The Santa Fe Railroad reached Albuquerque in the fall of 1880 while the main line – or parent line, as it was called – continued south toward El Paso. The Atlantic & Pacific railroad, largely made up of stockholders of the Santa Fe railroad, undertook the laying of tracks to the west of Albuquerque beginning from Isleta in 1881. The track reached Los Alamitos in 1882.
“Los Alamitos” was the name given at that time to the spot which is now Grants. Cottonwoods grew around a spring of fresh water at which travelers watered their horses while passing through.
This spot was for a few years the end of the tracks, even though grading work was continued for many miles. Camps were established in the vicinity by the workers. Notable among these camps was “Grant’s Camp”, where the railroad contractors lived. There were three brothers: A.A. Grant, Lewis A. Grant and John R. Grant.
A telegraph office was maintained at the end of the tracks. Principally used for company business, it nonetheless was the nerve center for news both local and national. The prominence of the Grant Brothers led to the site getting the name “Grant’s Camp”, or simply “Grants”. Many years later it was officially named Grants.
Lands of the original townsite were conveyed by United States Patent Office March 30th, 1882 to Jesus Maria Blea by President Chester A. Arthur. It involved 164.23 acres.
The home of Jesus Maria Blea was the first in what is now the town of Grants. It was made of malpais rock and adobe. In this house the first Holy Mass was said by Father Robert Kalt, OFM in 1911. Blea was from Moquino, New Mexico.
Early settlers to this area were cattle and sheep men. Thousands of cattle grazed about the locality. Pasture was excellent and the hay was out and stored. However, after 1918 the rains did not come and pastures became poor. The settlers began to fence off land, which had been formerly free pasture land, in order to save what they could for their own cattle. This marked the decline of the cattle boom in the district. For years a large shearing camp was located behind the present Yucca Hotel, and thousands of sheep were sheared there by hand. The Bibo family had a large warehouse; the present Gladin Supermarket building is where they stored the wool before it was shipped by train to the East.
All the early folk were Catholics with the exception of the Bibos, who were married to Catholics. They went to San Rafael, which at the time was the headquarters of the church in the district. Here they attended Mass and received the sacraments, were married and buried. After the first Mass in 1911 in the home of Jesus Blea, Father Robert continued to say Mass yearly in order to give the old and sick an opportunity to make the Easter duty.
Father Robert lived at Gallup and came by train to Grants. Upon arrival he would recite the rosary in the home of Leonardo Blea, then go to the home of Jesus Maria Blea where a room was reserved for him. Here he rested and on the following morning said Mass and administered the sacraments. After this he struck out for the outlying mission on horseback.
December 26th, 1917 the Bond Sargent Company deeded two lots for the building of a Catholic Church. The property had come respectively by purchase from Jesus Maria Blea to Simon Bibo to Bernallilo Mercantile to Bond Sargent Company.
Federico Gabaldon began collecting for the building of a church the same year. The book containing the names of donors, together with amounts which were faithfully recorded, is today in the files of St. Theresa Church. Listed on the building committee are such names as Mariano Padilla, Adolfo Blea, Leonardo Blea Pablo Gallegos, and Estevan Chavez. May of 1920 Extension Society donated $500.00 and the Province of St. John the Baptist Franciscan Fathers Mission Union had contributed $525.00.
The foundation of the church was finished in 1920 by the local contractor Joe Capelli. Franciscan lay brothers, Br. Arnold Holtmann and Vital Huelshorst of San Fidel did most of the carpentry work and put on the roof, completing it in 1922. Altar, vesture case and pews were the work of Brother Vital. Adobes were made by the local men at the creek bank and laid by the same. Solemn Blessing of the church took place September 9th, 1925 by Archbishop Albert T. Daeger, OFM.
Father Robert Kalt, OFM took up residence in San Fidel the year 1920. San Fidel then became the parish of the district. Grants was attached to this parish until August 6th, 1942, when it became a parish in its own rights. Father Robert, now only some 18 miles to the east, started to give Grants monthly Mass in 1933. Bimonthly Mass began in 1932. Weekly Mass followed October of 1955.
Luring the late 20’s a home was begun in Grants next to the church to house the Catechist Sisters of Our Lady of Victory from Huntington, Indiana. The Sisters arrived in the fall of 1929 and lived a few months in San Rafael awaiting the completion of the new home in Grants. They moved into the new convent on January 7th, 1950.
These Sisters remained here until 1944 when the Bishop of Gallup transferred them to Flagstaff, Arizona. While residing in Grants they did wonderful work, including catechetical instructions, visiting the sick, holding clinics and other works too numerous to mention. Their activities were not restricted to the mission of Grants but spread to the whole district including: San Rafael, San Mateo, Bluewater, Lumber Camps in Zuni Mts., Fluorspar Mines, Seboyeta, Moquino and Marquez Missions.
