Nearly 100 years before the Pilgrims landed on the eastern coast of the continent to establish the colonies which were to become the United States, the Spanish explorer and Franciscan friar, Marcos de Niza, arrived in the area of Zuni to look for the fabled cities of gold said to exist there. After a journey of more than two months from Mexico, this adventuresome padre reached a point about forty miles south of present-day Gallup, where, on May 23, 1539, he built a large mound of stone with a cross on top, and dedicated the region to Saint Francis. Fray de Niza was overly exuberant in his description of the area he had found and soon sent word back to Mexico that great riches were to be found. In response to this very glowing report, many Spaniards wanted to lead expeditions to explore the northern country to find the Seven Cities of Gold.
The first group was led by Francisco Vasquez Coronado who traveled with 300 Spaniards and 800 Indian allies. They arrived at Cibola in July 1540, after traveling for four months from Mexico City. Coronado's group included Franciscan friars who were instrumental in convincing the native population that the Spaniards were there to bring peace and friendship. Later in the century, the friars accompanied the colonization groups arriving in the territory to begin their evangelization work.
Fray Augustin Rodriquez, then at San Bartolome in Mexico, had heard of people living in the north and set about making arrangements to travel to the area. His small group, with two other friars, started off from Mexico in June 1581, visiting all of the pueblos in the Rio Grande Valley as well as Zuni and Acoma. They systematically examined each pueblo giving an excellent and accurate description of each one. Instead of returning to Mexico, the two friars remained at Puaray Pueblo where they were later martyred.
The Franciscans back in Mexico were concerned about the safety of the friars who were left alone in New Mexico and quickly organized an expedition led by Antonio de Espejo. This group, accompanied by Fray Bernardino Beltran, left Mexico on Nov. 19, 1582, and followed the same route of the previous expedition. After reaching Acoma, they traveled to Cibola, where they found three Christian Indians who had gone there with Coronado. This expedition was well described by the chronicler of the party, Diego Perez de Luxan. Espejo learned about the Hopi country from the natives of Zuni. With a large number of Zuni Indians and three Mexican Indians, he went there and found five pueblos. The Hopis greeted the Spaniards in a friendly and hospitable manner. At Awatobi pueblo, they were given food for their return trip to Zuni. Espejo had gained the good will of the Hopi people. Espejo then visited the village of Acoma and was received kindly there as well.
In 1598, the first colonization expedition was organized under the leadership of Juan de Onate, who was named governor of the new territory. As he traveled through New Mexico, he received the allegiance of the Pueblo Indians. Franciscan friars were assigned to the pueblos along the route, in order to convert the natives to Christianity. Although he had verbal assurance of obedience to the crown, the chief at Acoma planned to trap and kill Onate, but was unsuccessful. The chief was later successful in attacking the nephew of Onate and his company of soldiers, killing all but four. This occurred in 1599. In retaliation, bloody assaults were made by the Spaniards in which hundreds of men were killed. Others were sentenced to having the right foot cut off, followed by twenty years of forced labor. The women and children were also sentenced to a similar period of hard labor.
Onate's expedition then traveled to the first Zuni pueblo, arriving on All Saints Day, 1598. There the natives gave them food. In all the Zuni villages he found crosses being venerated by the Zunis. He then traveled to the Hopi villages, again receiving formal submission and being entertained well by the Hopi. The administration of the Zuni and other pueblos was assigned to Fray Andres Corchado, but no missions were established there at this time. While the colonies were being established, the Franciscan friars organized the Custodia de la Conversion de San Pablo del Nuevo Mexico. The exact date of this is not known, but is thought to be about 1616-1617. It was part of the Provincia de Santo Evangelio de Mexico, with its headquarters at the El Gran Convento in Mexico City. There is no evidence that the Custodia was ever raised to a provincial status. Fray Estevan de Perea was elected the first custodian and served until 1621. He was elected to another term of office at a later time. He and the subsequent ecclesiastical leaders had their headquarters at Santa Fe and were given the rank of Titular Prelate.
