by David Tesitor
GARDNER — It’s hard to believe Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Gardner is only one hundred years old, considering the Upper Huerfano River Valley was settled almost fifty years earlier than that when the land grants of the 1860s brought settlers to ranch the area.
Back then, priests from Santa Fe came to celebrate the Mass throughout the area, including Plaza de los Chavez, Plaza de los Martinez, Our Lady of Guadulupe in Chama, Badito, and Santa Maria. When the Chavez church was flooded in 1910, masses were celebrated in homes and in the Chama church.
Shortly thereafter the Gardner community came together to build a new church. The project was undertaken by La Sociedad de Union Catholica (the Catholic Union Society) under the leadership of Society President Elias Martinez and with the construction expertise of Catedra Garcia, the great-great grandfather of Gardner resident and commissioner candidate, Ray Garcia.
In fact, many of the descendents of the homesteaders are still active in the Sacred Heart parish including family names like Garcia, Espinoza, Martinez and Aragon. When the church was built, families raised the necessary money by any means possible, including selling piñon nuts.
Last Sunday, several hundred people packed the small church to celebrate the centennial milestone. The Most Reverend Fernando Isern, Bishop of Pueblo, was the lead celebrant of the Mass. The celebration began with a formal ribbon cutting ceremony and the blessing of the original cornerstone which is now placed at the entrance of the church. Mariachi de Pueblo led the processional music as parishioners began outside the church then proceeded back into the church where the mass began. Bishop Isern stated in his homily (the time after the reading of the Gospels) “Our great-great grandparents came together 100 years ago because they recognized the importance of the sacraments in our lives and the need of the community to have a place to worship.”
Adding to the celebration was the renewal of Dennis and Gina Aragon’s wedding vows on their twenty-fifth anniversary. Their parents, their grandparents and even their great-great grandparents were all married in the church.
Active and former families came long distances to be a part of the celebration, many who have not lost ties with their family roots. For the many in attendance, Sacred Heart holds dear memories.
The church hasn’t changed much over the past century. The back alter holding the tabernacle was the original alter; the statues which adorn the altar area are original and a mural which was recently rediscovered during the 2008 renovation has been restored as the centerpiece of the back wall.
The mural was painted in 1912 by Sister Luke, a Benedictine sister who taught at Saint Georges Parochial School which was a part of the Gardner community. It was covered with paneling in 1961 during a remodel phase. It took a windstorm to raise the roof of the old church and force the renovation to bring the Sacred Heart Church building back to its former glory days, complete with modern reinforcements to the flying buttresses (used a millennium ago when the Cathedral of Notre Dame was built) to support the new roof and old adobe walls. With the grace of God, the structure should last another century.
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