The first Jesuits in North America came as missionaries, dedicated to the single-minded goal of bringing souls to God, often the first to bring Christianity to an area. Like their Jesuit forebears, they unavoidably became “founders,” building schools, parishes and retreat centers to serve the people of God. A testament to God’s enduring kindness, the Jesuit presence in New Mexico filled a need then as it continues to do today. They will celebrate their history and their past this Saturday, Sept. 22, commemorating 150 years of rich history.
The Society of Jesus has deep, historical roots in New Mexico and, especially, in the city of Albuquerque. Jesuits have been present in the area since 1868, when Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy assigned five Italian Jesuits to a budding mission in New Mexico.
Jesuits arrived in "Old Town" Albuquerque in 1868, where they established San Felipe Parish. Fifteen years later, the need arose for a church in “New Town” Albuquerque. At the corner of Sixth St. and Copper Ave., Immaculate Conception Parish emerged and today continues its now 135-year-old mission as a Jesuit parish community.
This year the Immaculate Conception Parish Community and the Jesuits of the USA Central and Southern Province celebrate 150 years of the Jesuits in Albuquerque.
Jesuits have been continuously present in New Mexico since 1868.
Father Warren Broussard, SJ, pastor of Immaculate Conception, noted the diverse population from which the parish draws today: “We are a downtown parish with a very mixed community; people come from all over to attend mass.”
This wealth of diversity is at the heart of the parish’s mission and identity. In a formative gesture, the congregation recites the parish mission statement at every liturgy along with the Creed. “It keeps the mission in people’s minds. Lots of parishes have mission statements that go in a book and never get looked at again,” Fr. Broussard said. This recitation reminds parishioners of the parish’s identity as a diverse, Jesuit community, committed to justice issues.
Immaculate Conception Parish does more than recite its mission at each liturgy; it also lives it, inside and outside the church.
“Our main focus is trying to be a very welcoming place,” said Fr. Broussard. “Sometimes you go into Catholic churches and you feel like a stranger. You might be familiar with the physical or sacramental elements, but you don’t feel any warmth from the people.”
The parish community is deeply rooted in the city, and as the main parish within Albuquerque, Fr. Broussard noted, many of the city’s civic leaders are graduates of the adjoining St. Mary’s School.
In addition to making the church a hospitable place, another active ministry is the weekly meal for the homeless population that volunteers prepare and serve every Sunday afternoon. This ministry serves between 80 and 150 people every week, restaurant-style. “They take a seat, are served a meal and seconds, as much as they want,” Fr. Broussard said. “We send them off with a lunch bag and try to give them a little dignity in their experience of being served. It’s a nice celebration.”
Pastor Warren Broussard, SJ, with volunteers who coordinate and serve Sunday afternoon meals for the homeless.
The parish congregation embodies the mission through their work with interfaith justice groups, rallies and discussions, ministry at a juvenile detention center, outreach for single mothers, and Casa de las Comunidades, a direct service to immigrants in need of assistance.
This anniversary year, parishioners celebrate their diversity and the variety of ways the parish community lives its mission, ready to move boldly into the future. In an executive order, Timothy Keller, Mayor of Albuquerque, declared September 22, 2018, as “Jesuit Foundation Day,” as the parish continues “to enrich and expand their service to the downtown community,” and “celebrate 150 years of serving the Albuquerque Community and seeking God in all things.”
The main altar at Immaculate Conception Parish, a place for worship and welcome
Looking to the future, Fr. Broussard said, “We’ve worked to make this a very welcoming parish, and it’s my hope that the community will continue to welcome the stranger, and that people feel accepted the first time they come here.”