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THE FLYING PADRE: Fred Stadtmueller


I originally posted this entry on August 10, 2008.  Quite a wonderful conversation ensued.

Father Stadtmueller, also a native of Germany, came to the U.S. in 1928, was ordained to the Priesthood in 1940 and came to New Mexico in July of that year. After teaching at Lourdes School and being an assistant in the parishes of Santa Rosa and Sacred Heart (Albuquerque), Fr. Stadtmueller was appointed pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish (Mosquero), by his Excellency, Archbishop Edwin V. Byrne in November 1943.



Two priests served in the San Antonio mission church. Between 1920 and 1944, Mass was offered by the Rev. Courad Lammert, parish priest from the town of Bueyeros. Then from 1944 to 1955, the Rev. Fred Stadtmuller, from the Mosquero parish, served the El Carrizo community. Area resident Doroteo M. Martinez was baptized in San Antonio Church during its early years. “The church was beautiful inside,” he recalls. “Mass was offered once a month. We had a funcion every June 13 and (the statue of) San Antonio was paraded around the church. My parents and other family members are buried in the cemetery.” His nephew Epimenio Martinez remembers Rev. Stadtmuller, the “Flying Padre.”

“Father Fred Stadtmuller used to fly his plane into El Carrizo. He used to give people rides. I rode in his plane once; it was my first time. He landed the plane on the flat.”

When I wrote this post, Monsignor Stadtmuller was retired and purportedly lived in Albuquerque.  He has since passed away.

Here is the conversation after the posting:

August 16, 2008 / Antonia

Dear Father Joe,

Thank you for the interesting post. My folks live in New Mexico and sometimes they like to take a ride and visit the Pueblos and other historical places. I know they will enjoy learning about the church and the Padre. They live in a suburb of Albuquerque. There are some interesting churches at some of the Pueblos.  One in particular is at Laguna Pueblo, the Church of St. Joseph. It was built in the 1600s. The Spanish missionaries had a great devotion to Good St. Joseph and every year had a procession with a beautiful image of him painted on a hide (I think it was buffalo!). You can see it today. The Stations of the Cross were among the most vivid I have ever seen. The wooden altar was adorned with the most beautiful and colorful carved flowers. Unfortunately you cannot take pictures. But it is wonderful to find such beauty and the past history of our Faith in what to some may seem just another lonely little town.

God bless.

 August 26, 2008 / rbbadger

Dear Father,

I knew Monsignor Stadtmueller. I was once a seminarian for the Diocese of Gallup and though Monsignor was not of our diocese, he lived in our diocesan boundaries upon his retirement and filled in often in various parishes throughout the Diocese.

I received notification from a priest friend of mine in the Diocese that Monsignor Stadtmueller has died at the age of 95 yesterday or the day before.

May his soul and souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

August 27, 2008 / Kim Stadtmueller

Dear Father Joe,

 Monsignor Stadtmueller passed away around 3:00 PM on August 22nd after a terribly painful last few days resulting from prostate cancer, which had metastasized to bone cancer. He has lived with my husband (his nephew), Charles, and I in Virginia since March. He requested to live with us because he wanted to be with family “when he died.” For those who wish to know, Mass will be tomorrow (August 28) at Holy Ghost Church in Albuquerque and the funeral will be on Friday. It is with great regret that I could not attend the funeral, however, we could not afford for both my husband and I to fly there. I was blessed to know Monsignor Stadtmueller (Uncle Fred, as we called him), although it was for a very short time.

 God is good! He has delivered the Monsignor from his terrible pain.

 Peace be with you.

August 27, 2008 / Father Joe

I say an extra Mass tomorrow at Coast Guard Headquarters. I will remember him in my intention for the Mass. May he rest in peace. I am so sorry for your loss.

August 27, 2008 / P. Siler

Dear Father Joe,

Indeed, Msgr. Fred Stadtmueller passed away on Sunday, August 24, 2008 in a nursing home in Rocky Mount, VA. The rosary group from our local parish, which my daughter belongs to, visited him last Tuesday evening and recited the rosary at his bedside and then the Divine Mercy Chaplet. My understanding is that he had been in the nursing home a short time and had a nephew living in Roanoke, VA, and that he was taken back to New Mexico for funeral and burial. I watched the movie about him and was very impressed with it. May he rest in peace.

August 28, 2008 / Sharon Karpinski (University of New Mexico)

I was saddened to read Monsignor Stadtmueller’s obit this AM in the Albuquerque Journal. He was a fascinating, wise, and independent-minded gentleman that I was privileged to interview several times in 2004 and 2005 as part of my research for my Master’s thesis re: life on the high plains pre-1950. I am heartened that he died with his family. Although he had many, many friends here in New Mexico, after his long term housekeeper passed a few years ago, I know he was lonely.

