Churchman Of The Desert


As there was a time to take up work, so was there a time to lay it down. On February 19, 1885, Bishop Salpointe came to Santa Fe from Arizona as coadjutor to the Archbishop with right of succession. On July 18, the bishop coadjutor took over the affairs of the archdiocese. The act could mean only one thing. It was explained in a letter which Archbishop Lamy sat down to write at Santa Fe on August 26. On Sunday, September 1, 1885, in every parish the priest unfolded the pastoral letter and read aloud the expected but still affecting news. The first, the great, Archbishop of Santa Fe had retired.

But if now he was free to take his ease at the Villa Pintoresca, his little rural lodge at Tesuque, four miles from Santa Fe, it was not long until he was off again on his Father’s business. In May, 1886, he blessed the nearly completed cathedral and then set out for Mexico to raise more funds for its last additions. He was 72. The journey took him across 10,000 miles, and once beyond El Paso, he traveled almost entirely by mule or horse. On a certain day he rode over thirty miles in high mountains on difficult trails, wearing a shawl against the chill of the thin air. On that day he confirmed over 1,000 people, and during the whole journey 35,000.

During the decades after the Mexican War, civilization came to the old Latin kingdom of the Southwest. It was the product principally of two agents—one, the government of the United States in all its formal expressions of law and administration; the other, Archbishop Lamy and the energetic example of his dutiful faith. Neither could have succeeded so well without the other. Both kept pace with the increase in population and consequent social need.

Both met and survived various threats of violence—the furies of the last Indian wars, the Civil War with its Confederate invasion of New Mexico happily defeated in a single campaign, the murderous extravagances of outlaws who succeeded too long in holding cheaply human life and safety. Together the separate but harmonious governments of Church and State worked to bring the vast southwestern frontier into the frame of peace and order.

On October 4, 1887, Juan Bautista Lamy appeared in Santa Fe to keep the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi. There was a procession that evening. Little stacks of pinon wood burned along the streets, throwing firelight like banners across adobe buildings. The marchers carried lighted candles through the sharp autumn air. In the procession walked the retired archbishop, and it was a wonder to see him again—so thin and white, so frail and faithful—passing through his streets to the cathedral for vespers at the end of the feast. He was back again on December 12 to dedicate the chapel of Loretto Convent, now at last completed. The cathedral was not finished—but it was in continuous use, and the choir of Saint Michael’s College sang the midnight Mass there at Christmas.

A week or so later in January, 1888, a message came from the Villa Pintoresca. The old archbishop had been taken ill in the country and asked to be brought into town, where his cold—he said he had a heavy cold—might be treated properly. A carriage was sent at once. He was brought to his old, high, square room in the Archbishop’s house where the white plaster walls were finished at the ceiling with plaster cherubim. It was plain that he suffered from pneumonia. At first he seemed to recover, but relapses followed and early in the morning of February 13 all the bells of Santa Fe began to toll, and soon everyone in the old mountain capital knew for whom. He died mildly after having received the last sacraments from his successor, Archbishop Salpointe. He was 74 years old. He had been a priest for 50 years, a bishop for 38.

Robed in pontifical vestments, his body was laid first in the Loretto Chapel. From there it was taken in procession around the plaza to the cathedral, which it was never to leave again. For 24 hours it lay in mitered state before the high altar where 6,000 people came to pass by it in candlelight. One who kept vigil was Joseph Machebeuf. On February 16 was sung the pontifical Requiem Mass. It was the last occasion to draw the two prelates together, one in life, the other in death.

When it was time for a sermon, Joseph Machebeuf came forward to give it. As fast as memories ran through his mind, tears ran down his deeply marked face, and he found it difficult to speak. He remembered what they had passed through together, the two seminarians, the two missioners, the two vicars, and what together they had transformed in the immense land where they had spent themselves for the lives, mortal and immortal, of others.

Presently, the tremendous liturgy of the dead was resumed which by its impersonality brought a sense of triumph over death; and the body of the Archbishop was laid into a crypt before the high altar of the church which the generations have made into the monument over his grave.

A year later Bishop Machebeuf died in Denver.