The following is taken from a book published by Sacred Heart Parish entitled “Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Farmington N.M. – The History: 1908 – 2008
Before 1900, the area along the San Juan River from what is now the Navajo Dam all the way to Waterﬂow was ministered to by priests from El Rito, Abiquiu, Rio Arriba, Tierra Amarilla and Durango. The priests ministering to these areas were for the most part diocesan priests of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe of which the San Juan Basin was a part before the formation of the Diocese of Gallup in 1939.
On April 28, 1900, Archbishop Peter Bourgade stated “the part of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe known as San Juan County and Rio San Juan has been erected into a new mission or parish. The parish includes the settlements of Blanco, Largo, Pine River, Farmington, Aztec and La Plata.”
In May 1900 Rev. Jean M. Garnier, a diocesan priest of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, took residence in Largo and visited Farmington, according to the 1987 history written by Dacian Batt, O.F.M. Father Batt states that Sacred Heart Parish officially became a parish in 1908 when Father Garnier took up official residence in Farmington.
The first pastor of the widespread area was born December 26, 9856, in Cruet, France. Before coming to the United States of America, he studied at Petit Seminaire de Olbigny and Grand Seminaire de Chamberry. Then he arrived in the United States, going to Baltimore to study for one year at St. Mary’s Seminary. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest on March 4, 1882, by Archbishop John Baptist Lamy.
Archbishop Lamy was the ﬁrst bishop of the Diocese of Santa Fe, consecrated on Nov. 24, 1850. Lamy later became archbishop when Santa Fe became an Archdiocese in 1875. Lamy is the famed central character of Willa Cather’s novel “Death Comes to the Archbishop.”
Father Garnier served as assistant in Santa Fe, then Tularosa and Lincoln City until 1887. In 1887, he was appointed to La Junta. From 1889 to 1894, he served at Mora. In 1890, he was appointed pastor. He succeeded Father Fourchegu as pastor in Mora. He was made chancellor and Cathedral assistant pastor in Santa Fe in 1894. This position was short-lived because a year later, in 1895, he was replaced as chancellor by Father Pouget. In I898, Father Garnier was in Jemez. The archives lists Father Garnier at Blanco in 1910. Then March through June 1911, the archives list him as filling in for Father Haelterman in Santa Cruz. Father Garnier died on Dec. 23, 1912 as pastor of Costilla. He was only 56 years old when he died.
From the baptismal register held at Sacred heart Church, the first baptism in Farmington is recorded. It was on Sept. 25 , 1900. The record states: “I have baptized Andrew Joseph born in Farmington, New Mexico, November the 1st, 1899, of Andrew Stevenson and Nellie Smith Stevenson. The sponsors were A. Laughlin Smith and Catherine Smith O’Leary.” The record is signed “J.M. Garnier.”
Some time around 1904, according to Father Dacian Batt’s history, the headquarters of the San Juan County Parish was moved to Blanco. Father J.M. Garnier was still listed as the pastor of the entire area.
The railroad, which had been extended from Durango to Farmington in 1905, caused a major surge in activity in the small town, so much so that Father Garnier moved to Farmington three years later, in 1908, since there were more baptisms by that time than there were in Blanco. Father Garnier had quite a task in covering the parish of San Juan County: 16 missions attached to Farmington now and 10 other missions which were called the Blanco Missions. Some of the names of these missions were Blanco, Bloomfield, Aztec, Haynes, Turley, Archuleta, Los Martinez, Pine River, Canada, Bonita, Gobernador, Jaramillo, Francis, La Fragua and Ojo de Cueva.
In the early days of Father Garnier’s time as pastor. there were already 1,326 children and adults listed as attending these missions.
According to an article in the Farmington Daily Times on June 8, 1984, the pastor would celebrate Masses in private homes until 1905 when the first Roman Catholic mission church was built in Farmington. This small structure was located on Pinon Street where Drake Well Servicing Company is now located.
