We lost Concha a month ago. There is hardly an old-timer in northern New Mexico who doesn't have a story about their encounter with Mrs. Ortiz y Pino de Kleven. Some tell how "Madame Pompadour" upbraided them for not speaking Spanish, even when there was no need; others tell how she stood up in the legislature on their behalf, individually or collectively. And there are those, like myself, for whom the story takes on a more anecdotal quality -- but one that belies a person with Presence. Concha had Presence.
In the mid 1980s Concha was on the board of the Guadalupe Historic Foundation, the not-for-profit that oversaw the preservation and use of the Santuario de Guadalupe -- one of Santa Fe's most important landmarks. I had been engaged by the Foundation to do some minor repairs on the Eighteenth Century adobe building, mostly roof caulking and crack filling.
Over time it became clear to me, as well as to the executive director at the time, Lorraine Goldman, and a few members of the board, that caulking here, spackling there simply wasn't sufficient. Sizable ruptures were developing in the narthex, the area of the church beneath the ponderous 1920s concrete and brick bell tower.
For a year or so we watched the building, and to make a convoluted story bearable, in the end I was hired to underpin the massive structure. Many readers will remember the headlines and stories that ran regularly for six-weeks reporting on the intense archeological project that resulted when we first put spade to soil. In the two hundred square foot area that we needed to excavate for the underpinning we encountered more than seventy burials. Most were Christian, some were Native American.
There were concerns of course, and much rending of vestments.
Everyone agreed that the utmost respect must be paid to the demised, but not all agreed that coffins and contents should be disturbed even if it meant the collapse of the church. Ultimately, the Foundation, the Archdiocese and the City of Santa Fe permitted me to do the archeology and the stabilization work. But then we came to the real impasse: What to do with the human remains? Re-bury and bless them, certainly, but might we have a chance to examine them and all their mortuary furnishings (which were spectacular) before they were returned to the grave? Most said, very emphatically, No.
Enter Concha. Enter the only Presence besides, perhaps, the Almighty who could influence Archbishop Roberto Sanchez to allow the Smithsonian Institution and the University of New Mexico a few weeks to add a phenomenal chapter to New Mexico history. It took only one meeting, but it was as powerful and as forward thinking as the woman herself was.
The small delegation of us there could not help but smile at the impact of Concha leading us forcefully into the Archbishop's office and reminding him, before introductions were over, that she had babysat him as an infant and she knew that his judgment would not fail him now. Was this not an extraordinary opportunity to advance the understanding of so many aspects of our ancestors? Was this not an opportunity to show them the greatest respect by letting them teach us about themselves? And, Pfoof! to those who say science disrespects religion!
Archbishop Sanchez reluctantly approved the studies and, weeks later, said the mass when the remains were re-interred. Concha, naturally, knew he would come around. She later smiled when she noted that she didn't even have to take him by the ear into the cloakroom.
Bless you, Concha.