by Ardee Napolitano
Parishioners of UNM’s Aquinas Newman Center continued to fight for the future of the Dominicans in the parish in a rally Thursday afternoon.
Catherine Loweree, a UNM alumna and a parishioner who organized the event, said she started planning the rally in the end of January after hearing news of the Dominicans’ upcoming eviction.
She said that because the Dominicans are integral to the parish, they need to stay.
“The Dominicans really did change my life,” she said. “They strengthened my faith. They gave me a strong moral center. They’ve supported me in some really difficult moments in my life.
Newman Center parishioners gathered in front of the parish on Thursday for a rally before taking a procession to the corner of Central Avenue and University Boulevard for a prayer vigil. About 40 people stood in support of the five Dominicans that would be evicted out of the center following a decision in late January by the Santa Fe archdiocese to replace the priests in the parish. The parishioners will have to leave the parish by July 1.
Regardless of the outcome, I thought that the student body and our parishioners should rally for them.”
On Jan. 20, Santa Fe Archbishop Michael Sheehan announced the archdiocese’s new plans for the parish. The move will force five Dominican priests and brothers to move out of the center by July 1.
Loweree said that although the parishioners do not want to dispute Sheehan’s decision, they want a clear explanation from him.
“The majority of the population was sad and confused,” she said.
“We don’t understand the explanation for this decision. We feel lost. It is really important for our healing process to be able to communicate with the archbishop and have him give us our reasoning and have us start that healing.”
At the event, parishioners read Bible readings before walking en masse to the corner of Central Avenue and University Boulevard to begin a prayer vigil. About 40 people attended the rally.
New Mexico Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, who attended the rally, said he showed up to support the parish’s student supporters. He said that if the Dominicans leave the parish, it will affect him personally.
“This has been our family’s parish for at least 30 years,” he said. “This is our community… It’s just hard to have a conversation when one side doesn’t want to talk.”
Ortiz y Pino said that despite repeated attempts of parishioners to speak with Sheehan, they have gotten no response.
“We have not received a good explanation on why the Dominicans have been removed,” he said. “He hasn’t agreed to meet with them. He wants to wait until people aren’t feeling so upset about it. The problem is until he meets and explains it, we’re just thinking the worst things.”
Parishioners have written to the pope at the Vatican and to other Catholic higher-ups asking them to urge the archbishop to meet with them, Ortiz y Pino said. He said he is open to formulate a compromise with the archbishop.
“He thinks this change would promote more vocations from UNM. If that’s what he wants, we have several proposals of ways in which his vocation director could be stationed here,” he said. “We could do a lot of things. We’re not sure why the Dominicans would have to leave to accomplish that.”
Ortiz y Pino said that although he would accept the archbishop’s decision ultimately, he said it would be beneficial for Sheehan to explain himself.
“The church is not structured the way civil society is that everybody will get a vote,” he said. “At the same time, we kind of feel like we’re owed some explanation for what goes on when it’s going to be so disruptive of our community here.”
At the moment a group of 11 Newman parishioners are planning future events in support of the Dominicans, Loweree said. She said that although she is pessimistic that Sheehan would change his mind, they will not give up.
“We can’t be faithful without hope,” she said. “There’s always hope. But he seems pretty adamant.”