Techies Help Preserve Historic San Miguel

SOCORRO, N.M. March 29, 2012 – A cadre of about 50 Tech students made quick work of the semi-annual “mud mission” at San Miguel Catholic Church on Saturday.

Tech students get a quick primer on how to apply 'mud' to exterior adobe walls prior to Saturday's work day at San Miguel Catholic Church.

Victoria Ramirez applies mud to the church wall. Ramirez, whose grandparents live in Socorro, has been to the church for many years. She organized the event and hopes it continues for years to come.

The students, a few parishioners and contractors applied adobe-like mud to the walls of the historic, yet aging church – a process that prevents moisture from seeping into the inner adobe walls.

The project is the brainchild of Victoria Ramirez, a junior in chemical engineering and the president of the Society of Women Engineers.

“I had been hearing in church that they need people to learn how to re-mud the walls,” Ramirez said. “There’s no foundation, so the rainwater gets into the bottom of the walls and those walls require maintenance a couple times a year.”

Ramirez first approached the Newman Center, the Catholic student group at Tech. Leaders Will Reiser and Travis Cannady jumped on board. They then enlisted more than 10 other campus groups to join the work day. The “Mud Mission” was scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., but when 50 college students show up to work, the work gets done quickly.

Along with a handful of parishioners, the work group finished by 11:30 a.m.

When the students showed up at 10 a.m., contractors and experienced “mudders” had already mixed the adobe-like mixture and set out tables with piles of mud. The experienced workers gave a short lesson on how to apply the mud and set the students on their task of applying a layer of mud to the bottom 6 feet of three walls.

“They explained it to us and we did the whole wall,” Ramirez said. “The workers came behind us and smoothed it over. They were impressed with how quickly we picked it up and how quickly we got things done.”

The church hosts a re-mudding project about twice each year. Ramirez said she hopes to organize students to participate in the future.

“The guys said they’d do it again,” she said. “Maybe we can do the inside next time.”

Ramirez grew up in Albuquerque, but her family has roots in Socorro. Her parents, Rick and Sheila are both from Socorro and were married in the church. Also, her grandparents Manny and Theresa Rios still live here.

“I have a connection to the church,” she said. “I went to mass there a lot when I was little. I like the place and I’m glad we can help restore it.”

According to the church website, the Socorro Parish was founded by Spanish priests in 1598 and the sanctuary – which still stands – was constructed between 1615 and 1528.

Volunteers pose in front of the 400-year-old church after completing their 'mud mission' on Saturday.

Led by Don Juan de Onate, the explorers continued farther north along the Rio Grande, but two priests remained to do missionary work among the Piro Indians that live in the area. Father Alfonso Benavidez was so successful in this work that he became known as: “The Apostle of Socorro.” It was he who named the village “Nuestra Senora de Perpetuo Socorro.” meaning “Our Lady of Perpetual Help.” In later years the name was shortened to Socorro.

The mission continued successfully until 1680, when the Spaniards departed amidst the Indian rebellion. A few years later, settlers of Mexican and Spanish descent returned to Socorro to find the church dilapidated, but with the walls and vigas still in place. The new settlers rebuilt the church. The name San Miguel was adopted around 1800. The main sanctuary seats about 250 people. A wing was added in 1853 that seats about another 150.

The church has four sub-floors, under which lie the bodies of some of the prominent residents of the past. Under the sanctuary lies the bodies of four priests who died while serving the faithful of this historic church. In the northeast corner of the church is the burial place of General Manuel Armijo, the last governor of New Mexico under the Mexican Regime.

The 400-year-old building is currently undergoing a massive renovation that has lasted several years and should be completed over the next year, Ramirez said.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech