For the last 25 years, the Catholic community of Santa María de la Paz has come together for worship, community service both locally and abroad, known as a place where people carried with them the message of the gospels in action as well as words.
This month, Santa María de la Paz has been celebrating the 25th anniversary of beginning to worship in an actual church, rather than a school gymnasium. Festivities began last Sunday with a pilgrimage from Piñon Elementary School, where founding parishioners once met weekly for Mass in the gym while they planned their new church. When the building was ready, people walked from their original worship space down Richards Avenue to their new church.
All this week there have been occasions to gather and learn about this history of this special place, whether reviewing how it was founded or discussing the development of its architecture and design. Founded in 1990 after St. John the Baptist Catholic Church grew to 4,000 families, Santa María grew to 1,000 families in the first three years.
From the first, the design of the building was a collective effort, with the founding pastor, the Rev. Monsignor Jerome Martinez y Alire, determined that just as with the early churches, the people would be an essential part of the process.
As he said in a 1993 interview, “The people designed the church, and they did an extraordinary job.”
Known for its beauty and a five-story bell tower, Santa María as a parish understood that prayer could take physical form, whether an intricately carved bulto or an altar screen painted in the traditional style of Spanish colonial santeros.
Throughout its interior, the art pieces of Santa María give comfort to a soul in prayer. Some of the greatest artists in Native and Spanish Colonial traditions — Allan Houser, Charlie Carrillo, Marie Romero Cash, Ramon José López, Arlene Cisneros Sena and many more, have their pieces in the church and chapel. MacArthur Fellow, blacksmith and artist Tom Joyce forged the baptismal font.
This dedication to creating a glorious space for the Lord continued under the guidance of all the three pastors who have guided Santa María over the years — founding pastor Martinez y Alire, the Rev. Adam Ortega y Ortiz and current pastor, the Rev. Daniel Balizan.
But parish founders and current parishioners always have understood that a church is about so much more than a building — it is a community, charged with worshiping together but also doing good for the people around. Santa María de la Paz operates a food pantry; volunteers at the local homeless shelters; has a longstanding relationship with a mission church in Honduras and contributes to its regional Catholic school, Santo Niño.
As a parish, members pray the rosary before Mass, walk to Santuario de Chimayó each year during Lent, recite the Divine Mercy Chaplet and work hard to deepen their understanding of God, both individually and collectively.
Before the anniversary celebrations conclude, parishioners will have vespers at 6:30 p.m. Friday in thanksgiving for 25 years, with a homily presented by newly ordained priest, the Rev. Nathan Lopez. On Saturday comes the parish picnic and in the evening, a family dance at the social center. Concluding the week Sunday is the Akathyst hymn at 1:30 p.m. and the 25th anniversary Mass at 2 p.m., with the final event Sunday an evening of music at 6:30 p.m. with Zander, outside the parish hall.
This silver anniversary has been a week of prayer, reflection, celebration — remembering the parish’s founding days but also looking ahead to more good years to come, with a congregation that lives its faith not just on Sundays but all week long.