Following Fray Estevan's first term, Fray Alonzo de Benavides was appointed custodian. He visited all the pueblos and found that the natives were responding to the evangelization efforts of the friars. He asked for more missionaries to carry on this work. In response to his report of 1626, the King of Spain ordered that 30 more friars be sent to accomplish the work. For many years, all of the Franciscan mission activities in the area had the material support of the King of Spain. It seems he and his advisors regarded this new land valuable only because of the mission work to be done. One visitor to Hopi, Fray Estevan de Perea, wrote of the similarity of the land to Spain. He wrote a glowing report of their well-built homes, their industriousness, and their values.
In 1629, priest arrived at Acoma and Hopi with greatly different welcomes. Based on a report of previous visitors, Fathers Francisco Porras and Andres Gutierrez, along with Brother Cristobal de la Concepcion, expected a warm welcome. They did not know that someone from another pueblo had arrived before them, spreading tales about the friars. The people were told that the friars were arriving to do them harm by burning their homes, stealing their property and killing their children. They were warned not to allow the padres to "sprinkle water" on their heads because it would mean death. Thus, the group found a very cold welcome.
They posted guards about their camp, and on the second night after their arrival, they were alerted in time to defend themselves against an armed attack. The Hopis attacked again the next night. The Spaniards ended the attacks by threatening to call an entire army to their defense. The people remained very wary as the friars tried to preach the new faith throughout the village. The people of Awatobi and some of the other villages came to listen. Even though the friars gave them gifts of rattles, beads, hatchets, knives and other objects, their attitude was not softened. They continued to recall the warning they had received from another village.
Finally, an incident occurred that changed their attitude. Father Alonzo de Benavides wrote a lengthy report of the incident in 1636, but the incident has never been authenticated by the Church. According to Benavides, Father Francisco had brought with them a cross that had belonged to a Spanish nun of the time, Madre Luisa de Carrion. This cross had a history of apparitions and miraculous conversions. He displayed the cross to the people of Awatobi and told them the story of the Passion and death of our Lord. He failed to gain a favorable response. Meanwhile, the leaders continued encouraging the people to put the priests to death. The presence of the military that accompanied the priests probably prevented the people from carrying out their execution.
One day, a group of Hopi people came to Father Francisco, carrying with them a young boy who had been born blind. They offered the priest a choice, either cure the boy's blindness or be slain. If he could carry out their request, they would consent to conversion. Fray Francisco quickly dropped to his knees and began to pray earnestly while lifting the cross toward heaven. It is reported that he arose, continued praying and placed the cross over the boy's eyes. Benavides reported that the boy cried out aloud, exclaiming that he could see. The people carried the boy through the streets, telling what had occurred and urging conversion. Following this event, many people were impressed by the power of the priest and his religion and asked for conversion. They regarded the priest and brothers with love and respect. Within four years, missions and visitas were established. The village leaders did not share this respect and enthusiasm for the friars and the new faith they wanted to bring to the village. Their hatred and resentment only deepened. They were angry at losing their position of power and respect from the people and were waiting for an opportunity to gain revenge. They made careful plans and on June 28, 1633, an opportunity presented itself.
Father Francisco was at Walpi for the day, and poison was put into his food. He quickly realized that he had eaten poisoned food and hurried to the mission at Shungopavi where he received last rites from his colleague. He died after reciting the psalm, "Into they hands, Oh Lord, I commend by spirit."
At Acoma, things proceeded quite differently. What started as hostility changed into love and respect. Although Fray Juan Ramirez was not the first priest assigned to Acoma, he was the first to finally go there. The deep hostility of the people because of the reprisals on them following the attack on Onate's nephew, Juan Zaldiver, had prevented the previously assigned priests from carrying out their assignments from the Church. Father Juan had just arrived from old Mexico to serve in the new Custodia. He set out alone and on foot for Acoma, carrying only food, a breviary and a cross. In the face of the hostility, he began his journey up the only trail that led to the top of the 357-foot cliff. The people watched his ascent, throwing rocks at him and a few men shot arrows at him, but he continued unharmed. At this point, a little girl plunged over the edge of the cliff, falling 60 feet and landing on a pointed rock. It is not certain what caused the fall, but the people were stunned. He rushed over to where the little girl had fallen and knelt in prayer. Then he picked her up and carried her to the top of the rock. He gave the child to her parents who discovered that she had not even been bruised. None of this occurrence has been proven. The Acoma people allowed him to enter the village, but still retained their hostility. Soon after, they submitted to him as if he was one with supernatural powers. With this change in attitude, he sent about swiftly to carry out the work of V conversion and began plans for a Church to be constructed in the village. The hard work of construction was carried out by the people who seemed to have developed great love and reverence for this gentle friar. The Church was dedicated to San Estevan Rey, whose feast is September 2nd, the day Father Juan was thought to have arrived at the pueblo. It is not known for certain that the present Church at Acoma is the one built by Father Juan and his flock. At the time of the Reconquest, Diego de Vargas visited the pueblo and noted at the time that the only evidence of damage to the structure was broken windows. Other records describe some construction after the Reconquest, but could have been nothing more than ordinary repairs.