In September 1910, the Franciscan Provincial in Cincinnati agreed to take over the San Juan County Parish. Father Albert Daeger, O.F.M., was the first Franciscan pastor of Sacred Heart Parish (1910 – 1916) and Father Marcellus Troester, O.FM., was his ﬁrst assistant rector in Farmington, according to the directories of St. John the Baptist and Our Lady of Guadalupe Provinces. Father Albert was born in St. Anne, Indiana, in 1872. He became a friar in the last class of novices to be invested at Oldenburg, Indiana, in 1889, and was ordained in 1896. He ﬁrst assisted in Kansas City, Missouri, and Lincoln, Nebraska.
In 1902, he went to Pena Blanca, New Mexico, as pastor and superior. Following this assignment he was pastor at Farmington and then at Jemez. In 1919, Father Albert was appointed Archbishop of Santa Fe. He died suddenly on Dec. 2, 1932, after falling down a coal chute by accident in downtown Santa Fe. He died instantly and was deeply mourned.
Father Marcellus was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1878. He was invested in 1898 and ordained in 1906, after which he was sent to St. Michaels, Arizona. His first major project was building a chapel at Lukachukai, Arizona. He also built the church at Tohatchi, New Mexico, living in a tent during the construction. Father Marcellus is credited with the opening of the mission territory to the north of St. Michaels, centering around Shiprock. He also began working with the Ute Indians in Colorado. Beginning in 1913, he helped edit and publish the annual “Franciscan Missions of the Southwest.” In his later years, Father Marcellus undertook a census of the Navajo Tribe. At the time of his death, he was engaged in preparing a new edition of the Navajo catechism. He died Jan. 17, 1936, while chaplain at St. Michaels, after 30 years in the mission field. With a ﬂair for languages and a lively curiosity, Father Marcellus can be regarded as the ﬁrst to recognize the Navajos’ special place in US. history and world ethnology.
Father Fintan came along with Father Theodore Stephan, O.EM., to help Father Daeger, in 1912. Father Theodore was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1862. He was invested at St. Clement, Cincinnati, in 1878, and ordained in 1885. The first ten years of his priestly life were spent as excurrens from Bloomington, Illinois; Minonk, Illinois; and Emporia, Kansas, to the outlying missions. Later he was excurrens from St. Boniface, Lafayette, Indiana; to St. Lawrence, also in Lafayette. In 1901 , he went to Pena Blanca as assistant, and four years later was appointed to Carlsbad, where he had charge of the Mexican missions. He returned to Pena Blanca and Jemez and died while stationed at Jemez on Oct. 30, 1918, after 33 years of priesthood.
Father Fintan, who became pastor of Sacred Heart in 1917 and remained in that position until 1932, was a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, born in 1879. He was invested in 1897. After ordination in 1905, he spent his entire career in the Southwestern missions, beginning with his first appointment to St. Michaels, Arizona, in 1905. For 15 years he was superior there. He was also superior at Farmington, except for one year when he was at St. Michaels as head of the missions to the Navajo. His last appointment was to Kansas City, Missouri, at Our Lady of Sorrows, where he lived in retirement. He died on Dec. 30, 1947, after 41 years in the missions.
By 1912 Father Fintan, in those early days, would take care of the growing parish in Farmington while the assistant pastor would be a circuit rider and ride horseback to make visits to outlying missions, which in 1912 totaled 26.
The deed for the first church in Farmington at the time the diocesan priest built it reads: “In the year of our Lord 1905 a branch of railroad D.R. (broad gauge) from Durango, Colorado, to Farmington, New Mexico, was built. Catholics began to arrive at Farmington. The priest in charge of this Mission secured for the consideration of $200.00 the following property for church purposes: This indenture made and entered into this 8th day of September A.D. 1905, by and between Sylvester R. Blake, widower, of the County of San Juan, Territory of New Mexico (New Mexico would not be a state for several more years), party of the first part, and Peter Bourgade, the present Roman Catholic Archbishop of the Diocese of Santa Fe in the United States, party of the second part. Witnessth: That the party of the first part for and in consideration of $200.00 to him in hand paid and other good and valuable considerations to him moving has and does hereby grant, bargain, sell, align, remise, release, convey, and conﬁrm under the said party of the second part and his lawful successors in the Arch-Episcopal office in trust for the benefit of the Roman Catholic Church and said archdiocese all of the following described real estate and property situated in the County of San Juan and the territory of New Mexico, to-wit:
“Beginning 30 feet South and 30 feet West of the Southwest corner of the Town of Farmington. Thence 210 feet West parallel, etc.
