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Catholic Church

Mosaic at Mary, Mother of Priests

For many years, two Catholic religious orders were a major presence in Jemez Springs. Their founder was Fr. Gerald Michael Cushing Fitzgerald, who was inspired by an incident early in his priesthood. The story goes that while a parish priests in Massachusetts in the mid-1930s, Fr. Fitzgerald encountered a hungry homeless man who told him that he had once been a priest. It was at that point that Fr. Fitzgerald realized that priests needed help with the same problems as the rest of us.

In 1947 he fulfilled his long-held dream to provide a ministry for priests and brothers who struggled with addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. The archdiocese purchased the Esperanza Hotel and grounds in Jemez Springs across from the ruins of a 16th century mission church (now Jemez Historic Site) and named the new healing center Via Coeli (Way to Heaven). Their dormitory-style living quarters was named Villa Louis Martin. North of Soda Dam, a large residence sited on 26 acres was purchased to provide additional housing; this complex was named Lourdes. An in-depth account of Fr. Fitzgerald’s path to Jemez Springs appeared in the January 1, 1997 Jemez Thunder. That year marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of the religious communities.

The two religious orders established by Fr. Fitzgerald were Servants of the Paraclete and Handmaids of the Precious Blood. The Paraclete is a congregation of vowed priests and brothers dedicated to minister to fellow priests and religious by, in the words of their online vision statement, “offering spiritual, holistic programs for vocational renewal through spiritual direction, individual and group therapy, supervised living, ongoing education and formation, prayer and contemplation.“ The Handmaids is described on their website as “a contemplative community with pontifical status, dedicated to the sanctification of priests and committed to living an intense life of prayer.”

At its founding, Via Coeli provided what was called “a therapeutic treatment model” for those receiving treatment, who were referred to as “guests.” Treatment focused on prayer and meditation and little or no psychological or psychiatric treatment. This became known as the “Jemez Program,” and the model was adopted by religious congregations elsewhere. Later, a more traditional 12-step program was introduced and eventually professionals were contracted to provide mainstream therapy. (See Linda Vozar Sweet’s essay about her experience providing art therapy.)  Over the years, hundreds if not thousands were treated in Jemez Springs.

In the early 1990s, it became known that some priests in treatment in Jemez Springs were pedophiles, part of the nation-wide (ultimately international) scandal that rocked the Catholic Church. Due to community pressure and notoriety created by outside publicity, the Paraclete stopped accepting pedophiles. Eventually, all the “guests” who required treatment for addictions and sexual disorders were moved to other facilities staffed with professionals. The center struggled with the costs of litigation and eventually became a retirement home for a handful of aged priests who now live at Lourdes.

Cor Jesu, Handmaids of the Precious Blood, formerly Otero home.

The Handmaids was founded to pray for all priests and especially the guests at Via Coeli. Their monastery, initially the Otero home, was called Cor Jesu (Heart of Jesus). Initially, the nuns, many of whom had medical training, operated a clinic which served those in residence at the Paraclete and was later opened to local residents. (That building was later converted to living quarters and is now the owners’ residence at Jemez Canyon Inn.) Later, the Handmaids became cloistered and devoted their lives solely to prayer for the priests and brothers in treatment. They continue to wear a full-length wine red habit, a white cape-like scapular, and a long white veil. The Mother Superior accompanied by one or two others, all wearing this habit, were occasionally seen at the Jemez Springs Post Office or driving their van to Albuquerque for shopping or medical appointments. The convent was closed in 2015, and the remaining nuns relocated to Tennessee.

Fr. Fitzgerald made many contributions to the community. The first telephone switchboard was at the Paraclete, and for a time the post office operated out of there. He donated food and clothing to those in need throughout the Valley. He was also named honorary fire chief. The land on which the Village complex now stands was donated when the Village was incorporated in 1955, and the park was named in his honor. Throughout the years, Fr. Fitzgerald made many additional land purchases, and eventually the Paraclete became one of the largest property holders in the Valley. According to an article in the Jemez Thunder, March 1995, their holdings at that time was about 2,600 acres, reduced from when they owned land as far south as the Jemez Springs Village limits.

Mary, Mother of Priests Chapel

In 1962, Fr. Fitzgerald built a shrine church, named Mary, Mother of Priests at the Via Coeli location. A bell tower topped with a metal sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding an infant became a local landmark. The chapel continues to be used for services and special programs, most notably the annual Christmas concert, a popular holiday event attended by a large audience from the community.

