By Julie Wiessner
He had been away for 12 years this time, but Father Lawrence O’Keefe has returned for a third time to serve as priest of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Holbrook. He arrived in July with a plan for improvements for the church and the family center, and to offer more to the community in general.
One of the things O’Keefe would like to see is the restoration of a very good and vibrant ecumenical relationship between all of the clergy in the area.
“The first two times I was here, all of us would get together and go to lunch every Friday. We had a very good relationship and would help out each other in times of need,” he recalled.
“As a matter of fact, when we were first beginning to build the family center, the LDS church helped us out and worked on two different events. It was a good time with close cooperation. It was also the first time that a new building was put up in Holbrook in something like 30 years,” he said.
O’Keefe would also like to begin an outreach to help take care of the needs of the elderly and infirm. “Perhaps some Tai Chi lessons, or just different things especially for older people that can be done during the daytime,” he suggested. “There was also really not much effort in maintaining the convent here while I was gone these past 12 years. Upkeep on the place fell down. I want to develop plans along these lines,” said O’Keefe, adding that these were just a few of the things he has in mind to get started.
In his 12-year absence O’Keefe has missed a lot of the people, as they have either passed or moved away. His first stay in Holbrook began January 1986. Then after just one year, the debt on the church was paid off and discussion of building a parish hall began. By 1990 when O’Keefe left for the first time, there was already $32,000 in the building fund.
When he returned a second time to Holbrook in 1992, the building fund had grown to $35,000. He encouraged the congregation, saying, “You did it before, you can do it again,” and they did.
The building was completely paid for by 2002. When all was said and done, the cost of the building was $767,000, but it was empty.
Including furnishings to make the building functional, the total cost of the project rose to $1.2 million.
“The families came together and provided landscaping and various other projects to help get the family center completed. It just fascinated me to see the people coming together to get things done,” said O’Keefe.
Speaking about the family center, he said, “All the rooms in the family center are multi-purpose, except my office, the bathrooms and the kitchen. Coffee can be made in any room if there are meetings for either small or large groups without people having to run all the way to the kitchen.”
O’Keefe also began the Martha’s Helpers program around 1996 through which the ladies of the church provide food for funerals, taking the burden off the families. He said, “It’s been a nice thing to see people like Mary Duran heading up this program.
“It is also wonderful to see Dora Estrada, a 96 year young lady come to open the parish every morning at 6:30 a.m.,” said O’Keefe.
He was kept pretty busy while he was away during the last 12 years. In 2001, he became the rector of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Gallup, N.M. His duties were to head the day-to-day operations of that facility. “My term there coincided with three popes and three bishops,” he noted.
O’Keefe enjoyed his experiences in Gallup, but is happy to be back in Holbrook with the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish.
By Julie Wiessner