Little Mission Church in The Valley

Traditions might be delayed but hearts still beat here


On the western side of the Black Range, in southwestern New Mexico, in the small and picturesque village of San Lorenzo, one will find a charming old mission built in the late 1800’s. This historical and sacred adobe catholic church is San Lorenzo Mission.

Built by the loving and hardworking hands of many old families, carpenters and laborers – quiet, unassuming, faithful parishioners who resided along the Mimbres River Valley San Lorenzo Catholic Church Mission was founded on May 25, 1880 and was established in 1883 by Father John Grange. A chapel and a small house were also built not far from the river. The land, two lots, were deeded from the United States of America to the Bishop of Tucson, (whose diocese we belonged to at the time) for the sum of $18.15.

Priests who were sent to serve the small mission in the 1880’s were Fr. John Grange and Fr. Edwardo Garard, who were attached to Saint Vincent Catholic Church in Silver City. Later priests from Santa Rita Catholic Church in Santa Rita, and Infant Jesus Catholic Church in Hurley, served the San Lorenzo Mission. These included “Fathers” Miguel and Ramon Estivil, Fr. Pedro Ruiz, Fr. Leoni, Fr. Ordonez, Fr. Morgan, Fr. Nieset, and several others, including Fr. Hinojal.

Later, San Lorenzo Mission became one of the missions served by Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Bayard. Fr. Paulus Kao served the mission from the 1990’s till his retirement. Summer of 2019 brought Father Martin Okonkwo to serve at San Lorenzo, as one of many parishioners said “We are Blessed to have Father Martin!”

At least seven generations of families, who have worshiped at this quiet mission and are deeply rooted in tradition, have been blessed with the sacraments of baptism, reconciliation, first communion and matrimony, as well as funerals, anniversaries, birthdays, and anointing of the sick. This mission that serves the entire Mimbres Valley, has held families together for a very long time.

Saint Lawrence, one of the seven deacons of Rome, suffered much for his indestructible and beloved faith. He believed that helping the poor was what he was meant to do. When asked by the Prefect of Rome to bring the “Church’s Treasures” to the Emperor, he gathered and presented the blind, the crippled, the poor, the orphans, and other unfortunates. Furious, the Prefect had Lawrence bound to a red-hot griddle. Lawrence bore the agony, and as he was tormented, he instructed the executioner to turn him over, as he was done on the one side.

The death of St. Lawrence inspired a great devotion in Rome, and it quickly spread throughout the entire church. His feast day inspired the devoted parishioners of San Lorenzo Mission to hold celebrations to honor their patron saint on Aug. 10, on the church grounds in the heart of the village of San Lorenzo. Vespers have been held since the beginning of the mission church, on the eve of his feast day, after the meat is put into the red hot pit for the next day’s Barbacoa. As the dawn of Aug. 10 arrives, sleepy parishioners greet San Lorenzo with Mananitas at 5 or 5:30 a.m. with the priest celebrating mass for all who have trekked to the church at that hour.

 In past years the Bishop of Las Cruces Diocese comes and celebrates a beautiful and spiritual Mass at 10 a.m. with help from several local priests. Guitar music lifts everyone’s spirits as songs are sung throughout the mass. After the mass ends the Bishop leads the faithful and able bodied in a procession with guitar music, following those who carry the statue of San Lorenzo around the village block. Many people, devoted to San Lorenzo, do a pilgrimage to honor their patron saint. Their loving and thankful hearts bring them here from Bayard, Santa Clara, Hanover, Silver City, Hurley, Deming, Las Cruces, Arizona and California, in time to attend the 10 a.m. mass. Many are children and grandchildren of the Abuelos who instilled that faith in all of our hearts.

A delicious hot meal of fresh barbacoa and side dishes is served to the bishop, priests and altar servers. The kitchen is then opened to all, to enjoy the savory plate of mouthwatering food. The earlier fiesta celebrations also added a refreshing, old timer’s drink called Tesguino, available on their beverage list. Throughout the afternoon everyone gathers on the patio to enjoy live music and visit with old friends and family. Many events have taken place throughout the afternoon as different dance groups come and entertain the fiesta participants.

There is an old Santuario near the church that was built by the Abuelitos of the Merino family. It is filled with many relics, santitos, and pictures of loved ones who were ill. Prayers were offered to San Lorenzo, asking him to deliver their requests to Our Lord for healing for their loved ones. Upon entering this small room, as well as the mission and it’s shrine room, a person a receives a feeling of peace and tranquility.                                  

One parishioner recollects that one of the first fiestas was hosted by the Galaz family. Proceeds from the food plate donations were used as money prizes for different types of foot races that were held.  

An elderly parishioner from Fierro remembers working the fiesta as a boy of 11-12 years. He left home early and walked from his home to San Lorenzo to help an uncle to serve food. He saw how much food was being thrown away and knew that his family and neighbors were having difficulty feeding their families. So, this young boy received permission from the adults in charge, and started scraping the leftover food from plates into a gunny sack. At the end of the day he carried a sack full of food to his hungry family, arriving home after midnight.

Upon reaching his little house he found a distraught Mamacita, who had no idea where her young son had disappeared to. Neighbors had helped his family to look for the boy to no avail. The tired boy explained where he had been and opened the gunny sack on the table to reveal the treasure of delicious food he had gathered. The elated family separated the different foods, ate a feast, shared the bounty of mouthwatering food with other hungry neighbors, and stored away enough food for a few days’ worth of meals.

“What a Blessing San Lorenzo had provided,” he said.

These fiestas have been fundamental in raising funds for different projects in and around the church. One of the first projects in the 1960’s was to raise enough money to move two classrooms from the Catholic School in Santa Rita. The building was moved to the valley on the old, narrow, Aklin Road, then bypassing the bridge at the Mimbres River, went down a road cut directly across the river. This is how the church hall became a reality for the parishioners of San Lorenzo Catholic Church Mission. Since then many projects have been completed, upgrading many items in the church and the hall.

This year, 2020 brought an unexpected interruption in hosting the annual Aug. 10 fiesta. Although there are no fiesta donations coming in, San Lorenzo Mission continues to require donations to pay for renovations. The most urgent need in the church is a new roof to protect the interior of this beautiful historic mission. Anyone wishing to donate to our mission renovation project can send it to San Lorenzo Mission, P.O. Box 385, Mimbres, NM, 88049.