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NMSU alumni help renovate, revitalize Questa, NM church

In the late 1960?s, three sisters left Questa, New Mexico, to attend New Mexico State University and made their homes either in Las Cruces or elsewhere, but after hearing about the possible demolition of a historic Catholic church in their home town, they quickly sprung to action.



NMSU alumna Bernadette Apodaca wraps copper around a piece of stained glass. Apodaca and her family, along with several residents in Questa, N.M., are helping to restore St. Anthony?s Catholic Church in Questa. Apodaca?s family, the Raels, are originally from Questa. (NMSU photo by Adriana M. Chavez)

A group of NMSU alumni, including a current NMSU research assistant professor from the College of Education, are among the many volunteers helping rebuild St. Anthony?s Catholic Church in Questa, N.M. Members of the Rael family from Questa are working on a stained glass window in Las Cruces. They are, from left, Merlyn Sideris, Karen Trujillo, Waltraud Rael and Louella Gomez. (NMSU photo by Adriana M. Chavez)

Members of the Rael family in Las Cruces are working on one of four stained glass windows for St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Questa, N.M. The Rael family is originally from Questa and have close ties to NMSU. The church has been under renovation since 2008 after a church wall crumbled, and officials with the Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe considered tearing down the centuries-old church. (NMSU photo by Adriana M. Chavez)

Eight years later, the Raels and the rest of the Questa community, located nearly 20 miles north of Taos, will get to witness the renovated St. Anthony?s Catholic Church reopen its doors later this summer. They have all invested their time into rebuilding the church, and a group of Raels in Las Cruces have spent endless hours creating three new stained glass windows for the church. Several members of the Rael family are graduates of NMSU. They left Questa in search of new opportunities and decided to make Las Cruces their home, but Questa is never far from their hearts.

?We were all kind of just drawn to the project,? said Karen Trujillo, an NMSU alumna and research professor in NMSU?s College of Education. ?There?s a strong New Mexico State-Questa connection. A lot of my mom?s generation came to school here and decided to stay, and in my generation there are nine NMSU graduates.?

St. Anthony?s Catholic Church in Questa, also known as San Antonio de Padua Catholic Church, was built in the mid-1800s by the first families of what was then the village of San Antonio del Rio Colorado, according to the town?s website. In 2008, a portion of the church collapsed, and officials with the Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe contemplated tearing it down, but members of the Questa community raised more than $1 million to restore it. The Archdiocese temporarily handed the church over to the community, and the church will be rededicated back to the Archdiocese on Aug. 14.

For the past five years, Mark Sideris, a licensed contractor who majored in horticulture at NMSU, has been leading the efforts to rebuild the church. The effort has involved dozens of volunteers and hours of hard labor. Sideris has moved to Questa from Las Cruces because of the project. His wife, Merlyn Sideris, and her daughter, siblings and nieces, established a workshop in Las Cruces to make stained glass windows for the church.

?We?re from Questa. We were born and raised there,? said Merlyn Sideris, an NMSU alumna and retired special education teacher. ?They needed the stained glass windows, and I have a little bit of experience with stained glass. I got the family involved, and we?ve had a few people who are originally from Questa who have come down to help.?

Volunteers in Questa are also working on a few more stained glass windows for the church. The Rael sisters regularly travel to Questa to help out in any way they can, whether it be to work on the stained glass windows or to help serve food to volunteers working on the construction.

Not only has the renovation project helped the community of Questa come together, it has also brought the Rael family together. Although four siblings live in Las Cruces, it wasn?t until work on the stained glass windows started that they began to regularly gather. As they painstakingly work on each delicate piece of colored glass, they share stories about growing up, joke around with each other and discuss local and national politics.

?When my brother-in-law Mark got really involved, we all just followed suit,? said Bernadette Apodaca, Merlyn Sideris? sister and Karen Trujillo?s mother. ?What a blessing and an honor it has been to just have a hand in something that is going to outlast us. It?s strengthened the bond that is already strong between us in our golden years. It?s a good thing.?

Apodaca is a retired teacher earned her bachelor?s degree in education from NMSU, much like her sister Louella Gomez, who earned her master?s degree in linguistics at NMSU and became a certified bilingual teacher. Gomez said she?s amazed how the renovation has united the Questa community.

?I think it?s had a big impact. It?s brought everybody together,? said Gomez, who is now retired. ?Everybody has worked really hard because they don?t want to lose the church there. It?s the place where everybody received all their sacraments, and our grandparents went there. I think the community at large has really benefitted. It?s brought people together, both in their work and spiritually.?

For more information about St. Anthony?s Catholic Church, visit https://www.facebook.com/save.church.