From its inception, Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church has always paid close attention to the living liturgy of the Church. The architect, the late John W. McHugh of Santa Fe, described Our Lady of the Assumption (OLA) Church as “a simple prayer.”
With many simple prayers and lots of hard work, OLA Mission Chapel was created in the then fast-growing Northeast section of Albuquerque. From 1951 to 1960, the Assumption Mission Chapel, also known as the Quonset Hut, at 201 Dallas NE, was used as the church. In February 1954, the late Archbishop, Most Reverend Edwin V. Byrne, formally established the parish. Reverend Francis O’Byrne was appointed the first pastor/administrator.
Again, with planning, hard work, and many simple prayers, the first phase of the building program for the OLA Parish was completed, and the dedication of the new convent and school took place in August of 1954. OLA Parish now had a convent with facilities for six nuns and a six-room modern school. The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from Monroe, Michigan faithfully served both the parish and the school for 28 years.
In 1955, Father Philip Blackburn was named pastor of the parish. He bought a home at 217 Dallas NE, which with the help of parishioners became the temporary rectory. The completion of the next phase of the building was completed, and on December 27, 1957, Archbishop Byrne dedicated the new parish hall. The hall was put to use immediately and was used as an alternate meeting place for parishioners along with the school cafeteria.
Msgr. J. A. Maguire was appointed pastor in the fall of 1958. In early 1960 Msgr. Maguire became ill, and Fr. Benedict Cuesta from Madrid, Spain, was temporarily assigned to OLA as the pastor. Stability came to the Parish with the appointment of Fr. Carl Hammer as pastor in June of 1960.
Due to the growth of the parish, the Mission Chapel/Quonset Hut could no longer accommodate the increasing number of parishioners. The Mission Chapel was also too far away from the rest of the parish plant, so the parish hall was used for church services until the new church could be built on the parish plant site. In September of 1960, the move from the Quonset Hut to the parish hall took place.
Under the leadership of Fr. Carl Hammer, in 1962 the completion of the second phase of the elementary school occurred and the official parish rectory was established. In 1963, an open house was held for the new rectory.
In preparation for the building of the actual church, Fr. Hammer and the parish finance committee reviewed the various fund drive possibilities. A tithing program was agreed upon and all the parishioners were notified. The program was a huge success and provided the money to begin the construction of the new church. The general contractor, Blue and Associates, completed the church in 1965. Our Lady of the Assumption Church was dedicated and blessed by the late Archbishop James P. Davis on Mary 30, 1965.
The church was built with the purpose of providing a large worship space while still bringing the altar and the people closer together. The brightly colored reredos of textile fabric were created and installed as background to the altar. The wall of reredos was made in the 18th century Vicarage of Hythe in Kent England by David Holt in the workshop of Gerald Holtom.
The design of the reredos consists of five main themes: the creation and fall, the idea of sacrifice, grace, virtue, and the sacraments — all of which relate to the Eucharist. The reredos, the design of the marble altar and sanctuary, and the use of a Eucharistic chapel were considered innovative at the time; in fact, OLA was the first church building in the Archdiocese to reflect the liturgical changes of the Second Vatican Council.
The stained glass windows and the 172 small windows in the OLA church were designed and executed by the late Professor John Tatschi, a professor at the University of New Mexico. The large stained glass window in the chapel is very symbolic. It pictures Christ in the winepress, which symbolized his passion and death on the cross. In the Last Supper, Christ offered himself to be sacrificed on Good Friday; he redeemed us by this sacrifice of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. The priest, in Mass vestments, holds a chalice to receive Christ’s blood, and this teaches us that all of the graces of our redemption come to us through the Mass, the Eucharistic sacrifice. The wine barrels signify that the Church is the mystical wine cellar, where the redemptive Eucharistic graces are stored to be distributed to her people.
Fr. Hammer led the OLA Parish for 15 years, from 1960 to 1975. In March of 1975, Fr. John Rebold became pastor and stayed until 1980. Under Fr. Rebold’s leadership, the first Vietnamese Catholic Community was founded in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
In 1980, Fr. Ronald Bruckner was assigned as pastor. His visionary style of recognizing the need to expand the parish facilities moved the parish offices from the rectory to the convent building. Fr. Bruckner oversaw the addition to the parish office of the Merrifield Meeting Room, which was completed in 1985.
After seven years Fr. Bruckner was assigned as pastor of our “sister parish,” Our Lady of the Annunciation. In June of 1987, Fr Luis Jaramillo became pastor. Under the leadership of Fr. Jaramillo, many additional changes were made to the parish of “my dear and beautiful people,” primarily the strengthening of the Hispanic ministry and Spanish Mass. The cry room in the church proper was reconstructed and completed in 1993. Fr Jaramillo was the pastor and liturgical leader of OLA for 15 years until his retirement in June of 2002.
Shortly after Fr. Jaramillo came to OLA, Fr. Mike Cimino was assigned as Parochial Vicar and has been with OLA ever since. Many people have often referred to Fr. Mike as a “saint” on earth. He faithfully celebrates Mass, hears confessions, visits shut-ins at hospital and nursing homes, makes home visits, counsels parishioners, and participates in school activities. Fr. Mike is truly loved and appreciated for his devoted service to OLA parish.
Father Edward C. Domme was assigned as pastor to OLA Parish in July 2002. As a past graduate of OLA School, and coming from one of the parish founding families, he is a homegrown product of Our Lady of the Assumption.
Since Fr. Domme’s arrival, OLA Parish and school have seen many welcomed improvements. Most recently, in preparation for the 50th anniversary, two sites in the parish were improved. A reconstruction of the roof of the cry room was completed, and a large bronze sculpture of Our Lady of the Assumption was installed above the cry room entrance. In addition, with the support of the Knights of Columbus, a beautiful grotto was built on the north side of the church to honor Our Lady, in whose name the church was dedicated.
Indeed, the history of our much-loved church and school reflects the strong leadership of each of our pastors and the vibrant faith of the entire OLA community. The original architect of OLA Church was correct when he described it as the result of “a simple prayer.”