“Father Michael O’Brien, a longtime and well-liked Catholic priest in Taos County, died Jan. 14, 1993 after a battle with cancer. He was 48 years old.
O’Brien was laid to rest in a simple, hand-woven cloth and sandals in a grave next to the mission church of Santo Niño de Atocha near Mora, “among the pines and in the mountains he loved so much,” according to the news story printed after his death.
It would be another 20 years before O’Brien was named as a pedophile of young boys, first in a series of lawsuits and then, in 2017, by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. The church’s 2017 list includes 73 clergy besides O’Brien. At least 13 had served in local parishes.
To date, O’Brien has been named as an abuser in 18 lawsuits from people in Taos, Questa and Peñasco, who are represented by Brad D. Hall, an Albuquerque-based attorney who has pushed the church be publicly accountable for the sexual abuse scandal.
O’Brien was born in Bradenton, Florida in 1944 but spent his youth in Phoenix, Ariz., according to The Taos News article. He attended St. Michael’s High School in Santa Fe and served in parishes across the state, including those in Questa, Ranchos de Taos, Peñasco, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Moriarty, Estancia and Mora.
The news of O’Brien’s past betrayed his broader, public legacy — one of being a supportive and involved priest. Though he wasn’t native to Northern New Mexico, he was a stalwart advocate for the restoration of historic adobe churches and the preservation of altar screens.
He was also know as the founder of the Pilgrimage for Vocations, a week-long walk to Chimayo. “While working in Estancia, [O’Brien] began a project to refurbish the church there. To accomplish the task, he enlisted the aid of several young men from the parish. At the end of one day’s work, he asked them if they would like a treat, like a movie or an afternoon at the swimming pool. [His friend Corina] Santistevan said they replied they would like to perform a 100-mile pilgrimage to the Santuario de Chimayo,” the story said.
“[He] granted their wish, and in turn, began a tradition followed to this day.”
Even after the news of his abuses, pilgrims still walk to Chimayo every June.”