In 2004, the Paraclete closed, and the property was made available to other religious groups as a retreat center. When the Valles Caldera National Preserve was formed in 2000, they leased the property remodeled the facilities into administrative offices and an education center. They removed the statue from atop the bell tower and installed it on the ground next to the chapel. When the Valles Caldera became part of Bandelier National Monument, the Valles Caldera offices were closed and Via Coeli once again became a retreat center. In 2015, the property was purchased by the Pueblo of Jemez, which to date has not announced their plans.


From Jemez Thunder, March 01, 1995

By Susan Burritt


In the past two and a half years, the Servants of the Paraclete, located in Jemez Springs, just north of the Handmaids of the Precious Blood and the Bodhi Mandala Zen Center, have become nationally known because of sex offense claims and litigation that has been brought against the Paraclet, and some of the men who have resided at the facility in Jemez. The Very Reverend Liam Hoare, executive director of the facility, says the unwanted publicity has caused turmoil to the extent that the center is changing its scope and direction.

The buildings which front on Highway 4 north of Jemez Springs are part of the 2,600 acres owned by the Servants of the Paraclete. Photo by Elise MacKinnon/Jemez Thunder

The buildings which front on Highway 4 north of Jemez Springs are part of the 2,600 acres owned by the Servants of the Paraclete. Photo by Elise MacKinnon/Jemez Thunder

“The Jemez Program which has existed in the Jemez Valley since 1982 is in the process of being phased out for the following reasons: first, the unsought for notariety of being stigmatized as the pedophile center for the Roman Catholic clergy throughout the world. Second, the recent series of litigations which the Servants have endured over the past two years has left the congregation and staff exhausted, both financially and emotionally, ” Father Liam said. All of the residents presently at the program will leave. “They will be sent to similar facilities elsewhere in the United States,” he said.

The termination of this program will be complete by the end of March. “The Villa Louis Martin will become a long-term residential center for priests and brothers who have been in other treatment centers, but who need a modified, ongoing supportive community where they will continue to receive pastoral and professional assistance,” Father Liam said. Many of the new residents will be older, but must be in good physical condition because of the distance to any comprehensive medical facility, he said.

Because this group of residents will be more capable of doing for themselves, the professional contractual staff, as well as the support staff will be reduced by as much as 25%. “We call it therapeutic chores, and there won’t be the same demand for staffing as there was in the intensive program,” he said. The staffing reductions would also be complete by the end of March.

This is not little first time the center has changed its mission. It was originally purchased by Father Gerald Fitzgerald in 1947, and consisted of an old stone and adobe inn, known originally as Esperanza, which means “hope.” “Paraclete” means advocate, sponsor, intercessor, comforter or sanctifier. There were approximately 12 rooms at the inn.

Joe Garcia, Sr., was hired to work on remodeling and maintenance, and was the only outside help. He worked for the Paraclete for 36 years, until 1980. Now 71, Garcia still lives in Jemez Springs. “Whatever needed to he done, l did it, carpentry, plumbing, electric. I did everything,” Garcia said.

There are approximately 2600 acres which belong to the Servants of the Paraclete, much of which is in the mountains behind the housing. Garcia said the Servants once owned much more property. “Anything that was not privately owned, the Paraclete had it. Their north boundary was just past Soda Dam, and the south boundary was a little south of where the new credit union is. They owned

everything behind Mooney Blvd., the Bodhi, the property where the Handmaids are, and the propertywhere the Canyon Quarters is.“

The park in the Village of Jemez Springs is named for Father Fitzgerald. “He donated the property that the village owns when the village became incorporated,” said Garcia.

The Paraclete also own the site known as Lourdes, which is across the highway and up the road. It sits on 26 acres, and has a rich history. It changed hands several times, but in the ’20’s and ’30’s it was owned by a family from the east. “Those folks were from Chicago. They used to run horses there, and have a lot of gambling. I heard it could get pretty rough, sometimes,” said Garcia.

‘‘It was called the Lazy Ray Ranch back then, and wealthy people from all over the country would come. Back then, it was just a dirt road to come up here, so I guess once they were here, they probably stayed all summer, just lazing around,” he said. It is rumored that Al Capone sometimes stayed at the Lazy Ray.

An old road can be seen going up behind the main buildings. Although it is now impassable, at one time 4-wheel drive automobiles could drive back into the mountains. If they provided access, then they could build back there at some time,” Garcia said. He said there is still an aluminum cross up high in the hills by the road.

