History of Our Lady of Perpetural Help Parish

 

 

While there have been Eastern Catholics in the Albuquerque region for years, and a previous joint Melkite-Slavonic effort in the 1960s failed, a successful endeavor was launched in 1974 by Byzantine Catholics recruited by Sandia Labs from the Pennsylvania-Ohio region who wanted a church for their growing families.  Going through the phone book and cold-calling homes with Slavic-sounding surnames, a mission community was created which invited the clergy of the Western States Deanery of the Eparchy of Parma to send priests to offer services at St. Pius X High School chapel, then located in the heart of Albuquerque near Coronado Mall. Afternoon Sunday Liturgies moved to Our Lady of the Assumption parish on Lomas Boulevard NE, where parishioners took on duties of cantoring, forming a choir, and providing food for socials after the Liturgy. A Roman Catholic deacon, Rev. Mr. Rue White, assisted at the altar and in the nascent parish, and Fr. John Rebold, who had Melkite faculties, celebrated when visiting priests could not come.  Assumption parish donated use of its hall for ethnic food fundraising dinners.

 

By July, the mission had come together with enough support to purchase a vacant Protestant church and parsonage on Bell Avenue SE, and the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was formally established in November, 1974. Bishop Emil  Mihalik  appointed the first pastor, Rev. John Kovach, who was installed by Fr. Joseph Ridella, one of those visiting missionaries and the Dean of the western states. In 1981, the second pastor, Rev. John Dorich, led the move out of the Trumbull neighborhood and into the present location in  the Alvarado Park neighborhood.  Parishioners banded together to renovate the chapel for Byzantine use and the rear storage and office rooms into a combined office-apartment, with a hall at the north end of the church. 

 

The first service was Easter Sunday with the Paschal Matins and Resurrection Liturgy in 1982.  Rev. Dorich was succeeded by Fathers Lucas and Hutsko in 1984-85.  Rev. Christopher Zugger was sent "for a couple of years" in 1985, with his first Liturgy on July 20, the feast of St. Elias the Prophet. From 1985-88 there were continual improvements to the chapel interior and hall, and finally a rectory was purchased when an adjacent house went up for sale. A mission was served in Las Cruces, 250 miles to the south, 1984-95, with a one-year stint in Santa Fe as well.

 

By 1994 the parish had a welcome problem - Liturgies were standing-room only and either we had to move or build a new church. Moving was found to be prohibitively expensive.  However, after an ambitious conversion of the heating-swamp cooling system to refrigerated air and rooftop furnaces done by the people under the direction of Chris Claus, we felt certain enough to undertake the ambitious expansion of the church and hall.  Every Saturday from the summer of 1995 through early 1998, parishioners came to work early in the morning. After lunch, work continued until sunset, when everything was cleaned so that Sunday Liturgy could be offered. Under the combined leadership of Chris Claus, Bob Hasaka, and Steve Horner, the current church and sanctuary were finished, with seating for 135 in the nave, the kitchen was renovated, and the hall was expanded with a gift shop attached.  The first Liturgy was celebrated in the new space in November, 1996.  No debt was incurred: every penny was raised through Father Chris' begging around the country and parishioner donations.  The whole complex was blessed on  July 21, 1998, by Father Wes Izer, on behalf of Bishop George M. Kuzma, 13 years after Fr. Chris came "for a couple of years."

 

That year, the Blanchette House was purchased next to the rectory through the generosity of the estate of Rose Blanchette and parishioners. This served as a catechism center until the summer of 2008. At that point, doctors had determined that Fr. Chris had to take a medical retirement. Bishop Gerald Dino made the generous decision that Father could remain in the parish where he had been serving for so long and close to doctors, and move into the Blanchette House.  He was succeeded by Father Kurt Burnette, who was returning to the eparchy after obtaining a licentiate and doctorate in canon law in Rome (2005-2008).  Father Kurt is responsible for two of our biggest outreach programs: two united booths at the New Mexico State Fair and CAFE, the Catholic Apologetics Fellowship Evangelism club at the University of New Mexico.  The State Fair provides us with an unparalleled outreach to the larger community with our gift shop of Eastern icons and prayer items, educational materials, Knights of Columbus council, and CAFE.  At the University, CAFE gives students an opportunity to study Catholic doctrine in order to defend it, and become conversant with the Byzantine Catholic Church.   On May 25th, 2005, Fr Michael O’Loughlin, our first parish vocation, was ordained to the priesthood.  On June 28th, 2014, Fr Nathaniel Block was ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gallup.  In addition, Fr. Kurt expanded the devotion to Our Lady, Helper of Mothers, by augmenting the original small icon associated with so many blessings with a large gold-covered icon from Russia and a devotional service, in order to go out to Roman rite parishes and meet the spiritual needs of parents facing infertility or difficult pregnancies.

 

Father Burnette was named Rector of SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Pittsburgh, leaving in January 2013. He was temporarily followed by Fr. Steven Gross, OFM Cap., as Administrator until the ordination of parish vocation Deacon Brian Escobedo as Father Brian Escobedo in June of 2014. On October 12, 2013, former pastor Fr. Kurt Burnette was named Bishop of Passaic by Pope Francis, the pope's first American appointment.  Father Brian and his wife, Pani Janet, transferred to Holy Angels church in San Diego in January 2015, to be succeeded by Fr. Artur Bubnevych. Father Artur comes to us from the Eparchy of Mukachevo, and was ordained a priest by Bishop Gerald Dino in Phoenix on September 14, 2014.  He has already undertaken necessary projects on the infrastructure of the parish buildings. On May 25th, 2005, Fr Michael O’Loughlin, our first parish vocation, was ordained to the priesthood.  Since 2009, there have been conversions to the Byzantine Catholic faith and two seminarians have been sent to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.    On June 28th, 2014, Fr Nathaniel Block was ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gallup.

 

Every year, at least one person is received into the Catholic Church in our parish, but in 2013-2014, a total of sixteen people were, during the pastorate of Fr. Brian.  Our parish has produced a popular CD of choral music of hymns and liturgical settings, the first Byzantine Catholic VHS videotape and DVD of the Divine Liturgy. Our former pastor, Fr. Chris, has authored two books on Catholic history:  The Forgotten: Catholics in the Soviet Empire from Lenin through Stalin (Syracuse University, 2001) (find here) and Finding a Hidden Church (find here) which documents the life of the Byzantine Catholic Church when it was driven underground 1947-90 in the USSR, and then the challenges of its reentry into public life 1990-2009.  New copies of The Forgotten are only available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.