In September 1946, a small group of dedicated people got together and began to meet in the home of Mrs. Nellie Branch on 2nd Street to pray. Msgr. José García, pastor of the neighbouring parish of San Ignacio took charge of this nucleus of the proposed parish. Following Monsignor García as main clergy minister was Reverend Bernard M. Burns, who was appointed the first pastor of The Parish of Saint Therese of the Infant Jesus on 25 April, 1947.
Father Bernard Burns used to celebrate daily Mass in his tiny one room cottage on Arno Street. On Sundays the Bachechi family loaned the Yucca Theater, then at the NW corner of Fourth and Menaul for Mass. The men of the Holy Name Society led by F.C Lucero used to go to the theater at 5:00 am on Sundays to clean up the popcorn and debris from the evening before. Salazar Mortuary used to lend a crucifix and a velvet table cover for each Mass. Two Masses every Sunday were said here, until a combination church and school was ready in 1948
On the Feast of Saint Dominic, 2 August, 1947, Mother M. Stanislaus, Vicaress General of the Dominican Sisters of Kenosha, Wisconsin received a wire from the Archbishop of Santa Fe, Most Reverend Edwin Vincent Byrne. The Archbishop indicated that a new parish was being established in the northwest section of Albuquerque, and he requested Sisters for a parochial school.
A benefactor, Mr. Howard Sheets Sr., loaned the Dominican Sisters who had arrived in September 1947 a Quonset hut and tent, which was the start of a parochial school named Saint Therese. The first day of class was 15 September, 1947. Soon after that, work began on a combination church and school building which was blessed by Archbishop Byrne on September 28, 1947.
Monsignor Burns was able to buy a tract of land between 2nd and 4th Streets, bounded on the south by a lane called Shropshire Place, and on the north by some houses along Candelaria Street; until then classes were held in the tent where one hundred and forty children were enrolled in five classes. On the first day of school (15 September, 1947) there were no desks or blackboards. Sanitary arrangements were primitive. A neighbor, Mrs Howard Sheets used to run a hose through her fence so that the children could have water to drink. The second day a student brought a portable blackboard from home and with the help of some of the men of the parish, benches were provided and the children brought their own lunch. For the Dominican Sisters, Mrs. C.J Middleton who was one of the early benefactors, and whose house was on Candelaria Street had a gate from her back garden to the school grounds and used to provide a dainty lunch everyday using her best china and silver.
The area of Albuquerque around 4th street and Candelaria Street was the first subdivision in the city and so filled with many young families. Saint Therese Parish quickly became the largest parish of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Fourth Street or U.S. Route 66 was the main street from Albuquerque to Santa Fe and also the famed U.S. Highway to California. In December during the Marian Year of 1954 ground was broken on the Shrine of the Little Flower, the permanent church building for Saint Therese Parish. Archbishop Byrne had a great personal devotion to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. In fact as she was considered the most popular and best loved saint in the world from the time of her death in 1897 to the 1950’s, most Catholics had a great devotion to her. Archbishop Byrne wanted a Shrine to her—a special place which would be a reliquary for her bones. He secured whole bones of the Saint from the Carmelite Sisters in Lisieux. Saint Therese Church is designed in the Romanesque style of architecture and is one of the finest ecclesial buildings in New Mexico. The plans for Saint Therese by the Albuquerque architectural firm Burwinkle and Milner and Associates were originally drawn up for the Immaculate Conception Parish in downtown Albuquerque. In the early 1950s, this venerable and second parish of the city knew that it needed a much larger church building. By 1953, the parishioners of Saint Therese were already begging the archbishop and archdiocese for its church building and an assurance of funds. The architectural plans were transferred from Immaculate Conception to Saint Therese. If you look at our Church building and the school buildings of Saint Mary’s High School and Elementary School, you will see that all three buildings are most compatible aesthetically. Immaculate Conception would not be ready with funds until 1959 and so had a Church built in a style called “Modern Roman.” Joseph Burwinkle recalled the Saint Therese Project as an important one. Richard Milner also mentioned it with particular satisfaction. This graceful structure of brick, steel, construction block and concrete was described by Milner as suitable in style to Albuquerque because of the origins of its Romanesque style in southern Europe. Milner probably had the brilliant quality of light in mind rather than other similarities of climate, and certainly the moldings, arched corbel tables and the recessed orders of the round arched doors and windows are vividly brought out by Albuquerque’s sunlight. The original 3.2 million dollar price tag for our Shrine of the Little Flower was considered unfathomable in 1954. Can you imagine that the contemporary churches completed in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in the past three years do not even begin to approach the cost and quality of our parish church in 1954? From an architectural, materials, cost, construction and artist standpoint our home is perhaps the finest ecclesial building in Albuquerque. The formal groundbreaking took place on the Feast of the Assumption in the Marian Year of 1954. Note that one of the major windows of the Shrine is the Assumption Window.