In the same year, 1629, Fray Rogue de Figueredo was assigned to the Zuni area where he immediately founded a mission at Hawikuh and called it La Purisima Concepcion. He also founded a mission at Halona and dedicated it to Nuestra Senora de la V Candelaria. Fray Rogue continued his work among the Zuni for three years, converting many natives. His successful work came to an abrupt end when two of his fellow priests were attacked and killed by the natives who had become resentful because of cultural repression and harsh treatment by the conquerors. Fray Francisco Letrado became the first missionary to die for the faith in what is now the Diocese of Gallup.
Newly assigned at Zuni, he went out on Quinquagesima Sunday, February 22, 1632, to urge the people to attend Mass. The first group he met was angered by his reprimand and he quickly became aware that they intended to kill him. He immediately dropped to his knees, a small cross in his hands, and pleaded with them to go to Church. They responded by shooting arrows at him. Shortly before the death of Fray Francisco, Fray Martin de Arvide had stopped by to visit him at Hawikuh, where he prophesied the martyrdom of Fray Francisco, as well as his own. Shortly after, on a visit with Fray Rogue at another Zuni village, he again prophetically stated, "that in a few days he would win the palm of martyrdom." After he left Zuni to continue his journey to his new assignment, he and his small group stopped to camp for the night. There they were attacked and killed. So, only five days after the death of Fray Francisco, Fray Martin met his fate on V February 27, 1632.
Periodic attack from Apache bands in search of food. In 1671, Fray Pedro de Avila y Ayala was assigned to Hawikuh, then considered a dangerous mission because of its vulnerability to Apache attacks. On October 7, 1672, a group of Apaches attacked Hawikuh where Fray Pedro was alone without the protection of his soldiers. He rushed to the Church where he embraced the cross and a statue of the Blessed Mother . The natives responded by dragging him out of the Church. They put him at the foot of the cross in the churchyard and crushed his head with a bell. Following this, they bummed the Church, destroying the sacred ornaments and statues. The next day a fellow priest went to Hawikuh in search of his body. He found it where it had been left, surrounded by more than 200 arrows and stones. He brought the body to Halona and buried it in the Church. The mission at Hawikuh was then abandoned.
In the years leading up to the revolt, the natives were subjected to harsher and harsher treatment at the hands of the Spanish colonists, who continued to put heavy demands on them and tried to suppress all native practices of religion. Frequently, the missionaries were on the side of the Indians, trying to get better treatment for them. Laws affecting the proper treatment of the natives were difficult to enforce because of the great distance from central Mexico. The use of Indian slave labor was common because the Spaniards rationalized that they could Christianize the people more quickly and easily that way. While enforcing the conversion of the people, the Spanish colonists set very poor behavioral examples and the word "Christian" became synonymous with someone who came to kill and plunder them, seize the women and sell them into slavery.
The resentment of the people continued to build up and by 1680, the tolerance of the Indians had ended. A revolt was scheduled for August 13, but because the plot was revealed to two friars, the Indians attacked immediately on August l0th. It was their plan to kill all the Spaniards and completely erase Christianity from their world. The pueblos in the area of the Diocese of Gallup actively participated, carrying out the assignment. Some of the missionaries were killed in the uprising, including four at Hopi. One of them, Fray Jose Trujillo, had previously been assigned in the Philippines. There he had been told that he would realize his desire for martyrdom in the mission field of New Mexico. He arrived at Hopi in 1674. Following his arrival, at some time, he wrote to a friar in Mexico that he had been told that a revolt would occur soon in the area. A young girl there, who supposedly had been cured by the Blessed Virgin, reported that the Lady had told her to warn everyone of the impending attack. Fray Jose was killed during the attack by the local natives at the Church of San Bartolome de Shungopavi.