His memories of circuit riding his mission churches throughout Harding and Union County, New Mexico in a Piper Cub are unique—and priceless. It was a time and place as remote from us now as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.

October 19, 2008 / Catherine (Stadtmueller) Bolin (Winchester, VA)

Uncle Fred was a legend, and I remember flying in the “Spirit of St. Joseph” with him around 1944-1945. Kim, we have never met, but Charles is my cousin. I wish I had known Uncle Fred had come to Va. Have tried to find your phone # unsuccessfully. GOD BLESS YOU UNCLE FRED, MAY YOU REST IN PEACE!

June 14, 2009 / Maria Theresa Stadtmueller

I am also a niece of Fred Stadtmueller’s (hello, Kim, Charles, and Catherine!), and remember very well how he’d fly his plane back East occasionally to visit the family when we were kids. I got to know him better as an adult, visiting with him several times after he’d retired, and we’d phone each other every few months until he moved and I lost track, which I’m very sorry about. He was a highly intelligent and kind man, a hard worker, and a good friend and neighbor to so many. He was no longer flying when I visited him in NM, but he sure drove fast!

Uncle Fred was at the center of controversy in the early 60s, and was evicted by residents from his pastor position at the Isleta Pueblo. He was accused by some of cultural insensitivity, of demeaning the Indians’ spiritual and cultural practices. What I learned in interviewing him and others, and in reading through archives on the matter, was that, as is often the case, there was a lot more going on than met the eye. Independently of Fred’s attitudes or actions, political strife brewed within the tribal government that produced heated factions on the pueblo; the police chief’s son was a suspect in several crimes, etc. If I remember correctly, the bishop’s refusal to appoint another priest after Fred’s departure ultimately led to a freedom of religion appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Uncle Fred was a stubborn guy, and pretty doctrinaire in his Catholicism—not unusual for someone who trained in a pontifical academy. He certainly did not grant indigenous religion the same credibility as Catholicism, and as such was part of an unfortunate continuum of Catholic influence in other cultures. But I do know Fred considered himself unjustly accused of many actions, as did many of his friends on the Pueblo. He was open-minded enough not to let my own rejection of Catholicism interfere with our visits or our friendship, for which I was grateful. He was a cool guy, and I’m glad he’s now at peace after his suffering.

 July 11, 2009 / Catherine Stadtmueller Bolin

Maria, you have to be Christine & Ludy’s daughter. Since Uncle Al died on Father’s Day this year, all the children of August Stadtmueller, that came here from Germany, are gone. There were a lot of years between us. I think you were about Michael’s age, and I have a picture of the two of you. There were you and Lisa, and I heard later, a brother also. We were all so spread out. There were eight children in our family, all survive but William (Billy) died in 1983. It would be nice to hear from you.  I have lived in Virginia almost 45 years.

September 29, 2010 / Arthur Sedillo (Retired DEA Agent & Current Lago Vista, Tx. Municipal Judge)

In the mid 60′s I had the honor of knowing Monsignor Fred Stodmiller while I served as a New Mexico State Police in Los Padillas, a small community bordering Isleta Pueblo. Monsignor authorized me and community leader Jerry Jarimillo to convert the abandoned church in Los Padillas into a boy’s club.

He became a good friend. When he was expelled from the Isleta Pueblo, my supervisors prohibited me from leaving my house fearing that my intervention in his behalf would have further compounded the situation. May he rest in peace.

April 23, 2011 / Catherine (Stadtmueller) Bolin

When he was expelled from the Isleta Pueblo? I assume we are talking about the same person. Since my Uncle Fred Stadtmueller is no longer here to defend himself, let me say that my family never heard an expulsion had occurred. That would be permanent. He was however, moved from that church to a safe haven. The Pueblo Indian people were not happy that the housekeeper had ordered concrete poured in the courtyard in his absence, and they painted swastikas on the parsonage. The courtyard was a sacred stomping ground. Don’t know why she chose to do this, but it sure caused an uproar.

April 23, 2011 / Father Joe

Priests, as men under authority, are routinely transferred. Churches and schools are opened and closed. There is always an impact on the people left behind. Even today, there are priests who place the needs of people over issues like immigration and finances. We remember this priest as one who made a positive difference in the lives of so many.

April 25, 2011 / Maria Theresa Stadtmueller

Catherine, he was expelled by a faction of the Pueblo Indians, not by the bishop. In fact, it was the bishop’s refusal to acknowledge that expulsion and to appoint a successor that caused some of the Isleta residents to sue, saying they were being denied their religious rights by not having a pastor. It was this suit that made its way to the Supreme Court, although I don’t recall if they agreed to hear the case.