“In witness thereof the party of the first part has set his hand seal, this the day and year in this instrument above written. Signed: Sylvester R. Blake.”
By 1909 a new chapel was already being built by the parishioners. They received a $150.00 gift from the Extension Society and other donations of about $500 were given by various individuals.
Father Garnier writes: “I bought a bed and covers, necessary for spending a night there (in Farmington).”
For the next four or five years, the Catholic community kept building on to the chapel and even began to build a small school. By the end of December 1910, the parish was $512.00 in debt, the parish having borrowed from several people in the town. The school became the center of attention and was being built in earnest by 1913, after the Franciscans arrived to man the parish. The ledgers seem to indicate that regular collections were being taken for the building of the school. It shows that the Franciscans in Cincinnati gave $800 towards a new school building and other people gave $1.25 to $2.10 for a sum total of $903.00 toward the new school.
The original white-framed chapel was also used for the school, readied by Father Garnier and the people before the Franciscans took over the parish. On Oct. 2, 1910, the following message was read to the people of the parish at Mass: “Tomorrow is the beginning of parochial school. All those who have children of school age should send their children. There will be no school money to pay. So there is no excuse unless it be the distance from here. For the present we shall use the chapel for the school. It will be a little inconvenient, of course, there being no desks and other sundries, but we hope that all will be remedied in time. The only outlay you will have to present is for the books. I shall try my skill at teaching, and though I have not a territorial or district diploma, I daresay I will get along. So, send your children and I will do my best to take care of them.”
Father Fintan used one of the small rooms in the rear of the church in those early days as a classroom and taught the children himself. He frequently acted in the capacity of pastor, schoolteacher and cook.
The little school continued to prosper and after a few years of the Franciscan leadership and the growth of the town of Farmington, Father Fintan made arrangements with the Ursuline Sisters of Maple Mount, Kentucky, to send sisters into the San Juan Basin for the education of the youth in the small Catholic school. The “Red Apple,” the train from Durango to Farmington, brought the nine travel-weary Sisters to the little town. The newcomers were not too favorably impressed. Driving away from the station, in company with Father Fintan and Gonzaga Wethington, a pioneer in Farmington who met them too, the Sisters had their first view of the town. It was a town of less than 800 people at that time. There were no paved streets and Main Street hardly seemed to merit that name. There were grocery stores, dry goods stores, drug stores and other places of business like First National Bank.
The Sisters recalled, in the book Candles of the Lord, written by Sister Mary Michael Barrow, that there were Native Americans everywhere – “old men, young men, and children; squaws in their colorful voluminous skirts and bright hued blankets; papooses on cradle-boards. There were olive-skinned Spanish Americans too. Of course there were Anglos from about every state. Such was the cosmopolitan little Farmington of yesteryear…”
The Sisters were eager to see the church and the school. The small combination frame church, rectory and school “were not the imposing edifices which are a credit to Farmington now,” Sister Mary Michael wrote in 1949. “On the contrary both church and school were extremely humble in their exterior appearance, as well as modestly frugal in their interior furnishings. Just about what one would expect to find in a small Western town where there were very few Catholics, all making a brave struggle to get started in life admidst pioneer surroundings.”
The Sisters did not have a convent when they arrived, but rather they occupied rooms at the San Juan Community Hospital, which was in easy walking distance from the church and school on Pinon Avenue.
