Prayer, worship and community keep Conejos flock strong
Conejos River Colorado Vacation, Colorado Fly Fishing, and Colorado Vacations
BY: Lance Hostetter
From the Valley Courier
Posted: Tuesday, Jul 15th, 2008
CONEJOS — In 1858 northern New Mexico farmers and ranchers established Our Lady of Guadalupe. Today, the oldest church in Colorado celebrates its historic 150th anniversary.
The church is not only celebrating its age, but its history.
“The church brought the community together,” said Michele Trujillo, 150-year committee member. “It’s the common thread.”
The oldest church in Colorado is the “spiritual home” to 460 families who find the confines more than suitable for their prayer and worship, which makes the celebration all the more important. It is not, however, a celebration for only Conejos residents. Anyone who wishes to celebrate this monumental event is welcome especially former residents of the Conejos area who once called the church home.
The storied history of the church began in 1858 when settlers arrived in what was then Northern New Mexico. According to the church’s website, the first pastor of the church was Fr. V.S. Montaño.
The first “jacal,” or wooden and mud church was built a few miles from the church’s current location. Soon after the construction of the first church, a second church was built under the direction of the church’s second pastor Fr. Jose Vigil. The second church, however, was built around the first church, eliminating the need for a new building, and so religious services would not be interrupted.
It was not until 1871 that Jesuit Fathers arrived in Conejos, establishing the Guadalupe parish, an area 120 miles long and over a dozen missions. The Jesuit rein lasted 49 years, when the Jesuit Fathers turned control over to the many missions of the former Colorado-New Mexico Mission.
Our Lady of Guadalupe was almost lost to the power of fire on Ash Wednesday, 1926. An electrical fire broke out and destroyed all but a few walls and the two towers. Luckily, the fire spared all of the record books.
The first thought after the fire was to rebuild the church in Antonito. But, in order to preserve the church’s standing as the oldest church in Colorado, the final decision was to rebuild the Conejos parish, where it would remain in its original site.
The church stands strong today. People have been attending religious services at Our Lady of Guadalupe for 150 years.
“We’re hoping to celebrate our anniversary and bring people that are from the community back home so that they can celebrate with us and strengthen our community,” Trujillo said.
The three-day celebration begins Fri., July 18 at 5 p.m. with the Solemn Opening of the Jubilee Feast Indulgence where participants will pass the commemorative oil painting that depicts Our Lady Guadalupe by Annette Troncoso, which will lead to the “Opening of the Commemorative Door.”
A procession will then follow from the Conejos churchyard to Our Lady of Guadalupe where Mass will be held at 6 p.m. After Mass, entertainment and refreshments will bring the evening to a close.
Saturday presents a full day of celebration, beginning with breakfast served by the Knights of Columbus from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. vendors and booth set-ups will be at the church grounds and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. the celebration will break into its entertainment phase. Mass will again be held at 5 p.m. at Our lady of Guadalupe church.
The ceremonies will come to a close on Sunday with an outdoor Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe church grounds presided by Bishop Arthur N. Tafoya. Along with Mass, a model of the future Santuario and Labyrinth designed by architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello will be unveiled. Mass will be held in the future site of the Labyrinth.
“The Labyrinth is going to be a holey place where people will go pray, kind of like the missions in San Luis.” Trujillo said. “We are trying to draw people into the community.”
After Mass, the Guadalupe community is sponsoring a barbecue where dignitaries will be introduced.
The entertainment for the three-day event will include Crushed Rock, The Antonito Guitar Orchestra, Michele Trujillo, Mike Trujillo and Andrea Guajardo, Salomon Lopez and Rose Villapando, and Los Guadalupanitos.
The celebration will be a fun, spiritual, and bonding experience for all those who attend. The church is steeped in history and has been the mother to all other parishes in the San Luis Valley. Aaron A. Abeyta, local award-winning poet and Associate Professor of English at Adams State College, said that the Conejos parish was the original Catholic parish in the San Luis Valley and all other churches, including those in San Luis, Alamosa, etc., were missions of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
People are encouraged to attend the celebration and share the faith that has been living in the Conejos area for 150 years now. Ceremonies begin Friday at 5 p.m. and last through Sunday’s Mass and barbeque.