Uncle Fred gave me his book of all the newspaper articles and letters regarding this case. There are also photographs—a famous one in Life Magazine, for example, of Fred with his hands tied, being evicted at gunpoint by the opposing faction of the Pueblo. They wouldn’t even let Fred return to fetch my grandfather, who was elderly and living with Fred at the time. When I returned with Fred to Isleta (around 1998, I think) it was the first time he’d been back to the (empty) rectory since his eviction.

I don’t remember Fred saying that Josephine ordered the dancing ground cemented over, and I doubt she would have done so without Fred’s approval. He told me that he was trying to increase church parking space that wouldn’t be muddy and trying to discourage tribal dancing. The latter was not in the best of judgment, but there you have it.

Forgot to include, Catherine, that August was your grandfather, too. Sorry for the omission.

March 28, 2012 / Sharon Karpinski

When I interviewed Monsignor Stadtmueller in 2004 (these interviews were taped, with the Monsignor’s permission), he discussed his removal from Isleta at some length. As one of the writers above commented, there was far more to the case than came out in print—at least according to Fred, thirty plus years later. One point I can clear up. Josephine did NOT order the paving of the dance ground. The Monsignor did it, because he objected to people “dancing” on graves, or so he said in 2004. There was a clear cultural clash going on—on several levels. As for the disputed, paved space: Isleta’s view of the dance ground, which was sacred to them was different than Monsignor Stadtmueller’s view of the graveyard, which was sacred to him.

July 6, 2013 / Matthew Baca

Growing up during the ’70′s, I attended Mass (including serving as an altar boy) and school at Holy Ghost. My brothers, cousins and I all agree that Monsignor Stadmueller was a truly remarkable priest and man and so I am not surprised by the respect, admiration, and love conveyed in the preceding posts. I am somewhat surprised that no one has mentioned Monsignor’s wonderful sense of humor that I suspect stemmed from the grace and humanity belied by his stern manner. That man was very funny, even when leveling criticism. My family and I still talk about him and miss him.

July 6, 2013 / Maria

Thank you for your wonderful remembrances of my Uncle Fred. Yes, he really was a hoot. After his longtime housekeeper, Josephine, had died, he used to joke that when saying Mass every day in his little chapel at home his most regular parishioner was his dachshund, Fritz.

July 7, 2013 / Sharon Karpinski

Maria— In his last years before he left New Mexico, the Monsignor used to love to go to lunch at the Isleta Casino a couple of miles from his house. We’d get a table at the buffet and then would end up spending two or more hours at lunch because nearly everybody in the place knew Fred and would come over to visit. I always embarrassed him taking him to the Casino (he’d stopped driving) because I drove a battered, ancient Toyota Corolla. Fred liked a handsome vehicle.


3 Responses

  1. Father Jenkins
    I wonder if you have some guidance on how I might learn more about the parish assignments of Father Louis Crocchiola also known as F. Stanley, a prolific writer of New Mexico’s history and small towns. I’ve attempted to reach out to the Archdiocese’s Office and have not received a response. Can you help?

    FATHER JOE: I only know about him because of his books. Sorry.

  2. This whole page is fascinating. I got here after discovering iconic director Stanley Kubrick’s documentary short, “Flying Padre” 1951 about then Father Fred Stadmueller. Kubrick conveyed the generosity, tenderness, and bravery of the padre, who bought a small plane with his own money to reach outlying churches for masses, weddings, funerals, everything, landing on dirt fields. In one scene, he transports a local mother and her sick baby by plane to a town with a waiting ambulance that then transports them to the Tucumcari Hospital to save time, and possibly, the baby’s life. I feel it is tragic he was kicked out by the area tribe for possibly committing the sin of political incorrectness.

  3. I found this summary of the Isleta incident in The New Mexican on the 50th anniversary – I thought people might find it interesting:

    From The Santa Fe New Mexican
    Dec. 31, 1965: ISLETA (AP) —

    A Roman Catholic priest who was placed in handcuffs and ejected from the Isleta Indian pueblo last summer will not be allowed to return, says newly re-elected pueblo Gov. Andy Abeita.

    Abeita’s argument with the priest, Msgr. Fred Stadtmueller, 52, was backed up Thursday by the governor’s re-election to a second one-year term. His fight with the priest was the main campaign issue “This shows the people are behind me,” Gov. Abeita said after receiving 144 of the 260 votes cast.

    “The people’s request has been that I not apologize to Msgr. Stadtmueller and, regardless of whether he apologizes to my people, I will abide by the people’s wishes,” Gov. Abeita said.

    “I told the archbishop a long time ago that we’d take any priest but not Stadtmueller,” Abeita said. “We’re still requesting a priest.”

    He contended that Msgr. Stadtmueller had insulted and interfered with the pueblo’s religious traditions.

    “I have nothing against the Catholic faith — I’m a Catholic myself — but I just couldn’t allow Msgr. Stadtmueller to insult my people’s religious beliefs,” Abeita said.

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