“On the Feast of Our Lady’s Dolors in early September, the hospital staff welcomed the three sisters who came to take possession of their new quarters. The other six sisters who had arrived with them were divided between Waterﬂow and Blanco in their work. The three sisters in Farmington were Sister Margaret Mary, who was to teach in the school; Sister Antoinette, who would join the nurses’ staff; and Sister Veronica, who was to aid in the diet kitchen.
Nine students assembled for classes in September 1919 but within a short period of time, so many children were trying to get into the school that Sister Mary Michael said that “classes soon reached such proportions as to render the small school building really inadequate. Not only did the Catholics of Farmington patronize the Sisters’ school, but many non-Catholic children came also.”
By 1920 it was more than obvious that the present property on Pinon Street was too small for the needs of the growing Catholic community. Father Fintan bought some property on the north side of the town on a hill overlooking the town. So at the time the property was bought, the present location of the church was outside the city limits. La Plata Street, which is now the southern boundary of the present property, was the northern boundary of Farmington in 1920. The property Father Fintan bought was a large grape arbor which had been owned by Etta Morris. There were no other buildings in the area, except a couple of homes along Orchard Street. None of the streets were paved at this time and when the church was built in 1929, the people would come straight up Allen Street and walk, ride horses or drive right into the property up to the front door of the church.
Presently, if you start right at Main Street and drive north up Allen Avenue, it lines up exactly with what used to be the church’s front door. Later, when the city expanded and Allen Avenue was paved, the city had to go around the church property. This accounts for the strange jog in the street.
By 1928, there were 200 adults and 75 children coming to Sacred Heart Parish from a radius of 25 miles. In the summer of 1928, with major contributions from the Cincinnati Franciscans and money from the Extension Society and the people of the parish, Father Fintan and his people started construction.
Father Fintan had dreamed of this project long before 1928, though. As far back as 1918, according to Sister Mary Michael in her book, Mother Aloysius and Sister Robertus visited Farmington and Father Fintan “had shown them the site on the hill” where he hoped, at some future time, to build a church and school. Ten years were to pass before his hopes were realized, but the finished project was worth the delay.
According to Frances and Joe Wethington, who wrote of those early days, “before any work could be done on building the church, school and rectory, the tumbleweeds, sage brush and other debris had to be cleared off the grounds of the newly-purchased land at Allen Street.” After this was completed, Gonza Wethington, with his team of horses and fresno (scoop), leveled the land. Then full steam ahead. It was decided that the school should be built first so that the basement part could be used for saying the Masses. Mr. Castonguey, the only Catholic carpenter in Farmington, was hired as the foreman. His daughter, Miss Anna Castonguey, was the organist and choir director down at the old church; and of course, remained so when the new church was built. As one parishioner put it, “The choir was like listening to the angels sing.”
The Wethingtons wrote that Dan Thomas and his two boys, Alfred and Hobert, and even Margaret, one of his daughters, put on their coveralls and worked every day digging out the gravel from the glade road which ran down to what used to be Palmer Plaza.
“Dan Thomas also did the concrete work for all the buildings. Clinton Taylor, a prominent Mormon gentleman, laid the brick for the school, the rectory and the church. Many hands went into the building of these three buildings. Much of this labor was done for gratis, but the foreman, Mr. Castonguey, received the unthinkable sum of $5.00 an hour. With this goodly sum he hired Merle Miller to be his ﬂunky for the total sum of 50 cents an hour. The average pay for the other carpenters was $1.00 an hour. Joe Wethington worked free and hauled the sand for the concrete work and remembers doing so for two summers. He ﬁnally did get a partner to help him through the machinations of Father Fintan.”
Not everything on the construction job always ran perfectly. The communion railing had to be hauled up from the depot to the newly-built church by a team of horses and wagon. Just as the last section of the railing was removed from the wagon, Sister Margaret Mary started ringing the Angelus. The horses were spooked and bolted off down the hill and across what is now Sacred Heart School’s playground. They continued running between Freeman’s house (the house directly south of the playground bordering Allen Avenue) and a tall poplar tree which was standing there. The horses got through the opening. The wagon did not.