From 1942 until 1944 Father Robert, the pastor, lived in the bell tower of the church, a 10×10 room entered by a steps from the sacristy below. He moved into the sisters’ convent when it was vacated. This former convent servers as the parish rectory and can accommodate three priests and a housekeeper.
The first resident assistant, Father Godfrey Blank, OFM, arrived in March of 1945. Father Gerard Geier, OFM replaced Father Robert as pastor in July of 1946. The parish received a second resident assistant in the person of Father Titus Gehring, OFM the summer of 1948. He was replaced by Father Cecil Kleber, OFM in July 1950.
In the summer of 1946, when Father Gerard Geier, O.F.M. completed his tour of duty as a Navy Chaplain and was assigned as pastor of St. Theresa Parish in Grants, the town was already a rapidly growing community. The youth of the town were seemingly forgotten; there were very few recreational facilities. A recreation hall for the youth of the parish was a must, and construction was begun in January 1948 on a hall in back of church. The hall would measure 25 by 50 feet, a one story building constructed from war surplus ammunition boxes, plastered inside and out.
It was evident from the start that this hall would be inadequate, and even as it was under construction, plans were being laid for a hall proportionate to the needs of the community. Carrell G. Gunderson donated one city block, and an adjoining block was bought for the Community Center grounds. The city closed the street separating the two pieces of property, making them one.
Actual work on the new recreational center was begun March 12, 1949 with the hauling of malpais lava rock for the foundation. The New Mexico Timber Co. made its heavy equipment available for the excavating work and also helped out with a large amount of lumber. Native sandstone was offered for the taking by Salvador Milan, and in all, 18,000 tons of stone went into the construction. Under the supervision of Auro Cattaneo, the footings were poured and the stone walls began to rise. By July 13th the walls were completed to the first floor.
The Most Rev. Bernard T. Espelage, Bishop of Gallup, made a donation from the fund for aid of the Spanish-speaking people. With these and other funds the stone-masons and other laborers could be paid, so that by December 1, 1949 the stone walls were finished and a sub-floor covered the gymnasium area. Work was then suspended for nine months for lack of funds.
Again Bishop Espelage aided with a loan that would help put a roof on the building and protect from the elements what had already been built. The first of the steel trusses was swung into place and bolted down on November 7, 1950. With the trusses in place it was a race against the weather to get the sheathing on before Christmas 1950. Most of the sheathing was donated by the Grants Lumber and Box Co. Asphalt insulation and roofing quickly followed. With a roof overhead, beech wood flooring was laid, and ready for use by February 19th. One month later, the first of a series of volleyball games was played by local teams.
April saw the completion of the electrical work. In early August the front lounges and lobby were plastered and the floors covered with rubber tile. At the same time, the basement was given a concrete floor through the generous assistance of Contractor Joe Bandoni and his crew who worked late into the night to finish the cement.
The dedication and blessing of the St. Teresa Community Center took place on Labor Day, September 3, 1951. Bishop Espelage blessed the building and the cornerstone.
The Community Center stands as a monument to the idealism and hard work of Father Gerard, the Pastor, and the cooperation of the people of the parish. It is in the eastern part of Grants, one block North of Highway 66. The building is in the shape of the letter T. The gym which makes up the vertical stem measures 75 by 126 feet with a playing space 50 by 90 feet. The seating capacity is around 1,500. The horizontal bar of the T contains the lobby, lounges, restrooms, and offices. Just inside the entrance of the building is a stairway leading to the full sized basement. Aisles lead to the gymnasium and front lobby.On either side of the front lobby are the two lounges, rest rooms and offices. One Lounge is decorated in Spanish motif and the other in Indian. The ceiling of the front portion is rather unusual, a superb job of plastering. Shaped in the plaster itself is the New Mexico Zia sign in its proper colors, and catches one’s eye as one enters the building. The ceiling of the lobby has a cross worked in the plaster, 9 by 6 feet, and edged in gold. There are approximately 24,000 square feet of floorspace in the entire building. The front portion of the building, lobbies and rooms have inlaid rubber tile flooring, white trimmed in brown – the Franciscan colors. St. Theresa Community Center is lettered in the flooring just inside the front door. And at the entrance to the gym, lettered in the flooring in a similar fashion is the motto, “A Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body.” It expresses the purpose and the goal of the St. Theresa Community Center.
The Third Order of St. Francis began in Grants on March 19, 1947, a group which developed from the Altar Society. A CYO group was organized February 4, 1946 by Father Godfrey. A Catholic men’s organization was formed July 13, 1947, and later became known as the Knights of Columbus.
The St. Theresa Ladies Society Began with the purpose of starting a Catholic school in Grants. In 1964 the school began in the Community Center with 2 Ursuline sisters and 72 children. The new school became a reality in 1966 and is still going strong.
The Cursillo movement first came to St. Theresa of Avila parish in March, l963. Since then hundreds have been involved in the movement.