Anglicans purchase sisters’ historic Silver City property

March 10, 2014 by

An old panorama photograph shows...

An old panorama photograph of the sisters’ Silver City property shows the chapel, at left with a cross on top, the Mission-style Joseph House in the center and Marian Hall at right. The other buildings in this photo are no longer standing.

SILVER CITY, N.M. — An Anglican congregation that has been worshipping in St. Mary’s Chapel for the past several months has now purchased the building and its surrounding property from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

The Anglican Church of the Holy Trinity announced March 6 that it has bought the 3.7 acres at 1801-1809 Alabama St., which includes St. Mary’s Spiritual Center and two other buildings. The property had been listed for sale for several years.

This will be the first permanent home for Holy Trinity, which was founded in 2008 and previously met at the old Presbyterian Church, now The Church of Harmony, on Arizona and Seventh streets in downtown Silver City.  Since May 2013, Holy Trinity has been holding its Sunday services in the St. Mary’s Chapel.

And while Holy Trinity is a relatively new church, St. Mary’s is a part of a Catholic heritage in Silver City that stretches back more than 130 years.

web-IMAGED-SilverCity

Sisters Rita Plante and Rosemary Farrell, pictured here chatting in front of the St. Mary’s Chapel, will continue to live and serve in Silver City.

The Sisters of Mercy had come to Silver City in 1881 at the invitation of the local priest to start a school, which by 1915 had more than 100 students. But they wanted to withdraw from that mission and return to Tucson, Ariz.

When seven Sisters of St. Joseph of Tipton, Ind., and their superior, Sister Mary Magdalen Thomas, arrived in mid-1915, the Mercy Sisters turned over Our Lady of Lourdes Academy to them. Sister Magdalen and her small band had also opened and continued to operate St. Joseph’s Hospital and Sanatorium for tuberculosis patients.

On Aug. 26, 1915, they incorporated as the Sisters of St. Joseph of Silver City.

According to “Built to Last, An Architectural History of Silver City, N.M.,” “Mother Magdalen operated the sanatorum for three years while teaching school at the Academy, until financial hardships determined that the sanatorium be sold.”

At the same time, the sisters sold the old Lourdes Academy building, which had been built in downtown Silver City in 1883, to the Grant County Charity Hospital Society and it became the new home of the Ladies Hospital.

So early in 1918, according to “Built to Last,” “The sisters bought the 10-room Mission-style adobe home that the late Aubrey F. Lee had constructed in 1906 on the northwestern outskirts of town” at what is now 1801 N. Alabama St. That fall they opened St. Mary Magdalen’s Academy, a boarding school for girls.

Also in 1918, Monsignor William Wright purchased the neighboring Rufus Jackson mansion at 1813 N. Alabama St. and donated it to the Sisters of St. Joseph to serve as a dormitory for the boarding students. The Jackson home — the largest private residence in Silver City when it was built in 1910 — was renamed Marian Hall. The purchases of both homes included large parcels of land stretching to the west from Alabama Street.

Monsignor Wright then had what is today called the “Joseph House” built between the two older homes. The much-smaller building was designed in 1918 by architect H.S. Gilbert to complement the Mission-style Lee house next door.

Throughout their first 10 years, the Silver City sisters encountered hardships and difficulties in many forms — including the 1922 fire that destroyed their main building, the former Lee house. On its site, the sisters rebuilt their convent, school and chapel, but they faced continual financial challenges and their numbers never grew beyond a high of 21 sisters in 1923.

By 1925, Sister Magdalen realized that the only way to save the little band in Silver City was to affiliate with some other community of Sisters of St. Joseph. So she wrote to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, which was by then a well established and much larger community.

The Concordia sisters were somewhat hesitant about taking on Silver City sisters’ debt of $93,000 — or $1.24 million in today’s dollars — according to a history of the congregation, “Footprints on the Frontier.” But the Superior General in Concordia, Mother Mary Rose Waller, invited Sister Magdalen to come to the Motherhouse for further discussions. After that visit, Mother Mary Rose along with two other sisters and Bishop Francis F. Tief traveled to Silver City to meet the sisters there and consider their proposal to merge the two communities.

On Jan. 26, 1926, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Silver City and their properties in New Mexico officially merged with the Concordia community.

Within a month, seven sisters left Concordia for the Silver City mission. Sister Magdalen remained there, but Sister Innocentia Brennan was appointed superior for the New Mexico mission.

St. Mary’s Academy, which served as a boarding school and eventually a high school, flourished throughout the late 1920s and ‘30s. In the 1940s, St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church opened another parochial school that was staffed by Sisters of St. Joseph. Then, in 1966, St. Mary’s and St. Vincent de Paul merged into one parochial school. In 1973, a lay board took over the combined school and operated it until 1980.