The horses ran crazily up and down nearly every street in the town. Some people tried to stop the horses, but they only veered away from the people. Finally, from utter exhaustion, the horses came to an abrupt halt and were led docilely back to the church.
It wasn’t unusual during the months of November, December and January during the construction time that temperatures might drop to 15 degrees or more below zero. And that was all during the day. The ground would nearly be covered at least by a foot of snow and would lay on the ground most of winter. Therefore, during these months, the construction almost came to a complete halt.
When the school and church were ﬁnished, a large amount of the Gallup yellow bricks were left over, according to the Wethingtons. Father Fintan, they said, only had permission for a school and church.
“He was standing with some men staring at the bricks and said, ‘Let’s build a rectory with the rest of the bricks.’ ‘But, Father, we don’t have permission.’ And Father Fintan answered, ‘What are they going to do, make us tear it down?’”
With that, according to the Wethingtons, they “took a stick and drew the outline of the rectory in the sand.”
Thus the large rectory which still houses the priests was the last of the building projects in 1929.
But there is one big catch to the above story. According to the photo found in the Parish Center main hallway, the Rectory and School/Convent were built first and the Church was built last. The photo shows clearly the rectory’s west side and the fully-constructed School/Convent and the open ﬁeld where the Church would eventually stand.
Though the Church was finished in 1929, the solemn blessing of Sacred Heart Church took place on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 1930, at 10 a.m. Most Rev. Albert T. Daeger, O.FM., D.D., who was the first Franciscan pastor of Sacred Heart, came from Santa Fe to bless the Church. This was ten years before the Diocese of Gallup was established, so Farmington was in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe at the time of the blessing. Very Rev. Urban Freundt, O. FM., the provincial of the Province of St. John the Baptist Franciscans in Cincinnati, Ohio, assisted Archbishop Daeger.
St. Thomas School’s doors soon opened. The school was so named because a benefactor from Extension Society gave a large donation only if the school would be named St. Thomas in honor of her deceased husband.
The new school offered well-equipped classrooms and also included facilities for a limited number of boarding pupils. There was an auditorium for school activities and a spacious playground.
During the intense building projects, Archbishop Daeger of Santa Fe anxiously oversaw the project from the See City. He made it very clear in one note, on May 18, 1928, that Father Fintan was to be careful that he alone made final decisions: “As we do not recognize any ‘Church Committees‘ do not let any LAY man sign. YOU are the Church Committee.”
Of course, with the building of these three major structures – the church, the school and the rectory – there were plenty of debts which Father Fintan had to worry about. In February 1929, Archbishop Daeger wrote to Father Fintan that the documents were now on their way “for your swell LOAN OF FIFTEEN THOUSAND! And all by REGISTERED MAIL! Of course, the ENGRAVED and ‘steel-armored’ BONDS will come in a few days – which I suppose I will have to sign – each and every one of the THIRTY, and return to St. Louis.”
Archbishop Daeger writes that Father Fintan is to use his own judgment as to the fire and tornado insurance the church buildings would need.
“You will surely cut it down – otherwise I do not know HOW you will pay all the insurance premiums. As to fire I do not think it too high, but TORNADO?”
The movement of the Sisters from the small convent where they had lived for over a decade at Pinon to the new convent was bittersweet. In Candles of the Lord Sister Mary Michael Barrow writes “…the Sisters were really loath to leave the scenes of earlier years. Sometimes they had laughingly spoken of their convent as the ‘cigar box’. That ‘cigar box’, though not fashioned from rich cedar wood, held for them rich memories – memories fragrant of the aroma of riches amidst poverty, and of peace and contentment, amidst little sacrifices cheerfully made and crosses willingly borne. Yes, these first years held for them memories of prosperity and memories of adversity. However, ‘adversity is not without comforts and hopes’, and prosperity does not always mean happiness nor goodness.”
The Ursulines had a spirit still spoken of fondly today by parishioners who remember the many Sisters who passed through their lives over the years. One remembered with special fondness was Sister George Marie Morgan.