The other three friars who became victims of the Hopi part in the Pueblo Rebellion were Fray Jose de Espeleta, who had been a former custodian and a missionary to the pueblo for more than 30 years, and Fray Augustin de Santa Maria. They were both killed at the mission of San Francisco de Oraibi. Fray Jose de Figueroa, was killed at the mission of San Bemardo de Awatobi. t the same time, Fray Juan de Val was killed in Zuni while he was standing before the altar at the mission of La Purisima Concepcion at Hawikuh. At Acoma, according to their legend, they seized the only friar there at the time, Fray Lucas Maldonado, and threw him off the rock.
After 12 years, Don Diego de Vargas was appointed to regain New Mexico. On his journey north from El Paso, he carried with him the statue of our Lady of the Conquest. In 1625, when Fray Benavides went to New Mexico to visit the priests in his custodia, he brought with him a carved wooden statue of the Virgin Mary in the form of Our Lady of the Assumption. Upon the arrival in Santa Fe he ordered that a chapel be built to house the statue. It remained in Santa Fe under the titles of Our Lady of the Conception and Our Lady of the Rosary until the Pueblo Revolt. During its stay in Santa Fe, the people remembered that the Statue had been brought at the time of the conquest and she became known as La Conquistadora. When the Spaniards fled at the time of the revolt, the statue was taken to El Paso where it remained in a small Church unti11692, when Don Diego de Vargas carried the statue back to Santa Fe with him at the time of the Reconquest. It is still there, housed in a side chapel of adobe in the large stone Cathedral of Saint Francis.
After re-entering Santa Fe, De Vargas began visiting all the pueblos to regain their allegiance to the Spanish crown. He obtained the submission of Acoma on November 3rd and that of the Zuni on November 11th. At Zuni, he was astonished to find that many of the sacred vessels and much of the property of the missionaries had not been destroyed. Zuni was the only pueblo to preserve any remnants of Christianity. The submission of the Hopi, except for Oraibi, was likewise obtained, all without bloodshed, and the Christianizing of the natives began anew. During the subsequent years of Spanish rule, less time and attention were paid to the outlying pueblos toward the west -Acoma, Zuni and Hopi, and in time efforts to Christianize the Hopi were almost completely abandoned. Following the reconquest, a number of refugees from various villages began migrating to a point on the Rio San Jose where some people, probably from Acoma, were already living. All were of the same linguistic stock. The local residents gave land to the newcomers and a new pueblo was formed. In 1699, the Governor of New Mexico, Don Pedro Rodriguez de Cubero, successor to de Vargas, stopped by Laguna and received from the new group an oath of allegiance to the Spanish crown. He then formally established the pueblo under the title, San Jose de la Laguna, for the large lake, which was there at the time.
Shortly after, the leaders requested that they be provided with a priest and Fray Antonio de Miranda was assigned to the new village. He immediately encouraged the people to begin work on a Church. This was not completed until 1705. Unlike the adobe churches built in the other pueblos, this church was built of stone and mortar. The church and the adjacent convent were placed in a prominent place in the village at the top of a small hill. Fray Antonio remained there until 1728, continuing his work of bringing the faith to the people. During the next century of the wok of the Franciscan friars, the population grew with much blending of the races and cultures. Colonists and Pueblo Indians alike were subject to frequent raids from Apache and Navajo groups. Slavery was common among all groups. The Navajo raids were usually to supplement meager food supplies while the Apache raided first and then looked for food supplies by hunting and farming. Despite the reputation of the two groups, Church records for the 18th and 19th centuries show that the priests were able to convert small numbers of Apaches and Navajos.
