Franciscan Festival of Fine Arts at Holy Cross Retreat Center |
Visitor examines art on exhibit in the atrium of the historic hacienda. The atrium has a translucent roof providing environmental control both inside and out.

Mark your calendar, and you can take part in a “tip of an iceberg” experience — the Franciscan Festival of Fine Arts at the Holy Cross Retreat Center in Mesilla Park. The festival will take place Labor Day weekend from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

The first Franciscan Festival of Fine Arts occurred in 2005, attracting artists from around the region. By 2022, the number of participating artists had grown to 85 and news of the festival had spread throughout the community, attracting 4,000 to 4,500 people.

This really is the tip of an iceberg, because the hacienda housing the Holy Cross Retreat Center is more than a century old and the arts festival has not yet reached 20 years. There’s a lot more going on here than an art fair!

The chapel at Holy Cross Retreat Center reflects the Spanish style.
The modern chapel was formally dedicated and consecrated by Bishops Cantú, Ramirez, and Seitz (of El Paso) in 2015.

Historic hacienda foundation of retreat complex

Anyone who visits the center will find a complex of buildings. There’s a modern chapel, the friary where friars reside, retreat rooms reminiscent of a motel — it has 46 rooms accommodating 120 beds — and the historic building. There are also two individual hermitages looking toward the mountains for people or couples who prefer more quiet time and space. The original hacienda was built in 1912 – 1913 by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Monaghan. The adobe bricks of which it was constructed were made right there on the property. When completed, it had 14 rooms around a central atrium. Most of the furnishings came by train, just 30 years after the first Santa Fe Railway train arrived in Las Cruces.

Franciscans acquire property for a retreat

After several years, the property was passed on to Beatrice White Fountain. She and her husband, Henry — who apparently was named after Albert Fountain’s murdered son — lived in the house for many years and carried out extensive redecoration and landscaping as well as farming. In 1954, the Fountains sold the house and 19 acres to the Franciscans of Santa Barbara, California, who were looking for a site to build a retreat house. Many of the unique furnishings were sold with the house, including the hand-carved Japanese dining room set, an ebony grand piano, and a hand-carved Swiss grandfather clock.

In 1957, Holy Cross Retreat Center opened. The Californian Franciscans continued to maintain and staff the retreat until 1980. Because of insufficient personnel, they turned over Holy Cross Retreat Center to the Conventual Franciscan Friars, who have operated it ever since.

Mural of St. Francis at Holy Cross Retreat Center, home of the Franciscan Festival of the Arts.
A highlight of any visit to the retreat center is time spent admiring the work of Linda Hagen, who painted the St. Francis mural.

More than a religious sanctuary

Holy Cross Retreat has expanded over the years and welcomes priests, members of religious orders, recovering alcoholics, married couples, engaged couples, youth, cancer patients, and various religious denominations, all seeking a sacred space for meditation and healing. It also provides temporary lodging for immigrants awaiting asylum decisions or imminent deportation and people undergoing medical treatment in need of a place to stay for a short time.

Holy Cross Retreat Foundation Established

In 1981, a group of recovering alcoholics established a foundation to support the center. The Holy Cross Retreat Foundation continues to provide financial assistance for the maintenance, renovation, and expansion of the facility. They also provide support for retreat programs.

Serving the community

“Our center exists to serve the general community,” says Fr. Tom Smith, the retreat center’s director. The center offers a variety of programs to nurture the spiritual needs of people. There’s a Day of Reflection on Divorce program, a women’s healing retreat, and a men’s spirituality retreat. And because we’re all mortal, the center offers a retreat — based on Ronald Rolheiser’s book, Sacred Fire, to examine life in its different stages. Says Friar Tom, “That helps us live more fully and even helps prepare us for dying gracefully.”

He adds, “We also work with groups to promote justice and change systems that leave people vulnerable and poor.” For example, Holy Cross Retreat Center has partnered with Community United in Action and Faith, whose efforts have resulted in raising the minimum wage and obtaining paid time off for some New Mexican workers, financial assistance for undocumented immigrants, improving roads in Vado, and a host of other activities.

The center’s mission goes beyond helping people. The local Laudato Si! committee, part of the global Catholic climate movement established in 2015, promotes care for the earth and humanity with events, like “Planting the Seed” commemorating Earth Day, retreats, and education on how we all need to respond to the climate crisis.

Woman holding quail made from gourds at the Franciscan Festival of Fine Arts.
Suzanne Blaydes, new to Las Cruces in 2022, shows off her Love Birds quail gourds, made by Margaret Garcia.

Franciscan Festival of Fine Arts

Last year, the Festival of Fine Arts, which is a major fundraiser for Holy Cross, attracted 82 artists from around the country. Visitors seeking a unique piece of art or other collectibles could peruse fine-art paintings and sculptures, metalwork, ceramics, gourds, glass art, unique clothing and jewelry, and other clever and curious crafts. Musicians, playing from the central gazebo, serenaded patrons while they shopped. There were several food vendors, including a well-chaperoned area serving beer and wine.

“We expect to provide the same kind of experience this year,” says Friar Tom, who adds, for clarification, the Franciscan Festival of Fine Arts was the precursor of Las Cruces’ Renaissance Arts Fair. (The Renaissance Fair started at Holy Cross but that was before the Franciscan Festival of Fine Arts.)

There is no admission fee to attend the arts festival, but donations are welcomed. For more information, visit the website.

If you’re looking for a place for a retreat program to enrich your spiritual and personal life, solitude in one of the hermitages, or a compassionate place of Franciscan hospitality, check out the Holy Cross Retreat website:

You’ll be surprised to learn how much “iceberg” lies beneath the surface of the festival’s “tip.”

Find other Labor Day weekend events here!

Story by Bud Russo

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