June 28 ceremony to honor history, future of St. Mary’s

June 12, 2014 by

SILVER CITY, N.M. — In a special ceremony later this month at what is now the Anglican Church of the Holy Trinity, the Sisters of St. Joseph will recognize their own history in Silver City and the future of what was their home on Alabama Street.

“The light has been shining from St. Mary’s since 1918,” said Sister Anna Marie Broxterman, who is coordinating the June 28 events, “and we know it will keep shining for years to come. This is our opportunity to pass the torch.”

The public ceremony begins at 3 p.m. in the church at 1801 Alabama St., and will be followed by a potluck in the adjoining center. Sisters from Concordia as well as Father Henry Hoffman, rector of Holy Trinity, will take part, and the public is invited.

The Anglican Church of the Holy Trinity announced in early March that it had purchased the 3.7-acre property, which included St. Mary’s Spiritual Center and two other buildings that had been for sale for several years.

Holy Trinity, which was founded in 2008, had been holding its Sunday services in the St. Mary’s Chapel since May 2013.

Sister Rosemary Farrell

Sister Rosemary Farrell

Sister Rita Plante

Sister Rita Plante

And while Holy Trinity is a relatively new church, St. Mary’s and the Sisters of St. Joseph have been a part of Silver City since 1918. And Sisters of St. Joseph remain a part of the community — Sisters Rosemary Farrell and Rita Plante continue to live and serve here.

The first Sisters of St. Joseph came to Silver City from Tipton, Ind., in 1915, and took over Our Lady of Lourdes Academy from the Sisters of Mercy. The little band of eight Sisters of St. Joseph also opened St. Joseph’s Hospital and Sanatorium for tuberculosis patients.

After three years of financial hardships, according to “Built to Last, An Architectural History of Silver City, N.M.,” the sisters sold both the sanatorium and the old Lourdes Academy building in downtown Silver City.

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.

Later that year, 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. Within a year, the sisters rebuilt their convent, school and chapel — which are the buildings that exist today.

But the financial challenges continued, and by 1925, Sister Mary Magdalen Thomas 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.

Sister Magdalen visited Concordia, and then the Kansas sisters sent a delegation to visit Silver City. As a result, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Silver City and their properties in New Mexico officially merged with the Concordia community on Jan. 26, 1926.

Within a month, seven sisters left Concordia for the Silver City 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 also remains 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. Earlier this year, 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.

Holy Trinity has launched 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 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.

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