Editorial: Our Lady of Guadalupe receiving new roof

Photo By Mike Bibb: Workers remove old trusses and roof decking from Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Mission in Solomon. For protection plywood panels cover large stained glass windows. 

Column By Mike Bibb

After decades, and decades – no one really seems to know how long – Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in Solomon is finally receiving a new roof.

The present roof, with its sagging trusses and dilapidating decking, is believed to have been constructed about 1912 when the third, and current church was built.

I imagine there’s been a few roofing shingle replacements over the years.  Unexpectedly, other than drooping roof supports – according to workers –  the trusses and decking appeared to be original with minimum decay.  So far.   

Usually, water leaks, dry rot, birds, and summer heat can inflict substantial damage over a century of time. 

Present church officials had previously decided a new roof was needed, and funds were gathered for that purpose.  However, like so many things, the COVID pandemic, and rising costs of materials, stalled efforts for a few years.

According to the information I obtained through researching the church’s website, the history of the church has a nearly 150-year association with the local community.  Church property was deeded to the Catholic Church in 1876 by Solomonville merchant, Isadore E. Solomon.

Solomonville was originally called Pueblo Viejo by early Hispanic settlers because it was established on the site of an old abandoned Indian village.  Also, the little town was the governing seat of Graham County from 1873-1915.

A diminutive Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel was erected in early 1878 and the first Mass was held on May 3, 1878.

For more than three years, 1887-1891, a larger church facility was constructed and dedicated in 1891 under the guidance of Father Vandermaesen.

Also, in 1891,  Our Lady of Guadalupe was commissioned as a parish and served as the mother parish to St. Joseph in Lordsburg, New Mexico; Holy Cross in Morenci; St. Rose of Lima in Safford; Holy Angeles in Globe; and Sacred Heart in Willcox.

This was when travel time between the various communities often took one, two, or more, days.  Automobiles and smooth highways hadn’t been invented. Horse and wagon were the primary modes of transportation.

In 1899, the Gila Valley Globe & Northern Railroad completed a spur line and began freight services from the main rail line in Bowie, passing through the Gila Valley, and crossing the San Carlos Apache Reservation into the Globe-Miami mining area.  A similar spur line was constructed from Lordsburg to the copper mining communities of Clifton-Morenci.  It’s my understanding a few basic passenger cars were eventually offered.

Interestingly, one of the original locomotives of the GVGNR was called Jupiter, which participated in the Golden Spike Ceremony in Promontory Summit, Utah.  The final “Golden Spike” or “The Last Spike,” became a symbol of the United States’ completion of the first transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. 

The train company is still operating as the Arizona Eastern Railroad – AZER.

Keep in mind, Arizona and New Mexico were still a territory.  Statehood wouldn’t come for another 20 years.

Unfortunately, also in 1891, a catastrophic fire burned the church to the ground.  It was later rebuilt by the labors and spirits of the parishioners.

A few years later, in 1894, the San Jose Mission was built east of Solomon a few miles to serve the growing San Jose area.  Sixty years later it was closed.  Bishop Moreno re-dedicated the mission in 1985 as a House of God.

Another fire in 1911, destroyed the wooden floor and some of the wood statues from the main altar of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The following year, 1912, the existing church, designed by Don Joaquin Figueroa, was rebuilt – for the third time – using handmade adobe bricks.

Again, according to the roofing workers, it is thought the wood trusses and other assorted boards and planks used in the church’s construction, were obtained from trees harvested on Mount Graham and manufactured at local sawmills.

Photo By Mike Bibb: This shows the interior of the chapel and the altar of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Mission in Solomon.

In 1937, St. Rose of Lima in Safford was designated a separate parish.

The “White Sisters,” also known as the Sisters of the Eucharistic Missionaries of St. Dominic, came to Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Rose of Lima in 1961, to help with the catechetical program.

1981 was the 450th anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego on the Hill of Tepeyac in Mexico.  Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Mission in Solomon was dedicated a Shrine by Bishop Moreno from the Diocese of Tucson.

While the small Catholic mission in Solomon, Arizona has a long and storied past in Graham County, its continued preservation is a testament to former and present parishioners who have the insight – and determination – to make certain church members and visitors will appreciate the history, contributions, and maintenance necessary to sustain and preserve the church for another hundred years.