After teaching for years in Kentucky schools, her health began to fail. Hoping the healthy New Mexico climate would help her, the Superiors in the order removed her from active duty and sent her to live in Farmington at the old convent.
Candles of the Lord relates the story of her final years: “The tiny convent in Farmington gave a wholesome welcome to the young semi-invalid, who was rather a joy than a care to her companions. Her bright, cheerful disposition and her entire resignation to God’s Holy Will, were constant sources of edification, not only to her companions, but to all who knew her. Smiling always and with a never-fading serenity, her cheerfulness persisted even when there came the realization that there was small hope of recovery.
“She was a special favorite Sister to the little children of Farmington and they came often to visit with her. To them and with them, Sister George Marie was another child – simple, gentle and very approachable. There was one little boy, himself almost an invalid, whose affection for Sister was singularly strong. Often he came…bringing her gifts, chickens, flowers, fruits, and sweetmeats, and when she died, he was inconsolable. His parents…relate that their little son really never overcame his grief. It was not long before (the little boy) joined his friend in heaven.
“On Dec. 21, 1925, Sister George Marie went home to God. All that day, and particularly during the period of evening recreation, she was even more than usual, cheerful and gay. She signed and addressed Christmas greeting cards to family relatives and to members of her religious community in the East. These greeting cards reached their destination after dear little Sister George Marie lay in her grave.
“Almost without any warning, Sister suffered a severe hemorrhage from the lungs and died within minutes. There was only time for the Sisters to call Father Fintan from a nearby residence. Father came and administered the Sacraments of the dying, just as Sister was breathing her last.”
Her sister, Sister Rose Alice, was stationed in Blanco at the time of Sister George Marie’s death and did not receive the message of her sister’s death until the following morning, as there were, then, no telephone connections with Blanco. The roads leading to Blanco were, in those days, practically impassable in the winter months.
Father Fintan offered the Requiem Mass for Sister George Marie on Dec. 23, at Sacred Heart Church on Pinon and burial took place the same day in the cemetery at Waterﬂow.
The Sisters began a new tradition in 1929 at the first Christmas program in the new school. The night before the Christmas program, Sister Margaret Mary, Sister Dorothy (for whom the garden beside the Parish Center is named) and Clara Zumbahlen (Father Fintan’s sister and housekeeper) filled paper sacks with hard candy plus an orange as an added treat. These were given at the end of the program to every child present by Santa Claus himself. Then, on the Feast of the Epiphany, Father Fintan would give each child in the school a small sack of hard candy on the Feast which is also known as “Little Christmas.”
When Father Fintan left as pastor in 1932, Father Camillus Fangmann. O.FM., served as pastor for the next two years. Following him as pastor was Father Roger Hengehold, O.F.M., who served as pastor from 1935 through 1941.
Father Maurice Rippeger, O.F.M., the provincial of the Province of St. John the Baptist in Cincinnati wrote to Father Roger on Aug. 26, 1935 on the Pinon old church property: “Yesterday Father Fintan spoke to me about the contemplated sale of the old church property to some Mexican for the sum of $1500.00. You have my consent provided you also get the permission of Archbishop Gerken (of Santa Fe). You might tell his excellency that Archbishop Daeger had already given permission. But insist that the Mexican pay the whole sum in cash. Otherwise I fear you will never get the money. With this money you will be able to pay your debt to Parkview, which must be done since Father Theodosius needs the money for the completion of his church and you would have a nice little sum left to apply on your other debts.”
Father Roger spent a good part of his time as pastor striving to pay off the debts of the parish and, according to correspondence, seemed to do well in this regard. Father Edward Leary, O.F.M., served as pastor from 1942 to 1943, when Father Anthony Kroger took over the reigns from 1944 to 1946.
When Father Anthony was at Sacred Heart, an interesting turn of events took place. Suddenly the deeply admired and much loved Father Fintan returned yet again in residence on sick leave. This happened often in these years. For instance, in 1939, Father Fintan had returned for his health and stayed two more years, left again and returned in 1944 for yet another year of sick leave. The rectory at Sacred Heart was large and the porches on both ends were used for sick Franciscans who came to the Southwest to recover from many ailments, including lung ailments. The Franciscan ledgers list Eusebius Schweitzer, O.F.M., as also being at Sacred Heart in residence on sick leave.
