Excerpts from Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927)
by Willa Cather
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BOOK THREE: THE MASS AT ÁCOMA
…In the golden October weather the Bishop, with his blankets and coffee-pot, attended by Jacinto, a
young Indian from the Pecos pueblo, whom he employed as guide, set off to visit the Indian missions in
He spent a night and a day at Albuquerque, with the genial and popular Padre Gallegos.
Santa Fé, Albuquerque was the most important parish in the diocese; the priest belonged to an influential
Mexican family, and he and the rancheros had run their church to suit themselves, making a very gay
affair of it.
Though Padre Gallegos was ten years older than the Bishop, he would still dance the
fandango five nights running, as if he could never have enough of it.
He had many friends in the
American colony, with whom he played poker and went hunting, when he was not dancing with the
His cellar was well stocked with wines from El Paso del Norte, whisky from Taos, and grape
brandy from Bernalillo.
He was genuinely hospitable, and the gambler down on his luck, the soldier
sobering up, were always welcome at his table.
The Padre was adored by a rich Mexican widow, who
was hostess at his supper parties, engaged his servants for him, made lace for the altar and napery for his
Every Sunday her carriage, the only closed one in Albuquerque, waited in the plaza after Mass, and
when the priest had put off his vestments, he came out and was driven away to the lady's hacienda for
The Bishop and Father Vaillant had thoroughly examined the case of Father Gallegos, and meant to end
this scandalous state of things well before Christmas.
But on this visit Father Latour exhibited neither
astonishment nor displeasure at anything, and Padre Gallegos was cordial and most ceremoniously polite.
When the Bishop permitted himself to express some surprise that there was not a confirmation class
awaiting him, the Padre explained smoothly that it was his custom to confirm infants at their baptism.
"It is all the same in a Christian community like ours.
We know they will receive religious instruction as
they grow up, so we make good Catholics of them in the beginning.
The Padre was uneasy lest the Bishop should require his attendance on this trip out among the missions.
He had no liking for scanty food and a bed on the rocks.
So, though he had been dancing only a few
nights before, he received his Superior with one foot bandaged up in an Indian moccasin, and complained
of a severe attack of gout.
Asked when he had last celebrated Mass at Ácoma, he made no direct reply.
used to be his custom, he said, to go there in Passion Week, but the Ácoma Indians were unreclaimed
heathen at heart, and had no wish to be bothered with the Mass.
The last time he went out there, he was
unable to get into the church at all. The Indians pretended they had not the key; that the Governor had it,