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Priest shortage forces Jesuits to leave NM

Midday Mass is celebrated at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Downtown Albuquerque. Jesuit priests who minister to the congregants are being reassigned and will no longer serve the parish due to a shortage of ordained Jesuit priests. ADOLPHE PIERRE-LOUIS/Albuquerque Journal

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

For the first time since 1858, Jesuit priests will no longer call New Mexico home.

Because of a shortage of Jesuit priests, the Rev. Warren Broussard, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church and Parish, will be the last of four Jesuits to depart next June 30.

“We have a lot of ministries and we cover 14 states, Puerto Rico and Belize,” Broussard said Tuesday. “We’re just stretched too thin to continue ministering to all the places that we’ve been ministering.”

Broussard said he did not yet know where he and the other Jesuit priests might be reassigned.

The decision to withdraw from New Mexico was made earlier this month by the Rev. Ronald A. Mercier, leader of the Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province, based in St. Louis, Missouri, and in consultation with Archbishop of Santa Fe John C. Wester.

Priests from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe will take over administration and pastoral duties at Immaculate Conception after Broussard leaves.

Jesuits first came to New Mexico in 1858, where they ministered to parishioners at San Felipe de Neri Catholic Church, in what is now Old Town, Broussard said. Jesuits subsequently started the Immaculate Conception Parish in 1883. The first parish church was torn down when a new one was built Downtown in 1959.

Priests from the Jesuit order established other churches in New Mexico on behalf of the Catholic Church over the years, but more recently the Jesuit presence in those churches was reduced as fewer Jesuit priests were ordained. Immaculate Conception Catholic Church at Sixth and Copper, with a parish membership of about 1,200 families, is the last one in the state.

The Jesuit Order, based in Rome, is formally named the Society of Jesus and was founded in the early 1500s by Ignatius Loyola. The order has more than 16,000 priests, brothers, scholastics and novices worldwide, according to its website.

Broussard, who will have been in New Mexico for more than seven years when he leaves next June, called the Jesuit departure from the state “sad,” and noted the order’s long history here.

“I’ve enjoyed it here and have been very happy working with people who have been generous, kind and loving,” he said. “People have been very responsive to the Jesuits through the years and we have a lot of ministries that will continue to serve the people of New Mexico. It’s just been a wonderful experience.”

Therese Meyerhoff, spokeswoman for the Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province, said it can take 10-12 years for someone to become an ordained Jesuit priest, and only ordained priests can lead a parish, she said.

“It’s simply a matter of numbers,” Meyerhoff added. “Part of Jesuit life is community life, so it’s important to be in a place where there are other Jesuits,” something that is not happening in New Mexico with just four Jesuits remaining at one church.

The Norbertine religious order built and maintains the Santa Maria de la Vid Abbey in Albuquerque’s South Valley. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

In another clergy shift within the Catholic Church in New Mexico, as of July 1, the Norbertine religious order is no longer conducting pastoral duties at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church at 5415 Fortuna NW.

“Because of some personnel changes, we decided that we had to make a choice between continuing at Holy Rosary or at Isleta Pueblo,” said Abbot Joel Garner. “Since Holy Rosary was in really good shape, a lot of lay leadership and so forth, and because Isleta doesn’t have the resources, we recommended to the archbishop that we stay at Isleta and turn Holy Rosary over to the archdiocese for leadership.”

Norbertine priests have been at Holy Rosary for 35 years, Garner said.

Members of the religious order, which is about 900 years old, came to New Mexico in 1985 from an abbey outside of Green Bay, Wisconsin, with the mission of establishing an abbey under the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Former Archbishop Robert Sanchez offered them the pastoral leadership of Holy Rosary, and the Norbertines later built their monastery in the South Valley – Santa Maria de la Vid Abbey, at 5825 Coors SW. It was named after an abbey in Spain that was built in the 12th century, Garner said.

In addition to serving Saint Augustine Catholic Church on Isleta Pueblo, the Norbertines also serve another South Valley parish, St. Edwin’s Catholic Church.

There are currently 12 Norbertines, including four seminarians, providing pastoral duties in the Albuquerque area. All of them live at the abbey.

“We live a communal style of life,” Garner said. “We serve the archbishop, as long as we can come home at night.”

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