surrounding area would be a very difficult task if not impossible. The pages of this “Blanco” history would unfold as the history of a small number of families who arrived in the area beginning more than a century ago and continuing for the next few decades. Each family has its own history which began to be interwoven as time elapsed. Each family group sees the history of the area in a different light, with emphasis on the events that formed and molded their individual lives and those who were to come after them.
The church, the parish, the school and the priests and nuns who served the community became the unifying factor bringing together the various families and communities of the area. The priests, who served the parish, the nuns who taught the school-children are a very integral part of the development of the parish and the uniting thread that holds the whole picture together.
To those who have lived though these periods of history, to those who heard the stories related to them about the past by the “old timers”, these pictures will come alive and be very meaningful and memory stimulating. Many have no specific identification. We leave that to the viewer to provide. These pictures will provide the framework for the development and progress of the Parish, leading us to the present moment in our history.
The present parish of St. Rose was established as a mission center in 1900 by decree of Pierre Bourgade, Archbishop of Santa Fe who separated it from the parish of Tierra Amarilla. Archbishop Bourgade, in establishing the Blanco parish, wrote to members of the new parish, “I am sure you will appreciate the favor done to you by this new measure. The beginning will be very difﬁcult,” the Archbishop advised the members of the new parish, and exhorted parishioners of the new parish to “stand by” the new pastor.
The area served by this center then took in all of San Juan County and two communities in Rio Arriba County. Prior to 1900, Blanco and all the other villages and communities of the county were taken care of as missions out of Parkview and Tierra Amarilla. A certain Father J.M. Garnier served the missions of the area during this time.
The ﬁrst pastor was a diocesan priest, the Rev. J.M. Gamier, who served ten years. He arrived in May, 1900. His ﬁrst inventory of the old adobe building that served as the mission noted that the 50′ x 20′ building “has a mud roof, a good ﬂoor, six windows, but little else.” According to church records the parish consisted of 200 to 250 Catholic families scattered throughout San Juan County.
In 1910, care of the parish at Blanco was transferred to the Franciscans of the Province of St. John the Baptist. It was in 1910 that the first Franciscan priest, Father Albert Daeger, O.F.M., arrived in Blanco to serve the mission center and all its missions. Listed as missions are such names as Archuleta, Carrizo, Jaramillo, La Fragua, Oio De La Cueva, Carracas, Rosa, Los Pinos, Haynes, Los Martinez, Gobernador, Alcatraz (now Turley), Bloomfield, Aztec, Farmington and many others, some of which have since become parishes in their own right. “Padre Alberto”, as he was known by his people, was later to become Archbishop of Santa Fe. He spent seven years (1910 to 1917) administering to the people of Blanco and the surrounding area.
The work and accomplishments of Father Albert could provide material for a complete book; they have greatly influenced the future history and development of the parish.
Father Felician Sanford, O.F.M., replaced Father Albert in 1917 and continued the untiring endeavors of his predecessor. Father Felician saw the need of an updated and enlarged church in Blanco and the need for a centrally located school. Both are listed as accomplishments of his term as Pastor.
Through his efforts the Ursuline Sisters from Mt. St. Joseph in Kentucky were brought to Blanco, and were appointed as teachers in the school. Their efforts in teaching the younger generation influenced the events of the next decades and helped to produce parishioners who were better educated in their faith. Even today the memories of these school days are frequently recalled by living parishioners.
Father Celsus Koenig, O.F.M., succeeded Father Felician. Father Celsus worked for 13 years in the area, spending his entire priestly life among the people of this area. He died in 1934 during an operation for appendicitis.
The accomplishments of Father Celsus are too many to enumerate. During his stay in Blanco, the 25th Anniversary of the Parish was celebrated. He was outstanding in his dedication to helping the people of his parish in all aspects of living. He established Blanco as a complete mission headquarters and provided a new home for the Sisters.
Perhaps the most influential event of his term as pastor was the loss of the rather new church through fire, and the rebuilding that followed. The church he built was to stand until 1985 when it became unsafe and dangerous. It was built in the days of the depression and was built as inexpensively as possible, and regrettably with very little competent engineering.
Father Pax Schicker, O.F.M., came to Blanco at the death of Father Celsus, but served the parish for only two months when he was appointed Chancellor for the Santa Fe Diocese.
Father Eusebius Schweitzer, O.F.M., was appointed to replace him. Transportation by automobile was becoming more and more common and distances began to shrink, and as a result many of the outlying and distant missions were beginning to be closed.