The Santa Fe Studios of Church Art, located in Sena Plaza in Santa Fe and operated by French artist Maurice Lucien Loriaux (1908-1998) designed and had fabricated all the ecclesiastical artwork and liturgical furnishings for our glorious Shrine of the Little Flower. Loriaux was greatly influenced by the Art Deco Period here in the United States as seen in over 400 churches, mostly Catholic which he contributed to. In the case of Saint Therese, the style is also influenced by the clean lines and geometric patterns of the 1950’s. The tons of marble used in terrazzo floors and cladding all the walls came from Tennessee. Designs for the 52 stained glass windows including the great rose window were made in Santa Fe and sent off to Chartres, France for fabrication. The marble for the baldachino, altars and furnishings came from Carrara, Italy where these items were fabricated. The fine oak statues were designed by Loriaux and fabricated in the Italian Alps. Wrought iron, bronze work and the 26 oak doors were made locally. The large roof of our Church is covered by Ludowici Tiles of Ohio which are the finest in the world. Our glorious Shrine of the Little Flower is cruciform in shape and constructed on the traditional east-west axis which is traditional in Christendom and is the norm for the greatest churches of Europe. The main doors are on the west front. Inside all the people at Mass face the direction east, which is the direction the sun rises. This is symbolic of resurrection. Our glorious Shrine takes into account the color scheme in the stained glass windows and Italian glass mosaics of the Basilica of Saint Thérèse in Lisieux, France which was also completed and formally consecrated the same year as our Shrine here in Albuquerque. The Church was totally competed down to the last artistic detail and ready for its consecration. This is unusual as many parish churches get consecrated and yet still have to wait later for completion of stained glass windows or religious art.
The day of Dedication, 4 December, 1955 began at 3:30 pm. It consisted of a Procession along Fourth Street, and a Low Mass of Dedication presided by Archbishop Byrne. After a fine dinner was served there was a second Procession along Fourth Street to the beautiful New Church where the parish gathered with the Archbishop for Solemn Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The historic photos of the grand day are located in the Parish Archives and available in a virtual tour on our parish website www.littleflowerabq.org
A few short years after the construction of the Church building another ambitious construction project was undertaken by the Parish. This would be the construction of the five bedroom rectory to be built at 300 Mildred NW. This rectory constructed again of the finest material materials and designs to be acquired in the country in the 1950’s was also built to accommodate Archbishop Byrne as a place of residence when in Albuquerque. By the 1950’s, Archbishop Byrne had to be in Albuquerque much more as the city was quickly outstripping the ancient See city of Santa Fe in size and population. The rectory completed in 1959 was constructed of the same brick as the Church. The interior of the very large residence had all birch and bronze doors and cabinetry. A large suite was provided for the Archbishop when he needed to stay at his most splendid Parish, Shrine and School of Saint Therese when in Albuquerque. Can you imagine our Parish, constructing the one of the costliest Churches New Mexico in 1954 and scarcely four years later completing another splendid project.
Serving as pastor at the time was Monsignor Francis Gleason who resigned in 1965 due to ill health and Monsignor Bernard M. Burns was once again in charge until June 1971 when Reverend Elmer Niemeyer was appointed as the new pastor of Saint Therese. The next pastor was Reverend Ted Hunt (1974-1982). In 1979 a major renovation took place to the Church. The original pews were changed and much of the marble and bronze patrimony were removed such as the most fine marble and bronze altar railing with the twelve cornucopia symbolizing the eternal banquet of life in heaven as we as the red porphyry marble plinths with bronze acanthus leaves and more original bronze surrounding the crucifix and passion marbles under the baldachino. At this time the mosaics were added were fabricated in Rome.
