Photo: Eddie Moore/Albuqurque Journal
Seventy-five-year-old Dave Burgett shows up four or five times a week in Questa to shovel sand through a screen, winnowing out the large chunks so it can be used to make adobe bricks for the massive, weathered old church behind him.
He is not alone.
Dozens of parishioners and others are using their smarts and their brawn to make a once-collapsing shell of a church if not new, at least functional, to once again be the glue that has held the community together through countless generations.
Asked why is he doing it, Burgett said, “Well, gosh, why wouldn’t you? It’s a very worthwhile thing … we’ve got community support and we’ve got a great priest.”
Its weathered walls survived 170-some years of harsh Questa winters and blue-sky New Mexico summers as it stood in the shadow of Flag Mountain – until one day in October 2008.
With winter around the corner, time proved too much for San Antonio de Padua Catholic Church, aka St. Anthony’s Church. The west wall collapsed and the building was declared unsafe. Archbishop Michael Sheehan of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe said the church should be torn down and a new one built.But residents would have none of it. Led by former mayor Esther Garcia; her brother, San Antonio Historic Preservation Group president Bobby Ortega; guitar-playing District Attorney Donald Gallegos; and others, they held peaceful disobedience rallies, singing songs in Spanish, and vowing to fight the move to demolish the physical and spiritual heart of the town.
An agreement was brokered between the Village of Questa and the archdiocese to give the community six years to restore the church.
Mark Sideris, a licensed contractor, heads up the restoration work on St. Anthony’s Church and is the only paid worker. He is shown here inside the walls of the sanctuary. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
That restoration is now going full speed ahead, with volunteers de-barking logs for vigas, or roof beams, sifting sand for new abobe bricks and holding fundraisers to hopefully see the church re-open for services again in December 2015.
The average turn-out for volunteers during the week is from six to 12, with 20 to 35 showing up on Saturdays, plus a half-dozen others who prepare a communal meal, said licensed contractor Mark Sideris, who heads up the job.
“Saturday is the big day,” said Burgett. “We have the ladies that give us a heckuva good lunch every Saturday.”