“Ultimately, the purest form of art, whether it is manifest in painting, photography, sculpture, architecture, or dance – or all of these things, at different times of an artist’s life – resides in the life and soul of the artist. Art is seldom found “in” (or confined to) the work that an artist produces, but can readily be observed – even by non-artists – by looking closely at how the artist creates his work (and lives his life): art is a soul’s meta-pattern of willful creation.” — Andy Ilachinski
This is St. Joseph Apache Mission. It is a beautiful old Catholic mission church nestled in the mountains of southwestern New Mexico on the Mescalero Apache reservation. It was the inspiration of Father Albert Braun, a Franciscan friar who first arrived in Mescalero in 1916. Soon after arriving Father Al saw the need for a new church as the old adobe structure that was there was too small and in quite poor condition.
His work there was interrupted by World War I when he traveled to Europe as an army chaplain. While in Europe he was inspired by the grand cathedrals he saw there and upon his return to Mescalero after the war he set about his mission to build build a new church that would serve the needs of the Apache people he was serving as well as providing a memorial to those who had given their lives in the war.
Father Albert received permission to build a church, but was not provided with any funding. He has $100 remaining from his army pay and a free railroad pass which he used to travel to Philadelphia to meet the noted architect William Stanton. Inspired by Father Albert’s dream and determination Mr. Stanton drew up the plans as a gift. The foundation was initially set by volunteers in 1920.
Tony Leyva, a stonemason and friend of Father Albert’s from Santa Barbara, California volunteered to come to Mescalero and help with the construction of the church. Mr. Leyva asked only for room and board and to be returned to Santa Barbara to be buried next to his wife upon his death. Construction was completed mostly by volunteers including Father Albert and several Franciscan friars.
Stone for the walls came from a quarry near Bent, lime for the mortar was burned in pits near the site, timber for the ceiling and roof came from a local sawmill and tiles for the roof and floor came from a pottery plant in nearby La Luz. The present windows were specifically designed for the Mission and installed in 1961 by a glass company from El Paso. Construction was officially completed in 1939 and a grand dedication ceremony was conducted on July Fourth of that year. Father Albert’s remains are buried in the sanctuary.
The church continues to serve the residents of the reservation to this day. Extensive restoration work
on the building began in February of 2000 and has recently been completed. Volunteers provided much of the labor just as when it was originally built and funding for materials has been provided in part from several private foundations and in large part through donations from ordinary individuals. The church remained open for use throughout the restoration project.
I remember this church from as far back as the mid 1970’s when I traveled through the area on my way to and from Las Cruces where I attended college. It occupies a position of prominence on a hill just off of a curve in the highway from which it beckons and welcomes travelers of all stripes. This picture was taken only about 4 years ago. Restoration was still in progress then with scaffolding Surrounding much of its exterior. This is an iPhone capture and I particularly like the effect of this treatment. I feel that it really conveys the aura of warmth and welcome that I feel each time I step inside. It is truly a haven worthy of mention in the same sentence as those European cathedrals that first inspired Father Albert.
(Originally published July 6, 2016)