By Msgr. Michael “Padre” Flannery
Bishop Joseph Kopacz, Bishop Louis Kihneman, Terry Dickson, Juliana Skelton (both of the Diocese of Biloxi) and I, (Msgr. Michael Flannery), have just returned from a faith and joy filled experience of the 25th celebration of the moving of the Saltillo Mission headquarters, from Perpetual Help parish to San Miguel. In truth, one would have to be present to witness the joy, faith, hope and enthusiasm of the people of the mission. For me personally, it was a moving experience. One could compare it to a spiritual retreat. Also, it provided me an opportunity to go down memory lane and relive the experience I had at Saltillo 50 years ago.
Bishop Kopacz and I traveled by United Airlines on Monday, Sept. 25. We were met by the delegation from Biloxi in the Houston airport and from there we traveled to Monterrey, Mexico where, Father David Martinez, pastor of San Miguel, was there to greet us and bring us on the last leg of our journey. We had a little bit of time to rest before joining the novena celebration the evening Mass at San Miguel at 7 p.m. For the whole novena, each day was designated to recognize some group within the parish for special attention.
The following morning (Tuesday), we were already on our way to the mountain villages at 7 a.m. Our first stop was La Cabaña (the Hut) to bless a hall under construction at the last outpost on the road to Zacatecas and to celebrate Mass there. It is estimated that it will take another year to complete the building project of the hall. Then they will have a place to celebrate wedding receptions, funerals and quince años. After the blessing, we were fed breakfast by the villagers. At 10:30 a.m. we were on the road again to San Jose, La Ventura to celebrate a funeral Mass. La Ventura is about 30 kilometers from the highway, and the entrance road is good. After the funeral Mass at La Ventura, we started our journey back to the highway and stopped on the way at La Presa de San Pedro (The Water Tank of St. Peter). There the bishops blessed the new statues of St. Peter and St. Paul, purchased for the chapel. The church is a beautiful church cut from rock found on the mountain side. After Mass there we had lunch with the villagers and drove on to San Jose, La Brecha (The Breach), to celebrate another funeral Mass. After the funeral Mass we returned to Saltillo about 5 p.m. The last Mass of the day was at San Miguel.
Wednesday saw us on the road bright and early (7 a.m.), to head for the ranchos. After an hour by highway we traveled on a gravel road to have breakfast at San Jose in the municipality of Parras. We also had a Mass there. Our next stop was at Our Lady of Guadalupe chapel in Garambullo (meaning a fruit that grows on cactus). The village of Garambullo is 2 hours from the highway. At each stop after the Mass celebration, there was always time set aside for the blessing of statues, images and holy water. Then we returned to Saltillo and we had been invited to go to the home of Yolanda for a merienda (snack) which turned out to be a full meal. After that meal we returned to San Miguel for adoration at 6 p.m. followed by the last Mass of the day at 7 p.m. Another delicious meal was served to us and we were ready for bed at 9:30 p.m. The hospitality shown to us was overwhelming.
On left, Bishop Louis Kihneman, Father David Matinez and Bishop Joseph Kopacz visit the tomb of Father Patrick Quinn at the Church of Perpetual Help during their trip to visit the Saltillo Mission in September 2023. On right, Bishop Kopacz can be seen at center during the grand procession of San Miguel on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023. (Photos by Msgr. Michael Flannery)
On Thursday, we had a little break in that breakfast was served at 8 a.m. Then we set off to visit some of the chapels served by the priests of San Miguel. Our first stop was the Church of Christ the King. This church was constructed by Father Bill Cullen who was stationed at the time at San Miguel. It is a beautiful church in the round. Our next stop was St. William Church which was constructed by Msgr. Michael Thornton (Diocese of Biloxi) and the church was dedicated by Bishop Latino of happy memory.