Farmington had developed and was set up as a separate parish – Aztec would have a resident priest. But it wasn’t until the late 1950’s that Bloomfield would become a separate parish.
During the time of Father Eusebius, more and more of the missions were closed and the centers of population were beginning to emerge: Farmington, Aztec (county seat) and Bloomfield. But the Catholic population of these new towns was less Catholic than the immediate Blanco area. The center of mission activity was shifting to Farmington.
Father Theophil Meyer, O.F.M , who is well known for his accomplishments in the Farmington Parish, also served the community of Blanco during these years. Father Michael Ziegler, O.F.M., also spent a couple of years ministering to the spiritual needs of the people of the area.
Blanco was officially reestablished as a parish in 1944, and Father Eugene Rousseau, O.F.M. became the pastor of the new St. Rose Parish which was to continue to grow. Aztec and Bloomfield were still missions of Blanco. Aztec now had a resident priest; and would shortly be established as a parish.
Father Eugene served the parish from 1943 to 1949, with Father Francis Keehn, O.F.M., working with him, mainly in the remaining missions (Some will remember their baseball team). Many of the mission churches were beginning to fall into ruin (e.g., Turley and Gobernador) and gradually disappear. Aztec, however, became a parish in 1946.
Father Finnian Connolly, O.F.M., and Father Quentin Hauer, O.F.M. succeeded Father Eugene, each ministering to the people of Blanco for a short term.
Most of the outlying missions are now closed. Our Lady of Guadalupe at Los Martinez remained, and Bloomfield was developing rapidly. A new church was built in Aztec.
In 1950 the Parish celebrated its Golden Jubilee.
In 1951 the school in Blanco, run by the Ursuline Sisters since 1919, was closed as a result of the Dixon Case, not permitting teachers to wear religious garb in public schools. This presented some very serious problems for the catechetical education of the younger generation. The results would be far-reaching in the succeeding years.
The sisters were to leave Blanco after over 30 years of dedicated missionary work in the school. The Blanco area would never again be the same.
Father Quentin Hauer, O.F.M., spent a short time in the parish immediately prior to the arrival of Father Chrysostom Partee, O.F.M., in 1952. Father Chrys, as he was known, would serve the parish for the next 11 years. The escapades of those years are vividly recalled by many parishioners today.
He was to be responsible for an “Improvement Fund Drive” that would result in the building of the new church in Bloomfield, and its establishment as a full-fledged Parish in its own right. The church replaced the old, then too-small St. Elizabeth (St. Isabel) Church and would serve the parish unchanged until the early 1980’s. The new church became St. Mary’s.
In 1963 Father Reynaldo Rivera, O.F.M., a native New Mexican became Pastor for the next four years. Although his stay in Blanco was comparatively short, the Parish expanded under his capable leadership, not only spiritually but also facility-wise. The old gym, part of the now-closed school was purchased, remodeled (better restored) and fashioned into the present Parish Hall. This Hall has proven to be one of the most functional and beneficial additions to the Parish plant over the years since its acquisition.
Father Reynaldo’s successor was Father Myron Uhl, O.F.M., who spent the next eleven years of his priestly life serving the people of the Blanco Community. During his years many renovating and remodeling projects were undertaken with the help of willing and competent parishioners.
In 1975, under his direction and leadership the parish celebrated in fashion the 75th Anniversary of its existence. The interior of the Church received a face-lift, redecorating and painting the Church and Sanctuary and improving the floor coverings.
Father Eligius Fuentes, O.F.M., replaced Father Myron in 1978. His stay was to be short but not uneventful. Controversies centering on the implementation of the documents of Vatican II left its toll. Injuries and the need for medical treatment required his extended absence from the Parish. Father Maurus Pax, O.F.M., came in February of 1979, as a temporary Pastor until Father Eligius could return.
Father Eligius‘ recovery was slow and prolonged; he was never to return to Blanco and Father Maurus was to continue as the permanent Pastor.
During the next few years the parish became involved in a series of controversies over the need for improvements in the parish facilities, rectory, church, catechetical center and the Parish Hall. Engineers’ reports, surveys and a majority opinion led to the decision to begin rebuilding the Parish Church after completing a new rectory in 1980. The new and enlarged Church seats over 300 people, about twice as many as the old one.
Gallery images courtesy of Narciso Sanchez.