For the first time in sixty years, St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Gallup, NM, will no longer be run by Franciscans. The Franciscan Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which covers New Mexico, arrived at the decision to hand the parish over to diocesan administration in 2020.
In his announcement of the move to the parishioners of St. Francis, then-pastor Fr. Abel Olivas cited declining vocations and aging friars as a major reason for Franciscan withdrawal from the parish.
“Because of decline in the number of Franciscans in the United States, which directly affects our ministry in the Southwest, we are no longer able to continue maintaining the same number of ministry sites as we have in the past,” Olivas wrote. “In fact, since 1985 when Our Lady of Guadalupe Province was started, we have given up parishes in Cuba, Chama, Clovis, Los Ojos, Tierra Amarilla, Santa Fe and many places on the Navajo Nation and Pueblo Land.”
Additionally, Olivas noted that the seven Franciscan provinces throughout the United States are currently undergoing a merger into a single province which will cover the entire country.
“When the new province is formed in 2023 the Franciscans will manage a few ministry sites that the friars can adequately sustain for a minimum of ten years. Our Lady of Guadalupe Province cannot do this without turning over some of the parishes to the respective dioceses.”
The Franciscans currently have no plans to withdraw from other parishes in the Diocese of Gallup other than St. Francis.
On May 26, 2021, Olivas, Provincial Minister Fr. Ron Walters, and over a dozen friars joined Bishop James Wall for a “farewell” Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Parish. The Mass and a following meal in the parish hall provided a final chance for the parishioners to bid goodbye to the friars who served them for decades.
Mary Roco, an older parishioner who has attended St. Francis her entire life, said she’ll always treasure the milestones of her life which happened under the Franciscans’ ministry, especially her First Holy Communion as a young girl many years ago.
“They’re all wonderful. They’re all giving and loving and kind,” she says, describing the friars. And although she’ll miss them, she and other parishioners are ready to start the next chapter of their parish life. “We’re looking forward to [the new pastor]. We’re all gonna make the best of it. This was built on faith and love.”
Fr. Walters, in his closing remarks at the farewell Mass, made a final major announcement.
“We have been involved in building not just the people of this parish, but the physical structures as well. As many of you in the parish know, the parish staff came to us Franciscans to ask for financial help in building not only this church, but also your hall.”
St. Francis recently completed construction on the San Damiano hall which adjoins the parish, thanks to a $250,000 loan from the Franciscan province. The parish had been able to pay back around $100,000.
“As our parting gift to the parish, to the diocese, the Guadalupe province forgives the rest of the loan,” Walters told the parishioners.
Echoing the sentiments of St. Francis parishioners, he closed his remarks with an expression of faith and hope for the next chapter of parish life.
“St. Francis, on his deathbed, said ‘I have done what is mine to do.’ May God teach you what is yours to do. With sadness, we say to you, we have done what is ours to do. Now, do what God asks you to do. May God bless you always in the future of your parish, and please remember to pray for us.”