A greater threat to the nearly 300 years of work of the dedicated friars occurred when Mexico was able to win its independence from Spain in 1821 and form their own government. Anti-clericalism was one of the direct results of their revolution and the missions were secularized and the Franciscans were expelled. During the years of Mexican rule, many of the mission churches fell into disrepair and ruin. Many of the sacred vessels, statues and vestments were taken by loyal families and hidden for protection. In May 1848, the Mexican era ended, and New Mexico became part of the United States. During the Mexican era, Santa Fe and the surrounding area were part of the Diocese of Durango, Mexico and the Bishop had visited only three times during this period. There were only nine active priests, most of the Churches were in ruins, there : were no schools, and the parishioners were scattered in small villages. The Bishops of the United States sent a message to the Pope requesting that the Territory of New Mexico have a Vicar Apostolic and a See established in the city of Santa Fe.
With the concurrence of the Pope, the Bishops set about deciding who should be named to the newly designed bishopric. Father John Baptist Lamy of Covington, Kentucky was overwhelmingly recommended and duly named the new bishop by Pope Pius IX. He was consecrated at Saint Peter Cathedral in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 24, 1850, and immediately set out for the long journey to his new diocese. He arrived in Santa Fe on August 9, 1851, to be greeted by a crowd of many thousands, the territorial governor, James Calhoun, and ranks of Indian dancers in native costume who performed in groups along the way. They all accompanied him to the Church of St. Francis, which was to be his cathedral, where he immediately prepared for, and said Mass. He soon traveled to Durango, Mexico, to present his documents of appointment to the bishop there and upon his return set about to become acquainted with his diocese of about 236 thousand square miles -larger than his native France -and to make plans for building schools, convents and to recruit priests in order to eliminate the native ignorance as he found it and to improve the moral character of the people.
From the time of his arrival, he deplored the adobe Church with a dirt floor that was his cathedral and planned for a new one of proper construction to take its place. After about 18 years of trials and problems in the new land, he was finally able to lay a cornerstone in 1869 to build a stone Church completely surrounding the adobe Church. Construction proceeded slowly due to the lack of money and the pressing priority of a school, convents, hospital and orphanage that were also being built at the time. The building was not completed before his death. In 1875, the Diocese of Santa Fe became an Archdiocese and Bishop Lamy was named Archbishop. He continued in this role until he resigned in 1885. He retired to his private retreat nearby where he lived until his death in 1888.
With the completion of the railroad line in the early 1880's, towns were springing up along its route far from the urban areas of Albuquerque and Santa Fe. One of these was Gallup whose rich coal fields directly adjacent to the line provided fuel for the trains. A large number of persons from the Catholic Mediterranean countries had arrived to work in the mines. The only religious resource available to them was the priest at Seboyeta, (then Cebolleta). Father Juan B. Brun, who served the entire area from the Rio Puerco of the East to the Grand Canyon. He arrived in New Mexico in 1875 to begin his work and in 1879, changed his residence to San Rafael. His first visit to Gallup was in 1884 when Gallup had only about 12 families. In 1893, Father George Julliard arrived to serve as pastor and remained unti11910. Father Julliard built the first Catholic Church in Gallup in 1899. This building collapsed in 1916 and the following year a combination school and church was constructed. This church became Sacred Heart Cathedral when the new diocese was created 22 years later.
In the late 1890's Mother Katharine Drexel, now Blessed, founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, became interested in building a school on the Navajo Reservation to provide a Catholic education for the children. She purchased land on the edge of the Reservation and began plans for a school. She was able to persuade the Franciscan Fathers at Cincinnati to send down missionaries and Saint Michael Mission was begun.
In 1909, the Franciscan Province of Saint John the Baptist took charge of the Gallup parish. With the two moves, the re-entry of the Franciscans into the diocese was accomplished. From Saint Michaels and Gallup, the Franciscans spread out to other locations, including some of the same missions that their Order had founded and maintained for more than two centuries. As work began with the Navajos, it was apparent that something needed to be done about the language barrier. The friars set about learning the Navajo language and shortly after a small dictionary of Navajo words had been compiled. This was the work of Father Juvenal Schnorbus, O.F .M., and Father Anselm , Weber, O.F.M. A little later, Father Berard Haile, O.F.M., and Father Leopold "-" Ostennann, O.F .M., were assigned to the new mission. They too, took a great interest in learning and recording the language and Father Berard recorded Navajo ceremonies as well. The early work of the Franciscans with the Navajos centered on teaching both at Saint Michaels and the government school at Fort Defiance. Missionary work was slow because of so few friars and the great distances that had to be traveled. Slowly they did spread out, and by 1921, had established four missions -at Fort Defiance, Chinle, Lukachukai and Tohatchi. The priests at Gallup took over the area previously served by San Rafael and gradually churches were constructed and parishes fonned. This then, was the widespread area viewed by the man who was to become Pope Pius XII, and which was destined to become a Diocese in 1939.