The facility began with Father Fitzgerald’s dream: a home for troubled priests. Father Liam said Father Fitzgerald’s goal was to create a safe place, “for the sole purpose of assisting Catholic priests and brothers who were wounded in the battle of life, experiencing all of the human problems that any human being can experience, personally or vocationally.”

Father Fitzgerald's goal was to build a safe haven for troubled priests and brothers. Photo by Elise MacKinnon/Jemez Thunder

Father Fitzgerald’s goal was to build a safe haven for troubled priests and brothers. Photo by Elise MacKinnon/Jemez Thunder

Father Liam speaks with some expertise, as he spent several years in the company of Father Fitzgerald, and acted as his interpreter in Rome. “He was at pioneer. This type of facility was the first of its kind in the Church, and the first in the United States,” said Hoare.

Over time, the complex grew. The remodeled inn was renamed Via Coeli, or Way to Heaven. Additional buildings were constructed. Father Liam described the organization at that time as, “An open-ended monastic community. The priests and brothers did everything. There was virtually no outside help. It was self sufficient and self-sustaining. There was only one person hired as outside help, Joe Garcia.”

Garcia said at one time the center operated a medical clinic for both the residents and the community. “The Sisters at the Handmaids used to cook and clean and were professional nurses. They ran the clinic until the regulations for handling medications got really complicated,” he said.

More buildings and more land were gradually added. Villa Louis Martin can house up to 23 persons, the conference center has a capacity of 24. Lourdes is the home of the Servants of the Paraclete, which administers the center, and has a capacity of 12.

Over the years the center has continued to change. Through 1977, Father Liam said, “It was a retreat entirely spiritual in nature and scope. In the 60s and 70s it was seen that what was being done was warehousing these people who did not fit in anywhere else. It was a safe, non-judgmental place to live. It did not pretend to be professional in any way,” he said.

This too began to change. Father Michael Foley, who directed the Servants of the Paraclete after Father Fitzgerald, sent people to school to obtain professional accreditation in psychology, psychiatry, social work and spiritual direction. Father Liam, who has been the executive director of the Paraclete for eight years, is a psychologist and certified addictions counselor, as well as a licensed psychotherapist. Their professional staff consists of several consulting physicians and professionals, including clinical psychologists, group and individual therapists, cardiovascular, and stress management professionals.

“We provided a family-like atmosphere where men suffering from depression, personality disorders, adjustment disorders, vocational crisis, and stress disorders could come, and with the sunshine of nature, charity and the Eucharist (Holy Communion), could become well again.”

"We need to rest and want to demonstrate good will and care for people in the Jemez Community." Photo by Elise MacKinnon/Jemez Thunder

“We need to rest and want to demonstrate good will and care for people in the Jemez Community.” Photo by Elise MacKinnon/Jemez Thunder

Before those changes were complete. Father Liam likened the situation to a combat zone, where the tools for treating the residents were not adequate, but there was no place else for these men to go. “We were like the M.A.S.H. unit of the Roman Catholic Church. We did not always know what the men‘s problems were until they arrived. Of course, we had to remove the psychotic ones. You had to take care of yourself. It wasn’t a prison, and some men had cars.”

At one time. the primary residents were alcoholics, and the facility was referred to as “The Center for Boozy Priests.” Father Liam said. “They were like family. Sometimes. especially during the holidays, one or more would go out and tie one on. We would take care of them like you would your aunt or uncle. They are human.”

Since 1977, however, the Jemez Program has operated on a professional level, with guidelines for treatment, and a comprehensive after care program, which followed the progress of all who had attended the center. Especially successful, said Father Liam, was the cardiovascular program, where residents regained their health walking the grounds and Highway 4, sometimes losing as much as 40 pounds.

Concerning the future of the Servants of the Paraclete, Father Liam said, “It would be imprudent to go back to the Jemez Program model. We need to rest, and want to demonstrate good will and care for the people who live in the Jemez community by modifying the programs and going in new directions.”

He said one or the new directions the Servants want to explore is the possibility of turning the Foundation House into conference center open to all sorts of special interest groups. “A group, such as Intel, or one of the hospitals, or other service-oriented agencies could come to use the conference center, and we would provide their meals and rooms.” he said. With the increased use of this facility, he said he hoped staffing could once be increased.

Father Liam expressed hope that the new purpose of the center will be successful, and that the intent to provide for conferences will help the community economically. “We hated to let any of our staff go. I know what that means to a community of this size,” he said.