San Ignacio still calls Santa Barbara-Martineztown home

Named for San Ignacio, church has called Santa Barbara-Martineztown home for over 100 years

Editor’s note:

The Journal continues “What’s in a Name?,” a once a month column in which Elaine Briseño will give a short history of how places in New Mexico got their names.

Some of New Mexico’s oldest structures are its churches.

One such building is the San Ignacio Catholic Church on Walter Street. Just west of Interstate 25, the old church sits within the Santa Barbara-Martineztown neighborhood minutes away from Albuquerque High School.

The historic church is named for San Ignacio de Loyola who was born Iñigo López in 1491 in the Basque region of Spain. He was one of 13 children in a noble family, but suffered a serious injury in 1521 in a battle against the French. It was during his long recuperation while he was bedridden that San Ignacio began exploring his faith in earnest.

He devoted himself to following Jesus, founding the Society of Jesus, known as the Jesuits, in 1534. The Roman Catholic Church declared him a saint in 1622.

San Ignacio Parish was erected in 1916, long after its patron saint had died. It was a more recent spiritual leader who became the force behind its founding. Father Joseph Arthuis, lovingly called Padre José according to the church website, pushed to establish the church.

It was the same year Theodore Roosevelt visited Albuquerque to campaign on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Charles Evans Hughes. New Mexico had only been a state for four years and nine years before that, Father Arthuis arrived in Albuquerque.

He had several assignments in the United States before coming to Albuquerque in 1907 to head another historic church. He was stationed at San Felipe de Neri in Old Town, which served families from several communities including those from the Santa Barbara and Martineztown neighborhoods.

According to the church website: “Padre José was quick to see that there was a need for another church community in what was considered mission territory. At the time, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe did not have funding to give help to the community to build a church.”

He would even visit the construction site, arriving in a horse and buggy, to help make the adobe bricks that would be used in the construction of the new church, according to the archdiocese.

Arthuis organized the community members, helping identify sources of money and labor to get the church built. Sheep and cattle belonging to 18th century Old Town residents grazed the land that is now Martineztown. The family of Don Manuel Martin settled the area in 1850 and it was named initially known as “Los Martines” after them. Santa Barbara was named for a nearby cemetery that still exists as part of the Mount Calvary Cemetery.

The community decided to build the church on a hill so it could be the focal point of the community. It stands watch over the community today. The spot, according to a Jan. 22, 1956 brief in the Albuquerque Journal, was once the site of an old cemetery. The bodies were moved and reburied under the church.

When San Ignacio opened, hills of dirt provided the backdrop and open fields surrounded it. The church is now framed by power lines and pine trees, and houses and paved streets crowd its property line.

The church has been placed on both the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties.

The archdiocese celebrated the San Ignacio Parish’s 100th anniversary with a Mass on July 31, 2016, followed by a procession through the neighborhood and a fiesta, according to an article in People of God, the official magazine of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

According to the article, Arthuis was born in Brittany, France on Oct. 23, 1854, to a religious family. He had three brothers who became priests and a sister who was a nun. Previous duties before coming to Albuquerque included managing a weekly Catholic magazine and serving as a minister of the Jesuit College in Morrison, Colorado.

The church is still very much the center of the community there. Many of its parishioners, according to the church website, have been members there for their entire lives. The church has a Filipino ministry and holds a Filipino bilingual Mass the last Sunday of each month. It conducts services in English, Spanish and has a traditional Latin Mass every Sunday at noon.

“Our humble church building and loving community make newcomers feel immediately connected and welcomed into a place with deep roots and open hearts,” the website states.

Curious about how a town, street or building got its name? Email columnist Elaine Briseño at as she continues the monthly journey in “What’s in a Name?”


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