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San Miguel Church ready after four years of work

The Rev. Andrew Pavlak describes renovations to San Miguel Church in Socorro, completed after four years of work. The church will reopen today with a rededication Mass

The Rev. Andrew Pavlak describes renovations to San Miguel Church in Socorro, completed after four years of work. The church will reopen today with a rededication Mass. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

SOCORRO – Nothing seemed amiss at San Miguel Church when the Rev. Andrew Pavlak became pastor here in 2007.

“Everything just looked fine and wonderful,” Pavlak said of San Miguel Church, which will celebrate its 400th anniversary next year. “We were living in ignorant bliss for quite a few years.”

The wake-up call came in June 2010 after water-soaked adobe caused the collapse of a 176-year-old church in Lemitar, one of nine mission churches Pavlak pastors in the Socorro area.

A 2010 inspection found extensive problems that included water-soaked adobe and other dangerous structural problems that closed the church for four years. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

A 2010 inspection found extensive problems that included water-soaked adobe and other dangerous structural problems that closed the church for four years. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Pavlak realized he needed to inspect other historic adobe churches in his parish, including the mother church in Socorro.

The investigation found damaged adobe and other problems at San Miguel Church that led to its closure in November 2010. Four years of major repairs and renovations followed, funded by a $1.1 million grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and $500,000 in donations from parishioners.

Conrad Hilton, founder of the Hilton Hotel chain, was born in nearby San Antonio and baptized at San Miguel. The rebuilt San Miguel Church will reopen at 5:30 p.m. today when Archbishop Michael Sheehan presides at a Mass to rededicate the church.

Architects and engineers who inspected San Miguel in 2010 found a “Pandora’s box” of problems, Pavlak said this week.

“The fact that this building has stood as long as it has is amazing,” he said.

A pitched roof added sometime after 1880 was bearing at least twice as much weight as it could safely support. Jerry-rigged electrical wiring in the ceiling had set small fires undetected by parishioners.

Moisture had damaged much of the church’s adobe. In places, the adobe had eroded completely, leaving voids behind the plaster.

“You could stick a grown man’s arm fully into the corner of the wall, and it was a complete void,” Pavlak said of a wall behind the altar.

After Archdiocese of Santa Fe officials reviewed the engineering report in 2010, “the archdiocese called and said, ‘get the people out of that church, now,’ ” he said. The church has remained closed since Nov. 7, 2010.

No one is certain when San Miguel’s adobe walls were erected, Pavlak said.

A small church was built at the site in 1615, less than two decades after Don Juan de Oñate led 400 colonists to the area in 1598.

A 1915 photo of San Miguel Church in Socorro, which will celebrate its 400th anniversary next year

A 1915 photo of San Miguel Church in Socorro, which will celebrate its 400th anniversary next year.

The church was destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and rebuilt on the foundations of the original church sometime after the Spanish reconquest in the 1690s.

A tour of the church this week offered no hint of the problems uncovered four years ago.

Workers painstakingly replaced wet and damaged adobe, rebuilt the roof and installed new electrical wiring and lighting. The church has new hardwood floors and pews. All the work was done by local craftsmen, Pavlak said.

A new altar and pulpit are made of travertine stone quarried in Belen. Much of the French provincial decor added in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was removed, he said.

“Everything here has been updated to reflect New Mexico, Spanish or local customs,” he said.

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