Having Father Fintan live in residence was a mixed blessing for Father Anthony. Though Father Fintan could help some in the parish, his prominence and strong opinions seemed to get in the pastor’s way at times. Bishop Bernard Espelage, the first bishop of Gallup (Gallup became a diocese in 1939), wrote to him on August 2, 1945, about paying off the parish debt, which continued to plague those who followed Father Fintan. “Just tell (Father Adalbert – the financial secretary for the Province of St. John the Baptist) that you are trying to straighten outy our books and you would like to know just how you stand. They are somewhat peeved back there (in Cincinnati) about this business, as the Province payed (sic) off the bonds on the church and school in the amount of $6,000 and asked Father Roger (Henegold) when he was pastor (1935 – 1941) to sign a note for this amount and he refused. This is just a little tip I am giving you.”
Then Bishop Espelage gets to the matter of Father Fintan: “I am sure that you are glad of the transfer of Father Fintan. This move will be good for the parish as well as for you. I presume that there are some who do not like it, but that will pass over. I got a long letter from L.L. Stallings about the change. I answered that I had nothing to do with the change and these changes are made by the Provincial. It is good that Clara is leaving too (Clara was Father Fintan’s sister and had been housekeeper at Sacred Heart for years)…Try to take care of yourself and don’t worry about what is being said about Fintan’s change. It will die out.”
By August 18, 1945, Father Anthony has obviously become more concerned with bad feelings left at the leaving of the famous Father Fintan. Bishop Espelage wrote to him on this date: “As to the present
tense feeling I would just ignore them alltogether (sic) and act in everything as if nothing happened. I would never refer to the transfer in any way either in public or in private. That fact that Clara (Father Fintan’s sister) is staying there may make matters worse, but I would even ignore this too. I would do the same with regard to the Sisters.”
It was not always easy for the pastor to deal with the Religious Sisters either, it seems. In a letter which seems to have been written by Father Theodosius Meyer, he speaks of “some of the padres” being “not quite open and above-board, some of the Sisters are old ﬁxtures…”
This priest, who served one year as pastor from 1947 to 1948 (though his term must have spilled a bit into the year 1949, because there are two letters from him in that time) does not seem to be having a good day. He states in the February 1949 letter that the “Farmington climate and I are not getting along so well. I have been going on borrowed time the last two weeks – dangerously near pneumonia, nervous and on edge. Besides ‘people are funny’ and many of the people here in the San luan Valley are very funny. Maybe it would be better expressed, they are ‘difficult.’ A little on the ignorant side, they are selﬁsh, full of distrust and suspicion, some of them are smart-alecks and buttinskis.”
Father Theodosius states that the children are “self-willed (to say it nicely). The old folks are set in their ways, and I am a little too old to be a trouble-shooter, to take hold of a run-down place, full of dissension, make it over into a smooth-running organization, and then be sent into another difficult place.”
Father Theodosius seems deeply troubled about the continued debts of the parish. “It makes it bad for me, because the people had been led to believe that there was no debt remaining. I argued it out with them last year…This business of saying that maybe it was written off so as not ‘to place an intolerable burden on the priest in charge’ at that time does not set so well with me. Why take the burden off others and then saddle it on to me, thus imposing on good nature?”
Father Theodosius, who was born in Batesville, Indiana in 1882 and was ordained a priest in 1914, worked in the Southwest missions throughout his life: Santa Fe, Roswell, Lumberton, Parkview, Pena Blanca, Farmington, Cuba and Gallup. He also had charge of several outlying missions: Hagerman, Elida, Portales, Clovis and Melrose. Father Theodosius seemed to recover his health after leaving Farmington and continued on for another decade and from 1951 to 1953 served as chaplain of the Poor Clares in Roswell. He died on April 1, 1958.
