November 15, 2023 559 PM
RUIDOSA — Last Saturday, the sounds of mariachi and warm conversation filled the air at the third annual “Community Day” hosted by nonprofit Friends of Ruidosa Church. The event drew dozens of people from all over the tri-county area — and as far away as California — who had ties to Ruidosa or an interest in seeing the community’s historic adobe church.
The Friends group was founded in 2018 to rally around the cause of repairing an abandoned church in Ruidosa. El Corazón Sagrado de la Iglesia de Jesus — a Catholic church whose claims to fame include what is perhaps the largest adobe arch in Texas — was a community hub in the first half of the 20th century, when Ruidosa was a bustling farming town.
When the church started falling into disrepair in the 1950s, artist Donald Judd approached the Diocese of El Paso in hopes of buying the building to preserve its architectural significance, but church leadership declined to sell.
Nearly three decades later — in 2019 — the Diocese deeded the land to Presidio County, who then turned over the property to the Friends group. Over the past five years, its board members — who hail from all over the tri-county area — have worked diligently to restore the crumbling adobe structure and gather family histories from those who remember the church in its glory days.
Each year’s Community Day follows a theme marking what the group wants to accomplish in the year to come. This year’s theme was “Raising the Bell.”
Board Secretary Mike Green explained that the theme was a nod to the church’s long-lost bell. Over decades of neglect, items started disappearing from the church — glass, sacraments, the altar. The bell also wandered off.
Around the time the board was formed, Green started asking around to try to solve the historical whodunit. A friend tipped him off that a former Ruidosa school teacher might have it — when the bell was returned to the Friends, they kept it in the Presidio County Jail for safekeeping.
Four years later, the bell was returned to Ruidosa — marking an ambitious goal for the coming year. “What we’re doing is restoring the church front to back,” Green explained. “We want to finish the entryway where we can put the bell up.”
Another important aspect of the Friends’ restoration work is making — and teaching community members how to make — adobe brick. Throughout the year, board members host adobe workshops to help get supporters of the church involved in the process. “The enthusiasm is contagious, and everyone has a great time,” Green said.
Ultimately, Green and his fellow board members see the project as a way to honor the past while creating a gathering space in the present day. They’d like to see more community events, exhibitions and church services return to the space. “We say that an active building is a healthy building,” he said.
They can’t do it alone — to support their efforts, the group is always seeking volunteers and donations. “I think it’s good to give back to the community in any way you can,” he said.