An Extended Sisterhood
Story and photo by Donna Clayton Lawder
The Sisters of St. Joseph will celebrate 80 years of service in the Silver City area with a weekend-long event June 16-18. Sister Carmel Garcia, development co-director for the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Concordia, Kansas, and chair of the Silver City celebration, says she hopes for a well-attended event through which many whose lives were touched by the sisters' many years of outreach will come together.
In 1915, the Sisters of Mercy operated a tuberculosis sanitarium on the property that is now St. Mary's on North Alabama Street. The Sisters of St. Joseph from Tipton, Indiana, took over the property and established a grade and high school. They hit hard economic times and could not make a financial go of it, Garcia says.
In 1926, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kansas, took over and reestablished the order, consolidating the sisters into one community and taking on the St. Mary's property and the Tipton sisters' debts associated with the facility. The school was a boarding school, with many students bused in from the mining district. Garcia herself was one such student, one of 50-60 borders at the time. The school had day students as well.
For many years, the school was educationally oriented, even absorbing the St. Vincent's parochial school in 1966, which enabled it to be subsidized by the parish. A lay board decided in 1973 that the school could no longer be subsidized, and the school finally closed about 1980.
The Sisters of St. Joseph continued their outreach ministry through the facility, however, offering cursillos—self-exploration "small courses" in relatedness, community and men's and women's issues. "Antioch" and "Search" classes offered young people and adults the chance to explore their spiritual lives, find their own identities and develop pathways to service in the world. The "Center for New Life," a birthing center, provided the area's first certified midwives.
Other groups also have used the facilities for their own operations and meetings. For a time, El Refugio women's crisis center housed its shelter operations on the property. Garcia was hired as a crisis counselor and worked with co-dependent families.
A number of 12-Step recovery groups use the facilities for their meetings. Life Quest, a local non-profit organization serving individuals with or at risk for developmental disabilities, operates its early-intervention program on the property. Guadalupe Montessori School is housed in one of the buildings, and numerous individuals and groups have had private retreats on the property.
"So many have been blessed by this facility," Garcia says. "I hope that many will come together and reunite, seeing old friends, remembering all the good that came out of this place. It's touched so many lives."
With a smile, she talks of the babies who were born through the Center for New Life, and classmates from the many years the facility served as a school.
"I've played several roles here, as a student, through cursillo work, my counseling work through El Refugio," she says. "I am excited to get people to connect with each other again. I'm sure sisters from the 1960s (when the school was in operation) will be glad to see their students as adults now. Classmates can see each other again after many years. My own class will be celebrating its 50th year."
The weekend-long reunion event kicks off Friday night, June 16, at a variety of gathering places up and down Bullard Street. Participants are encouraged to meet and mingle at the Twisted Vine, Isaac's Bar & Grill, Rejuvenations coffee shop, Silver City Brewing Company, Shevek and Mi restaurant and Alotta Gelato.
"It's all very organic," Garcia says of the freestyle gatherings. "Some people will doubtless be coming from out of town, so we are just encouraging them to look for each other at places where they can meet, chat, enjoy food and refreshments." Presumably they will be able to spot one another by their commemorative T-shirts, part of their registration packages.
"We look forward to welcoming the reunion participants," says Mitch Hellman, proprietor of Alotta Gelato. "We have a comfortable gathering place for young and old, and hope to introduce the people who've been away for a while to our Italian ice cream, something new, perhaps, since they've been in Silver City."
On Saturday, June 17, there will be picnic gatherings at Little Walnut Park and an open house at St. Mary's, both running all day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. At St. Mary's, Marian Hall, the convent, Guadalupe Montessori School (formerly the grade school) and Center for New Life (now the Montessori Atrium) will all be repositories for memorabilia and venues for meeting and mingling. Storyboards will be set up, with memorabilia provided by the sisters and brought by participants, as well as pictures and biographies of the sisters. Participants are encouraged to bring mementoes that will be collected and displayed.
That evening, there will be a dinner dance at The Flame conference center on Pinos Altos Road. The event will include a social hour, banquet (catering provided by El Paisano Restaurant) and program, and music into the night by local group Rhythm Mystic.
On Sunday morning, an outdoor Mass will be held in Gough Park, celebrated by Bishop Ricardo Ramirez.
Garcia says the event is designed for all who have been touched by the Sisters of St. Joseph's over the many years of their presence in Silver City and their outreach efforts, and they are trying to invite as many potential participants as possible. Registration brochures have already gone out to former students of the schools, Search, Antioch and cursillo participants, and to the mailing lists of associated parishes in the area. Respecting confidentiality protections, she says it has been a little sketchy to connect with participants who have passed through El Refugio's programs at the facility.
"But I want them to know they are welcome," she says. "Hopefully the word is getting out to them."
Members of all Catholic churches, including those in Tucson, Phoenix, El Paso and all of New Mexico, also are invited.
"It will be a true celebration of our presence here, and our impact in the community," Garcia says.
Donna Clayton Lawder is Senior Editor of Desert Exposure.
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