The circumstances which brought the Sons of the Holy Family to the Spanish-speaking and Indian missions of New Mexico are providential. Fr. Salvador Gené had been living in the mining town of Durango, Colorado, from 1913 to 1916, working with a group of Theatines out of the Sacred Heart Parish. During this time he had been covering the southeastern missions of Mora, Santa Cruz and Las Vegas: all within the State most recently admitted into the Union, that is, New Mexico (1912).
Our semi-official historian of that period, Fr. Joseph Cubells, who joined that first group of missionaries in 1929, provides us with the following account of how it came to be that we ended up in New Mexico:
“In the town of Lumberton, New Mexico, (about half-way between Chama, New Mexico, and Durango, Colorado), the pastor was a humble and holy Franciscan, Friar Albert Daeger. His sole possession was a beautiful horse, which he nobly rode on his missionary rounds to the many and distant chapels that dotted the territory. Whenever the weather would turn bad and it became impossible to continue on, Friar Albert would drop in on Fr. Gené in the most unexpected manner. More than once, with the harness over his shoulder, he could be heard entering his convent-like dwelling, yelling in a loud voice, ´Fr. Salvador, would you happen to have a place for this ´burro´that has just dropped in?´ The people were very poor and money was scarce: so much so that very often he had to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in make-believe cardboard box ´tabernacles´ in some of his so-called ´chapels´”.
One wintry afternoon, while cleaning the snow from the room of his residence in Peña Blanca, Friar Daeger was handed a confidential letter from the Apostolic Nuncio, naming him Archbishop of Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico. It was not long thereafter that the new Archbishop remembered and contacted his good friend Fr. Gené. After several letters had crisscrossed between the new Prelate, the Superior General of our Institute, and Fr. Gené himself, the first missionary group was formed and was soon on his way to the “land of enchantment.”
As a consequence of Fr. Gené´s previous experience, Fr. Louis Tallada selected him to head this first group and appointed him to be the superior, while Father Joseph Ruensa and John Massó acted as his counselors. Brother John Martorell, who also accompanied them, would help out in whatever way was necessary.
We learn about their first reaction to the New World from the lips of Fr. Ruensa:
“On the vigil of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, 14 August, 1920, we were able to make out the coastline of the American homeland and then, as the panorama unfolded before us, we came into full view of the imposing Statue of Liberty, and the entrance of the New York harbor, welcoming the oppressed, the burdened and the heavily laden to a land of new freedom and opportunity.”
Several days later, on 17 August, the little group of missionaries continued on their pilgrim way across this new land. Finally, on the afternoon of 20 August, they arrived in Santa Fe, tired and weary but no less for the wear and tear of their long journey. They were guests of the Franciscans at the Cathedral and there were received by the Archbishop, who explained to them his final plans regarding their continued existence and future apostolic work in the archdiocese.