Churchman Of The Desert


The old capital was beginning its greatest day of jubilee, for it was celebrating the elevation of the diocese of Santa Fe to the rank of a metropolitan see, and Juan Bautista Lamy was appointed by Pope Pius IX to be its first archbishop. Everyone took part in the jubilee—the civil government, the military forces, the public, and a great gathering of clergy, headed by Bishop Salpointe, who bestowed the pallium that had come from Rome, and Bishop Machebeuf, who sang the Pontifical High Mass in the courtyard of St. Michael’s College. A grand luncheon was held in the Archbishop’s garden, where the 8th Cavalry band played lively airs among the trees.

At a suitable moment William G. Ritch, the acting territorial governor of New Mexico, rose to read a speech which he later sent to the New York Herald. Sketching the history of New Mexico, he was happy to see present some lineal descendants of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, who in 1535 was the first European to set foot on New Mexican land. The Governor then described conditions as the Archbishop had found them and catalogued the improvements which had come about under his touch.

“The reforms, the general elevation of the moral tone and the general progress that has been effected since the American occupation,” he said, “are very largely, and in some cases entirely, due to the judicious ecclesiastical administration and to the wholesome precepts and examples which have shone forth upon this people from the living presence of the Archbishop of Santa Fe … whom we all know, and know only to admire and respect.”

When evening fell there were speeches in the plaza in Spanish and English, and more band music by the cavalry musicians, and bonfires, fireworks, and a balloon ascension, and illuminated transparencies of Pius IX, the Archbishop and the two visiting bishops. Late at night all ended with a torchlight procession.

A day later, when the Archbishop’s garden was cleared of the clutter of celebration, it was once again a retreat where every tree and raked bed and flowing water course showed something of the abiding joy of its master in the materials of natural life as they were brought to growth and usefulness.

There as he grew older the Archbishop spent happy and busy hours. His garden was walled with adobe. Extending for about five acres around his plain small town house with its private chapel south of the cathedral, the garden was laid out with a playing fountain, a sundial on a pedestal of Santa Fe marble, and aisles of trees, plants, and arbors. Formal walks led from one end of the garden to the other, with little bypaths turning aside among the flower beds and leading to cunningly placed benches in the shade. To the west through the branches of his trees he could make out the long blue sweep of the Jemez Mountains. At the south end of the garden on its highest ground was a pond covering half an acre, fed by a spring. Trout lived in the pond and came to take crumbs which the Archbishop threw to them. Now and then he would send a mess of trout over to St. Michael’s College to be cooked for the boys.

From the first the Archbishop had been interested in the approach of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad into New Mexico. After traveling thousands and thousands of miles on the back of a horse throughout a quarter of a century of pastoral visits—he called it “purgatorial work”—he knew better than most men what the railroad would do for the development of archdiocese and territory. But as the tracks crept forward from the east a mile or two a day in 1879, reaching toward the Rio Grande, it became known that they would bypass Santa Fe.

The leaders of Santa Fe were concerned, foremost among them the Archbishop. If the railroad would not route its main line through the capital, then a seventeen-mile branch line must be built to connect the two; and if the railroad would not budget funds to build such a branch line, then let the citizens of Santa Fe raise the money to pay for the job. He headed a petition calling for a bond issue election to authorize the expenditure of $150,000 for the branch line. The election was held, the issue was carried by a three to one vote, and on February 9, 1880, Territorial Governor Lew Wallace drove the last spike in the new spur. The junction point on the main line was named Lamy.

The city at large knew him as a friend. When he passed through the plaza he stopped to speak to all who greeted him. If citizens were locked in stubborn dispute, he was sometimes called upon to compose their quarrels. A fellow citizen once said of him in a speech that he was the greatest peacemaker he knew.

He had a fine sense of the past. Once when there was a movement by progressive citizens to tear down the old Palace of the Governors on the plaza in order to build on its site a new territorial capital, he opposed the destruction of that repository of so much history, and others joined with him to save it.