Following Father Theodosius Meyer was a true character of a priest, Father Theophil Meyer, O.F.M., who came to Sacred Heart in 1949 and then remained until 1957. Stories are still told of this man who preached like a lion from the pulpit, pounding the podium for dramatic effect. Some swear he could be heard all the way down on Main Street when the windows were open in the church on hot summer days. He was deeply loved by the children of the parish. They swarmed all around him on the playground whenever he made a visit.
He is the center of many stories around Farmington. People tell of him admonishing them to sit down when they tried to leave early from Mass or if they were a moment or so late for Mass, addressing them directly to be seated or stopping in the middle of the homily and waiting for them to shrink embarrassed into the nearest pew.
But there are stories of him also being so kind to the “least among us” and having a great heart for little children. He was on the portly side and Father Vincent, writing a letter from the Office of the Treasurer for the Franciscan Fathers in Cincinnati, Ohio, ribs him at the end of the letter dated November 12, 1949: “Keep your faith and your courage up, your weight down, and your feet on the ground.”
It was Father Theophil who in the Spring of 1956 had informal talks with Bishop Espelage about building the present Sacred Heart School. Bishop Espelage was reluctant for the parish to go into debt, obviously knowing the burdens shouldered by many priests after the building of the original three large structures by Father Fintan. So the Men’s Club of the parish had the idea of having a pledge drive to get the money together before the school would be built.
In the summer of 1956 the Men’s Club started the drive to see how much money they could get together for the new school. At first they thought they would not build any more than they could pay for. But the needs of the growing community and school made them decide that they had to go out on a limb and build what was needed. In the Fall of 1956, the Building and Planning Committee (Oscar Thomas, I.J. Coury, Dr. Reilly, Angelo Turano, Frank Sattler and Frank Deiterman) met with the bishop.
Bishop Espelage made it clear that if the pledge drive was not successful that the construction of the school would stop. Besides the pledge drive, a series of bingo parties were held in the basement of St. Thomas School.
By the end of the pledge drive, the people had pledged approximately $40,000 for the building fund for the new school. During the winter months of 1957, plans were made and approved for the building and a bid was received from Hesselden Construction Company for $135,000.
Bishop Espelage, though obviously nervous about the parish going into deep debt, gave the go-ahead for construction with $48,000 in the building fund, a $30,000 loan, $10,000 in a savings account and $7,000 in a general account.
The church, therefore, had about $95,000 of the $135,000 needed for construction and Bishop Espelage would not sign the loan from the bank for the rest of the money. The Men’s Club didn’t let this get them down. Instead they met and came up with an idea: The money would be borrowed in the name of the parish, but in case of default, each of the men would sign the note and be responsible for up to $2,000 each.
Construction began in earnest then. By August 12, 1957, Father Kenneth Robertson drove up to Farmington from his last assignment in Laguna to take over from Father Theophil as the new pastor of Sacred Heart Church. He would pastor Sacred Heart until 1963, during a large growth spurt in Farmington. In 1950 there had been a mere 3,000 people. Due to the oil and gas boom of the 1950s, though, the town by 1956 had grown to 20,000 people. In the Fall of 1957, the old St. Thomas School served the students until the new school was completely ﬁnished. The major part of the construction was done by November. Important ﬁnishing touches were still needed and the Men’s Club struggled to help with these items.
In January 1958, some of the classes were able to move into the still unﬁnished school. During the summer of 1958, Venetian blinds were installed and the floor of the gym was painted.
On September 2, 1958, all classes moved to the new school and on Sunday, September 7, 1958, the school was formally dedicated by Bishop Espelage. On Feb. 1, 1960, the note was paid off for the new school.
The large debt was paid off in three years due to the hard work, sacriﬁce and dedication of the parishioners.
By February 1960, permission was granted to add four more classrooms to the lower level of the school because because of the sudden growth in student enrollment. By August 28, 1961, there were 510 children in the school from grades 1 to 8.
Images from Diocesan Archives, Farmington book, and Wikimedia Commons.