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In The News

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My Faith Drives Me

July 28, 2011

Mountain View Telegraph
by Rory McClannahan

Michael Montano has put a lot of sweat, a few tears and, yes, some blood into restoring San Francisco de Asis Mission Church and Cemetery in Golden.

And all of that is over the space of a lifetime.

Montano says that when he was a child, he would help his father, Manuel Montano, make repairs to the church that is believed to have been built in 1835. "I love this little church," Michael said. "My father is buried here. My faith is what drives me to do this. My heart feels blessed when I walk out of here after putting in a day's work."

A plasterer by trade, Montano has worked to restore the interior and exterior walls, build a wall around the cemetery, replace the doors, replace the floor and get electricity to the building for lights and fans.

But more importantly, Montano and his co-conspirators have convinced the St. Joseph's Diocese of Cerrillos to resume a regular Mass schedule.

"Mass is important for a church and to a community," said Keith Zawistowski, who has been helping Montano and did the bulk of the work replacing the plywood floor with tile. "Convincing Father (Francis) Malley to drive down from Cerrillos every week was a victory for this church. Thank God for Father Malley."

Regular Mass is every Saturday at 4 p.m. With nothing but a sign by the road, the regular service is attracting about 25 people every week, and more are welcome.

A mountain church

The history of the church parallels the history of Golden. Nestled on the western edge of the Ortiz Mountains along the historic Turquoise Trail, Golden had always had someone living there, whether it was Indians or early Spanish settlers.

By the early 1800s, though, gold had been discovered in the mountains and the little village began to grow. A church was needed to serve the thriving community and sometime between 1830 and 1839, San Francisco church was built. Montano says the earliest records indicate 1835, although some historians say it may have been built as early as 1830.

But as the mines started coming up empty, Golden started losing its population, becoming a ghost town by 1928. People left, leaving most of the village's buildings to crumble with time. The church seemed to be sharing that fate until a restoration project taken on by Fray Angelico Chavez in 1960.

Another restoration took place in 1976 when a bell tower was added to the church.

Unlike most of the mission churches scattered throughout New Mexico, San Francisco de Asis was not constructed from adobe; its 2-foot thick walls were constructed with stones.

One thing was constant through the years, though -- interest in preserving, and using the church, usually waned, either by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe or parishoners themselves.

The building started to become more of a tourist attraction than a church.

Making repairs

Manuel Montano died in 2002 and was buried in the church's cemetery. When he would visit, Michael Montano would notice how the church was started to crumble once again before his eyes.

A couple of years ago, he decided it was up to him to do something about it. He recruited Zawistowski, who was more than willing to help out. Golden's de facto mayor, Leroy Gonzales, who would let people onto the property to take photos and such, lent a hand with the effort. And Janice Broxterman, a transplant from Tennessee, entered the picture when a "friend of a friend asked me to take some photos of a grave," she said.

"I discovered there was no index for the cemetery and eventually started working on a history of the church," she said.

Zawistowski is also a transplant to the area; he came to New Mexico in 2000 as an inspector for FEMA doing work after the Cerro Grande Fire in Los Alamos. He said he had worked pretty much all over the country, but it was New Mexico where he wanted to stay.

"I found home," he said.

Michael Montano, though, was the one who was the driving force in fixing up the building. That hasn't come without challenges, though.

Montano said he has begged and pleaded for donations to fix up the church. He would badger his boss to help out, and that resulted in enough blocks to build the wall around the cemetery. He worked on friends who could wire the church for electricity. He darkened the doorway of Love Inc., an Albuquerque nonprofit that helps churches with maintenance and restorations, asking for help.

"Mike is really the driving force behind this," Zawistowski said.

A matter of faith

One day a couple of months ago, Montano was alone working on a door at the church when the circular saw he was using slipped and cut into his arm. At first, he said he didn't think the cut was that bad -- there was no blood. But the blood soon came and he realized he needed help. Being in a remote area, cell phone service is spotty at best; he would have to drive either north to Madrid or south to a relative's house.

At first Montano wanted to put his tools away and lock the church, but that idea disappeared as it dawned on him that he was seriously injured.

He got into his truck and drove to his relative's house, eventually ending up being airlifted to Albuquerque.

He still has a bandage of the twisted purple scar on his upper arm, but he was fortunate that the saw didn't hit a major artery, ligaments or nerves.

"I think it was God's way of letting me know that my work isn't done yet," Montano said. "I love this church, and I believe in Jesus; my faith drives me to take care of this place."



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