As the need to staff schools decreased, other ministries grew. In the mid-1970s the landmark buildings on Alabama Street housed a birthing center. Then they served as a retreat center to host both Search and Antioch retreats. Sisters serving there also reached out as pastoral and youth ministers in Hurley, Santa Clara, Bayard and San Lorenzo, and as campus ministers at Western New Mexico University.

The late Sister Carmel Garcia was instrumental in moving El Refugio, a shelter for victims of domestic violence, to what was then called St. Mary’s Center in the late 1980s. When the shelter outgrew the space, Sister Carmel was instrumental in raising money to build a new shelter, where Sister Rosemary Farrell continues to work as director of counseling and a play therapist.

In 1990 the Guadalupe Montessori School moved to the St. Mary’s campus and recently purchased its building and grounds there. Meanwhile, the local Catholic parish purchased some of the sisters’ land that was west of the Montessori school.

By 2006, when the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia celebrated their 80th anniversary of service in Silver City, the “campus” on Alabama Street was made up of St. Mary’s Spirituality Center, Joseph House and Marian Hall.

At that time, Sister Rita Plante was director of the spiritual center. Today she continues to serve in Silver City, where she has lived for 13 years, as a volunteer chaplain at Gila Regional Medical Center. She takes part in a weekly Peace Vigil and is an informal “downtown walking ministry” with her dog, Alex.

Sister Rosemary Farrell will also remain in Silver City, where she has lived and served for 25 years. In addition to her responsibilities at El Refugio, she is the choir director at St. Francis Church Newman Center, and has been coordinating volunteers and others at St. Mary’s Center.  In January, Sister Rosemary was inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr. Hall of Fame, sponsored by Western New Mexico University and Grant County Community Agencies and Organizations.

Sisters Rita and Rosemary also both work with CSJ Associates in the Silver City area.

In recent years, numerous faith groups have used Marian Hall and St. Mary’s for meetings, retreats and even regular services.

The new owners are excited to have a permanent home and are launching a “Save St. Mary’s” fundraising drive to pay for needed repairs and updating. As a part of that fund drive, the church wants to contact former St. Mary’s students and other who may have ties to the property. The contact is Father Henry Hoffman at 575/313-5797, fatherhenryh@gmail.com, or P.O. Box 1123, Silver City, NM 88062

Holy Trinity is part of the newly formed Anglican Diocese of the Southwest, which consecrated its first bishop, the Rev. Mark Zimmerman, in El Paso at the end of February. The diocese is made up of 16 churches in New Mexico, West Texas, southern Colorado and Mexico, and is part of the Anglican Church in North America, which unites some 100,000 Anglicans in nearly 1,000 congregations across the United States and Canada into a single Church.

Comments

4 Responses to “Anglicans purchase sisters’ historic Silver City property”

  1. Brian Ormand on February 23rd, 2019 12:40 pm

    I graduated from St. Mary’s 8th grade class in 1972, and had 3 other brothers (1 younger, 2 older) that also attended. Some good friends and good memories from St. Mary’s. The best thing I recall happened 7 years after I left St. Mary’s when some of the nuns that taught me responded to an alter call at the Newman Center in the middle of the great Charismatic Revival. This is when I realize that people are not saved by membership in any church, but instead an individual surrender of our lives to Jesus and accepting him as our Lord and Savior. I will always be grateful to the nuns and priest that followed the move of the Holy Spirit during this time. My parents and all my brothers were saved between 1974 and 1981, and it has been such a blessing in our family every since.

  2. James Bartz on February 14th, 2016 1:36 pm

    My brother and I attended St. Mary’s Academy between 1943 and 1948.
    We still have three yearbooks from that era, a photo or two, and many memories.
    Could you email me a copy of your panorama photo, and I will reciprocate?
    Best regards,
    Jim Bartz

  3. m88 on May 28th, 2015 6:01 am

    Hi, everything is going perfectly here and ofcourse every one is sharing data, that’s actually good, keep up writing.

  4. Beverly Seal Pecotte on March 14th, 2014 5:36 pm

    As a former student of St. Mary’s Academy, graduate 1959, I have mixed emotions about the sale of the Silver City campus. It is very sad that it is no longer a school and I know hasn’t been for many years but I am glad that someone is going to take care of the buildings (especially the chapel) and use it for God’s work. I have very fond memories of my years at St. Mary’s (the Academy) since I attended school there from 1st through 12th grade. My children also attended school there until we moved to Farmington, NM in 1971. I fondly remember Sister Leoba Marie, Sister Veronica, St. Calasanctius (sp), Sister Joseph Marie, Sister Bernarda and many others whose names I no longer remember. I do not remember the name of the sister that taught me to play the piano but I remember she was patient and very kind. God bless you all and all the work you do.

Feel free to leave a comment...