In 1936, Pope Pius XII, then Cardinal Pacelli, visited the Southwest portion of the United States by air. He saw the vast expanse to be served from Santa Fe, and wondered how the scattered Indians in the area would be adequately served. Soon after, when he was named Pope, this matter was pursued and the Archbishop of Santa Fe, Rudolph A. Gerken, was advised to give thought to the division of the area. Night after night when the chancery staff had left, and behind locked doors, Archbishop Gerken would get out a map and try to figure out how a Diocese could be formed that would carry out the Holy See's wishes that the Indians receive better spiritual care.
A similar process was going on in the Diocese of Tucson. The thought was that the northern part of Arizona and the Northwestern part of New Mexico, which contained more Indians than any other similar area in the United States, needed a Bishop who could coordinate the missions and give an episcopal presence to the Indians. At least, they would then have their own advocate whose attention would not be centered in one of the large cities. The newly formed diocese contained 90,000 square miles and held a population of 50,000 Indians. There were 30,000 Catholics in the total area, including 23,000 " Spanish-Americans, 6,000 Anglos and 1,000 Indians. There were 32 priests, 16 of , them Franciscan, serving 17 parishes and 56 mission churches. There were three parochial schools, two high schools, an academy and two hospitals. The territory covered all of San Juan, McKinley and Catron counties and the parts of Rio Arriba, Sandoval, Bernalillo and Valencia counties in New Mexico west of the sixth meridian, and all of Mohave, Coconino, Yavapai, Navajo and Apache counties in Arizona. These areas were previously in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and the Diocese of Tucson. The details of the formal erection of the diocese are contained in a Papal Decree issued by Pope Pius XII on December 16, 1939. It named Gallup as the See City and the Church of the Sacred Heart as the Cathedral. It ordered that the Cathedral Church be under the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, and the Bishop of Gallup subject to the Metropolitan rights of the Archbishop of Santa Fe.
The Archbishop of Santa Fe and the Bishop of Tucson continued to govern their respective areas which were given up to the new diocese until a bishop could be named and installed. At this time, they then turned over all documents pertinent to the new Diocese. On July 20, 1940, the Papal Delegate issued the decree naming Father Bernard T . Espelage, O.F.M., as Bishop of Gallup and setting forth the rules for his ordination. On October 30, of the same year he presented his documents of appointment to the administrators of the Diocese of Gallup, the Archbishop of Santa Fe and the Bishop of Tucson, thereby formally taking possession of the Diocese.
In February 1967, while attending a meeting of area bishops in Santa Fe, Bishop Espelage learned that the separation or possible dissolution of the Diocese of Gallup was to occur. It was agreed that the non-Indian population of Arizona should be returned to Arizona by creating a Diocese of Phoenix. It was known at the time of this meeting that Bishop Espelage would be resigning soon because of his age. After giving the matter much thought, Bishop Espelage wrote to the Apostolic Delegate expressing the opinion that the Diocese of Gallup should continue to exist in order not to cancel out the work done since 1939, and that the new boundaries include present areas in New Mexico as well as the Navajo and Hopi reservations. He wrote that the Diocese was solvent, and gave statistics of its spiritual growth. At that time, the diocese now had 79,260 Catholics, 53 parishes, and 108 priests, including 71 religious.
Throughout the two-year period of planning, he was frequently upset by persistent rumors occurring in the area newspapers. Priests in the diocese were also confused by the various rumors. He again wrote to the Apostolic Delegate asking for a speedy resolution of the matter and submitted his own description of how the diocese should be partitioned. This was the plan that was finally accepted and implemented in 1969. The current Diocese of Gallup covers an area of 55,468 square miles.Back to Top