I would like to share a special memory with you the reader. Last year, when I went to visit San Miguel, I went to celebrate an evening Mass at St. William Church. We were just about to begin when a lady came in. After saluting her, I asked her if I knew her. She responded no. Then I asked her if she was always from that locality. She said no. I asked her where she was born and she responded, La Rosa (The Rose). I asked her what year she was born? She responded 1972. Then I announced to her that I was the one who baptized her. The village of La Rosa is 70 miles from Saltillo. It was one of the ranchos served by the mission. I do not know what possessed me to say her, do I know you? It must have been the Holy Spirit. I did have a spiritual relationship with her since I had baptized her 50 years before. God does work in mysterious ways. I was now reliving that memory.
Continuing our tour, we went to visit the church of the Holy Mexican Martyrs. The martyrdom of these men took place during the persecution of the church between 1926-1934. At the beginning of the persecution there were 4,500 priests serving the whole of Mexico. At the end, there were only 334 priests licensed to serve 15,000,000 by the government.
Our next stop was at the chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the colony of The New Image. This happened to be the favorite chapel for Father Patrick Quinn (of happy memory) to visit. From there, we went to visit the church of Divine Mercy. Bishop Kopacz assisted Bishop Raul Vera, Bishop Emeritus of Saltillo, in the dedication of this church.
Our next stop was at the church of San Juan Diego. (Our Lady appeared to San Diego in Tepeyac 1531). For us, no tour of churches and chapels in Saltillo, would be complete without a visit to Perpetual Help Church which was the original headquarters of the mission and the final burial place of Father Patrick Quinn founder of the mission.
The pastor of Perpetual Help was there to greet us. We had a few moments for prayer there. Then we went to the home of Maria Elena and Armando for another delicious meal. We returned to San Miguel that evening for adoration and the celebration of evening Mass. This was followed by a meal with the parish staff.
Friday was the grand festival of San Miguel. After breakfast, we joined the procession of 400 people who had come from the villages served by San Miguel. The procession began about a kilometer from the church. It was led by a pickup truck carrying an image of San Miguel and Our Lady of Guadalupe. Then came various groups of danza from the villages. The tradition of danza goes back to the time of the Aztec Indians and had remained a tradition of the Mexican people.
Arriving at San Miguel we celebrated Mass. After Mass we were had time to share a meal and greet the people and enjoy the music of the danza performed by the different groups. The Bishop of Saltillo, Bishop Hidalgo Gonzales Garcia joined us for the meal. He was appointed Bishop of Saltillo on Nov. 21, 2020. He had met Bishops Kopacz and Kihneman last year. We had a very informative meeting with him as he shared with us his pastoral plan for the Diocese of Saltillo and his vision of how we could participate in that plan.
At 4 p.m. the three bishops imparted the Sacrament of Confirmation to 50 candidates. It showed the unity of the Catholic Church working together. It was now time to get ready for the final celebration of the Feast of San Miguel.
The procession into the church that evening was led by the young children of the parish, dressed as angels. There were approximately 120 or more children dressed in white, as angels complete with wings. This was followed by the Mariachi band and groups of danza. The procession into the church of San Miguel took at least 10 minutes and it was a joyous faith filled experience. The church was packed with people standing outside. The pews of center aisle on one side contained, photos of the bishops associated with the parish, both Mexican and American. On the other side of the aisle were the photos of all the priests who had served in the parish since its inception. After Mass we moved to the courtyard for the crowning of the queen of the parish, entertainment provided by the mariachi band, the singing of the serenade to San Miguel and the sharing of birthday cake of San Miguel.
In my visit to San Miguel, I had an opportunity to renew many old acquaintances of people I have known over the years. One of these experiences was to bring the Anointing of the Sick and Holy Communion to an elderly lady who was a catechist at the mission over 50 years ago. She was an inspiration to me during my time there from 1971-1974. During the whole visit, my big regret was, Msgr. Michael Thornton was not there to enjoy it. He passed away last July. May he rest in peace. He was the founding pastor of San Miguel. I know he was with us in spirit.
At 10 p.m. it was time to say our last farewell to the people and return to our rooms to pack for an early start to the Monterrey Airport the following morning and to return home.