A Socorro woman is on a mission to return three statues representing Mary, Joseph, and their child Jesus to their rightful place. Three plaster gypsum chalk statues representing the holy family are meant be on display in the San Miguel Church Museum, believes Sheri Armijo, who is currently keeping them in her home. She’s had them only a short period of time, but their Socorro story goes back to the early 1900s.
“They were donated to San Miguel Church sometime in the 1920s by the Abeyta family,” Sheri said. “At the time, the Abeyta family resided at 200 Mt. Carmel, the house currently known as the Zengerle Historic House.”
A 1926 photograph of San Miguel’s altar shows the four-foot statues of Joseph and Mary, and the two-and-a-half-foot Christ Child. The statues were mounted in a nicho on the altar’s left side. There they remained for 20 years.
When San Miguel underwent renovations in 1940, it needed to have the statues moved, so they were returned to the family who was then residing in the nearby Abeyta/Zengerle house at the corner of Bernard and Mt. Carmel.
“We found that the 1940 census listed that family as Henry Joseph Zengerle, his wife, Josefina Sandoval Zengerle, and seven of their eight children,” Sheri said. “Sometime after 1940, the family moved out of the house and left for Oregon, taking the Holy Family statues with them.”
The statues were subsequently passed down the line of children over the years and ended up being relocated from Oregon to Idaho. The last survivor of the Zengerle children was Josephine Zengerle Rankin, who inherited the statues.
“She displayed them in a spare bedroom in her home in Mountain Home, Idaho,” Sheri said.
Unfortunately, the figure of Jesus had been broken and shattered sometime over the years, but the pieces, nevertheless, were saved in a box.
Fast forward to 2012. Josephine came to Socorro from Idaho and paid a visit to her cousin Rosalind Zengerle at the Zengerle house.
“Josephine asked Rosalind if she would like to have the statues,” Sheri said. “She said yes, she definitely she wanted the statues.” It was Rosalind’s wish to have those statues returned to Socorro, “where she felt they rightfully belonged.”
As a good friend of Rosalind, Sheri offered to help get the statues back to New Mexico.
“My sister, Liz, who lives in northern Colorado offered to go pick up the statues in Idaho from Josephine’s daughter, Barbara Rankin Smith,” she said.
The statues were individually bubble-wrapped and covered with sheets.
“Liz loaded them in the back seat of her truck, securing them upright with seat belts,” she said. “This was quite a sight to see traveling down the highway!”
With the first leg of the trip accomplished, the statues were half-way home.
“My husband Ricardo Berry and I took a trip to Liz’s ranch in Colorado and packed them into our back seat,” she said. “They made the trip safely to Socorro in July of this year.”
But what to do with the box of the broken pieces of Jesus as a child?
“My sister Nadine Armijo borrowed the fragmented Christ Child to see if she would be able to put him back together,” she said. “The figure was actually broken, shattered, like a puzzle. At first, she didn’t think she was up to the task, but I told her the Holy Spirit would move her, and as of today, Nadine had been able to piece most of the statue together.”
Although back in Socorro, the journey of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is still not over.
Before she passed away last December, Rosalind Zengerle had been working on the plan to place the statues in the church museum.
“We had contacted Don Padilla, curator of the church museum, but then the COVID broke out,” Sheri said. “We’re kind of at a standstill. The museum is closed now and we’re waiting to find out how to proceed with this.”
The large figurines of Mary and Joseph are currently on display in the front window of the Jesus Maria Torres House, 225 Fisher Street.