Four years ago, youth group members of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Los Alamos, N.M., began traveling the 70 miles to San Fidel to complete projects at St. Joseph Mission School.
Bill Inkret is a member of the parish and organizes the teens doing the work. Little did he know that his Ursuline Sister connection would soon intertwine with another.
“It was a miracle that Bill came with the work group,” said Antonio Trujillo, who has been principal at St. Joseph for 10 years. “He told me his aunts were Ursulines. I told him this was an Ursuline school. We started comparing notes.”
Bill’s aunts were Sister Mary Durr and Sister Annunciata Durr. His mother is Aurelia “Bunkie” Inkret, who lives in Denver. She devotedly visited Sister Mary at least once a year until Sister Mary’s death in 2017.
“I’ve been to Maple Mount seven or eight times,” Inkret said in a phone interview. “After my dad passed away, I’d drive my mom there to visit Sister Mary. I’d take my kids to see her too. Sister Mary was the sweetest person. She was a saint.”
Sister Mary was a Sister for 80 years when she died just short of her 99th birthday. Sister Annunciata left the community in 1970 after 31 years and died a few years later. They were both music teachers.
Inkret and Trujillo began discussing a way to honor the Ursuline Sisters who served at St. Joseph. They decided to create a grotto at the school. Whenever the restrictions caused by Covid-19 are lifted to allow for public gatherings again, they will dedicate the grotto to the Ursuline Sisters with a plaque.
“The school still has the Ursuline spiritualty of education,” Trujillo said. “We wanted to remember the Ursulines.”
The Franciscan Sisters opened St. Joseph School in 1923. When they left in 1956, the Ursuline Sisters took over and served there until 1996. A total of 49 Sisters served at St. Joseph, nine of whom are still living.
Trujillo knows firsthand the impact of Ursuline educators. He was taught by the Sisters at St. Teresa School in Grants, N.M.
“I was dyslexic. No one knew anything about dyslexia then,” Trujillo said. “I was always the poorest student. The Ursuline Sisters saw the effort, they never judged me about my learning. They helped me with what is today called ‘emotional intelligence.’ I learned to think differently and not be stopped by the challenges. The Sisters just loved us. That is what I try to exude with our children at St. Joseph’s.”
One of his favorite Sisters was the late Sister Elizabeth Ann Ray. “She wrote me a note every Christmas,” Trujillo said.
Inkret and three teens from the youth group completed the grotto over the summer using the volcanic rock found in the area. It was dedicated to Our Lady of Peace and is nestled between the chapel and the main school building.
Inkret is impressed with the mission of the school in the remote area near the famous Route 66. The school serves the Acoma, Laguna and Navajo nations.
“They give kids a fighting chance to go to a good high school and college,” Inkret said. “They had one kid who just graduated from Notre Dame.”
Aside from the grotto, the Immaculate parishioners have built picnic benches and tables, Trujillo said.
“This whole school was carpeted,” he said. “For two summers they pulled out all the carpeting and redid the oak floors.”
Inkret also brings groceries during his monthly visits to San Fidel, since so many food outlets have been closed due to Covid. In another homage to his musical aunts, he also donates musical instruments to the Indian nations – he began building guitars about seven years ago.
“I repaired guitars for 20 years, I decided to see if I could build them,” he said.