Spanish Lessons for Bishop Lamy

By Rick Hendricks

On 3 July 1850, Jean Baptiste Lamy was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Santa Fe. In December Lamy passed through New Orleans on his journey westward to New Mexico. A young Spanish priest named Antonio Severo Borrajo happened to be in New Orleans, and his chance meeting with Lamy attracted the Spaniard’s attention to New Mexico. The Bishop of Galveston, in need of Spanish-speaking priests for the newly acquired American Southwest, had recruited Borrajo in Paris where he was studying to be a missionary in China. After their meeting in New Orleans, Borrajo sought permission to accompany Lamy to Santa Fe where he expected to perfect his limited command of English.

Borrajo joined Lamy in San Antonio where the language study centered on Spanish rather than English. Borrajo, who held a doctorate from the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, became Lamy’s Spanish teacher. According to Lamy, the more he grew to know Borrajo, the more he liked him. Borrajo gave Lamy Spanish lessons every day, and the Frenchman proved a quick study. Within a short while, he could carry on a simple conversation. Upon reaching Socorro, Texas, in June 1851, Lamy was able to preach a sermon in "la lengua de Dios" to a crowded congregation. Borrajo arrived with Lamy in Santa Fe in August 1851, but he did not tarry long. Lamy asked him to take charge of the former Franciscan missions on the US side of the border in the El Paso area. It was just as well that he left Lamy’s side, for as it turned out, Borrajo hated Frenchmen.