Under the pastorate of Reverend Clarence Galli (1982-1988) the next ambitious project of the parish was undertaken. This was the construction of the Parish Hall and Gymnasium. Bingo paid for this most fine building which was dedicated on 29 March 1987. This building included three classrooms, kitchen and large entrance hall. Our Saint Therese Parish Hall contains the largest Parish and Catholic School Gymnasium in the city. The architects of this large building took into account the roof lines and Ludowice tiles of the Church building and used these stylistically or by color into the bricks of the new building. At the time it was de rigueur in the Archdiocese for parishes to construct Parish Halls out of metal and at a lower cost. We can thank the wisdom of Father Galli who insisted that the new parish hall must be made out of solid construction and materials and not cheaply or quickly done.
The pastors already mentioned were assisted by 56 Parochial Vicars from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe over the years. In 1988 the religious order of The Sons of the Holy Family was entrusted by the beloved Archbishop Robert F. Sanchez with the spiritual care of the parish and school. The priests that served us as pastors were Fathers Charles Stoeber, John Plans, James Suntum, and Ron Carrillo. They were assisted by Fathers Marvin Archuleta, Lazaro Cuesta, Palmo Valente and Javier Gutiérrez who have helped the community to grow and strengthen their faith.
In 2007 a very special addition arrived to the Parish. This was a monumental statue of Saint Therese on her deathbed made of wax and dressed in a Carmelite habit. This statue is one of four in the world made in 1926 by a Trappist monk in France. One is in Lisieux itself at the Carmelite Convent. The other is in a Shrine in Italy. The third is with the Carmelite Fathers at a Shrine in San Antonio, Texas and the Fourth is now here in our Glorious Shrine. This monumental statue which was originally in The Shrine of Saint Therese in Cairo, Egypt was removed and sold on the auction block. Father William Sanchez, a faithful priest of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe purchased it and felt that such an important artifact belongs here at Saint Therese. It is with our gratitude to and forethought of Father Sanchez that it now graces our shrine room.
On the First day of October, 2009, the Feast Day of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, the Reverend Vincent Paul Chávez, a Diocesan Priest of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe was appointed pastor. Our Lord Jesus Christ has truly blessed us with a great and faithful parishioners and priests here at The Shrine of the Little Flower—The Parish and School of Saint Therese of the Infant Jesus.
History is something we build day by day and with the grace of God and the protection of Saint Therese of the Infant Jesus, we will keep making our own history.
Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus
Thérèse Martin was born at Alençon, a grey, tranquil town of Normandy, France on 2 January, 1873. On the Saturday afternoon, two days later she was baptized in the church of Notre Dame receiving the names Marie Francoise Thérèse.
At the age of fifteen she entered the Carmel of Lisieux where she lived obscure and unknown, except to a few people, until she died at the age of twenty-four. During this time she wrote a short book and some poems which remained in manuscript while she lived. She was buried in the cemetery of Carmel as unknown and unregarded as she had always been.
Today her statue is found in almost every city in the world, great buildings have been constructed in her honor and her name is invoked by women, children and men of every race, color and creed. There is no moment in any day in which someone does not turn to her, and pilgrims pass before her tomb in an endless stream. She is “the child loved by all the world.” There can be no doubt that Saint Therese of Lisieux was directly entrusted by God with a mission to the Church. The very first sentence of Pope Pius XI’s speech at her beatification expressly refers to it. “The voice of God and the voice of His people have joined in extolling the Venerable Therese of the Child Jesus. The voice of God first made itself heard and the faithful recognizing the Divine Call added their voices to the anthem of praise.” Again in his homily at her canonization Pius XI says, after having referred to the Gospels as the basis for her doctrine of spiritual childhood, “The new Saint, Therese had thoroughly learned this teaching of the Gospels and translated it into her daily life. She taught the way of spiritual childhood by word and example, she set it forth clearly in all her writings, which have gone to the ends of the world and which assuredly no one has read without being charmed, or without reading them again and again with great pleasure and much profit to their spiritual progress. In her catechism lessons she drank in the pure doctrine of faith, from the book of “The Imitation of Christ” she learned asceticism, in the writings of Saint John of the Cross she found her mystical theology. Above all, she nourished heart and soul with the inspired Word of God on which she meditated assiduously, and the Spirit of Truth taught her what He hides as a rule from the wise and prudent and reveals to the humble. Indeed God enriched her with a quite exceptional wisdom so that she was enabled to trace out for others a sure way of salvation. “Her Little Way of Spiritual Childhood” is the way leading with certainty to the Bosom of the Eternal Father.