From Auvergne in France, an area somewhat similar to the Rio Grande and San Luis valley area in Colorado, with its hills, deep gorges, and hot springs, a young priest was recruited in 1839 to come to America as a missionary.
Father Machebeuf sailed from France to New York with his friend and fellow priest, Jean Baptiste Lamy. Father Lamy would become the Vicar Apostolic of New Mexico and Arizona headquartered in Santa Fe, while Father Machebeuf would become Vicar Apostolic over Colorado and Utah with headquarters in Denver. And the recruiter, John M. Odin, later became bishop of Galveston and archbishop of New Orleans.
In 1850, they sailed together down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. This was only two years after the war with Mexico and the US government was trying to restore order in the southwest territories.
An army escort led them over the plains of Texas and from El Paso, they followed the Rio Grande River route north to Santa Fe..
According to a letter written by Machebeuf, the residents of Santa Fe gave them a cool reception and the clergy already in place, not wanting to serve under the Frenchman, eventually left New Mexico.
He described, however, a different greeting from 8,000 Native Americans in costume and having constructed triumphal arches. The protestant ministers, he described, as "filled with rage and envy".
Priests in Taos and Albuquerque challenged the reforms initiated by Lamy which were eventually appealed to Rome. Lamy sent Father Machebeuf to discipline rebellious priests around the area.
Meanwhile, in their native France, through a coup d'etat, Napoleon III gained the throne. Mexico, having gained independence from Spain just 30 years before, was in the throws of strife attempting to establish a liberal constitution which would become war in a few years.
This same year of 1852, Santa Fe became a diocese and Lamy requested Jesuit missionaries to help him minister in this frontier.
Father Machebeuf served as pastor in Albuquerque.
During the next two years, Mexican settlers made their way up the Conejos River. A mule pulled a cart carring an image of the Patroness of Mexico, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.
Legend has it that the mule stopped and would go no further. It was taken as a sign that the settlement was to be built there. It was called Guadalupe Village but later because of raids, was moved to higher ground and renamed Conejos.
The first grist mill in Colorado was built here and the church was completed in 1857 and named Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. Father Machebeuf said the first Mass. The second parrish was established two years later in San Luis and Machebeuf served as pastor over all the missions in New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern Colorado.
By 1860, Machebeuf moved into the position of Vicar Apostalic over Colorado and Utah. He made a trip from Santa Fe to Denver to establish St. Mary in Denver, but on the way made a stop in Conejos.
At the same time that Machebeuf said the first mass in Denver, Benito Juarez was fighting those opposed to the recently established Mexican Constitution. The opposition included the military and the clergy. He won the battle and moved into Mexico City and was elected President. Soon after, he suspended payments on the national debt for 2 years, confiscated the lands owned by the Catholic Church which constituted about 35% of Mexican land, abolished the inquisition courts, and expelled the Archbishop of Mexico.
The American Civil War was also beginning.
Within six months, Spain, France, and Britain decided to launch a joint occupation of the Mexican gulf in order to force repayment of Mexico's debts.
They landed in Veracruz in December 1861 to begin deliberations. On May 5 of the next year, Juarez had a victory.
Spain and Britain withdrew but the French troops under Napoleon III remained. The French occupation violated the Monroe Doctrine but the US was too involved in their own war to help at the time. Within a year the French moved in to an evacuated capital, set up a provisional government, and brought in Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph von Habsburg of Austria to accept the Mexican crown.
He arrived in Mexico City in June of 1864.
When the US Civil War came to an end, the US sent arms and troops to Mexico to help them in their fight.
Within a year, Napoleon III withdrew his troops. Juarez and the united Mexican forces resumed their campaign and within six months Maximillian surrendered, was tried and executed. Juarez was returned as president of Mexico. Among his first acts was to expel the Spanish ambassador along with 200 priests.
But in the new territories of the US, Bishop Lamy's request for Jesuit missionaries was answered and five priests were sent from Naples, Italy arriving in August of 1867.
More missions were established in Southern Colorado and within two years the Conejos church became the mother church of 25 missions.
Father Machebeuf traveled to each one for their feast days. Soon the Jesuit priests took over all responsibilities for the church in Conejos.
That was 1871. In 1872, in Mexico, President Juarez died of apoplexy. Some believed he was poisoned. The Jesuit Order was banished from Mexico the next year.
In 1877, General Profirio Diaz became the new head of Mexico and more friendly with the clergy and conservative elements. He ruled Mexico until 1911, shortly before the Mexican Revolution.
This same year, the Italian Jesuits from Naples, at the invitation of Archbishop Lamy, opened a college in Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Five years later, they established another school west of Denver in Morrison at the urging of Denver's first bishop, Joseph Machebeuf, and the Colorado Territorial Governor Gilpin. The location would be at a resort the bishop bought from former governor John Evans. The college was called Sacred Heart.
Five years later in 1883, the college was reestablished at a new site in Denver. The Las Vegas College was closed and this new school would later be called Regis University.
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