St. John Church Gets New Life
Several dozen Catholic faithful, along with historic preservationists packed the St. John the Baptist in La Garita on July 28 to celebrate the most recent milestone of a new roof and ongoing efforts to restore the historic structure.
Father Pat Valdez, a San Luis Valley (SLV) native and former Pastor of Sangre De Cristo Parish in San Luis, Colorado celebrated Mass, followed by a community lunch. Afterwards attendees were treated to a presentation entitled. “Remembering Our Catholic Ancestors in the San Luis Valley,” by Kathy Archuleta, whose family’s foundation – the Archuleta Family Foundation – has been instrumental in helping the Pueblo Diocese, who own the facility, keep this part of the SLV’s history alive!
For readers unfamiliar with the center, it is a unique 10-acre site that offers a historical view of cultural traditions and a Catholic way of life brought from old Spain by the first Hispano settlers who traveled to the Spanish northern frontier from New Mexico.
As noted on the San Juan Catholic Spiritual Center’s website, it’s a place of panoramic beauty, in the northern portion of the San Luis Valley, protected by the rugged San Juan Mountain Range to the west and looks across the vast valley floor towards the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east.
As a visitor, you can trace the path of the Hispano settlers when you see St. John the Baptist Catholic Church; as you pause at the site of the ruins of the old convent, now a monument dedicated to San Juan Bautista; as you wander through the rows of graves in the Carnero Creek Cemetery you can see family inscriptions and old gravesite markers; and finally, as you look upon a recent addition to the San Juan Catholic Spiritual Center, a Rosary Walk dedicated to Saint John Paul II.
And if you like scenic natural beauty to accompany your spiritual quests, then the view from the “top of the hill” will not disappoint.
In 2007, a revitalization of the church and the surrounding property was inspired and guided by Father Joseph Vigil of the San Juan Catholic Community. Through his efforts, a renewed pride emerged for the treasure and beauty of the tradition and history of the church. As a result, the interior of the church has been restored, and the grounds now include walkways, a monument dedicated to St. John the Baptist, and a rosary walk dedicated to St. John Paul II.
Then according to their website, early this spring, the Pueblo Diocese accepted the Archuleta Family Foundation’s request to donate and manage replacement of the church roof. Not only did they give the approval to more forward but offered wonderful support in the efforts at the San Juan Catholic Spiritual Center. They were fortunate to receive great work from ZTEC Construction who traveled each day from La Jara, Colorado.
During the roof replacement, it was discovered that the steeple’s cross was very weather-beaten and needed to be replaced. A new cross was built by Ed Kulp with the help of his wife Kathy. It was Ed who envisioned the concept of the St. John Paul II Rosary Walk and also constructed the decade monuments. Ed and Kathy are closely involved with the Archuleta Family Foundation in maintaining and planning events for the Spiritual Center. When the cross was ready to be installed, Fr. Stephen Injoalu, from the San Juan Catholic Community in Monte Vista, blessed the cross.
Collectively, the St. John Church and surrounding features comprise the San Juan Catholic Spiritual Center, dedicated to the courageous Hispano people who settled in La Garita and to the Priests and Sisters that supported them in their Catholic faith. It is also dedicated to the Penitentes who helped keep the Catholic faith alive in the absence of priests during the early settlement.
So if there are any Saguache Today readers who are looking for a “place of peace, prayer and reflection in the San Luis Valley,” head toward La Garita and the San Juan Catholic Spiritual Center and take advantage their next program, the last one this summer on August 29!