Navajo Catholics in the U.S. southwest are expressing upset over a decision to transfer administration of an historic mission founded some 125 years ago from the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor to the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico.
They are also voicing frustration about the process of consultation before the transferring of St. Michael’s Mission, the first permanent Catholic mission to the Navajo, founded by St. Katharine Drexel in 1898.
Teresa Sells-Gorman, who has served in lay ministry since the early 1980s, wants the land and the mission to remain under the Franciscans. “What’s going on here should include the voice of the people of each parish, which it hasn’t, was never ever brought to us,” she said in a recent interview.
Gallup Bishop James Wall first announced the move in a letter released Jan. 23. He said the transfer was made necessary as the Franciscans’ Our Lady of Guadalupe Province, headquartered in Albuquerque, prepares to merge with five other U.S. provinces of the Order of Friars Minor in October.
“Like many religious orders, communities, and dioceses throughout the United States, the Franciscans have not been immune from the challenges that come with a downward trend in vocations throughout the past half-century,” said Wall.
“All six provinces throughout the country are finalizing a merger into a single entity in 2023, and with this restructuring come changes, both positive and negative — including restructuring in our own diocese,” he said.
In a statement to NCR, Franciscan Fr. Ronald Walters, provincial minister of the Our Lady of Guadalupe province, said that “the stark reality of a friar population depleted by age, coupled with fewer new vocations, made this decision inevitable.”
“The departure from St. Michael’s Mission comes with unavoidable sadness, frustration and disappointment for many — the friars included. Such emotions are part of any process of loss,” Walters added, noting feelings are particularly intense because of the 125-year history of Franciscan presence among Navajo people.