Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Father Pedro Maria Badilla - 1st Catholic Priest in Apache County

Father Pedro Maria Badilla
When I was doing my research on Genaro Acosta - the St. Johns Pioneer who built many of the Catholic Churches in Apache County, I discovered that his father Lazaro Acosta had written a biography of Father Pedro Maria Badilla - the first Catholic Priest in Apache County.   Another intriguing historical Apache County figure for me to find out more about!  I was so excited!

During my research I was put in contact with several of Genaro Acosta's descendants, including Richard Armijo of the Eastern United States - who graciously sent copies of the Biography (both it's original Spanish version - published in 1910, & the translated English version) to the Museum.   Much of the information I share here today is taken from this biography.

Father Badilla was born 29 June 1827 on a coffee plantation in Heredia, Costa Rica.   After attending the Seminary, he was ordained a priest in Leon, Nicaragua on 8 December 1851, at the age of 24.

Late in 1867 or early 1868 he traveled to Europe where he visited London, Paris, and on to Rome hoping to visit the Vatican and be blessed by the Pope Pius IX, but at the time disease was running rampant in Rome & he was unable to visit the Pope.  He then got on a ship headed for New York, spend a few days there & then went back to Costa Rica.

In 1877 he came back to America spending some time in California.  During this time his parents died and "upon the death of his parents, the priest inherited a small fortune, using his expenditures with intentions that always began with some noble purpose & to do good unto his brethren the poor, never saving anything for himself, he lived meager & this scarcity was one of his most glorious rings."  (From the Biography by Lazaro Acosta).

In the beginning of 1880 Father Badilla arrived in Tucson, Arizona Territory.  At that time early Catholic settlers in Apache County were hoping and "felt it was essential" to form a parish.  The Bishop in Tucson proposed this Parish to Father Badilla, "letting him know how difficult it would be and the dangers of not having a church available, etc.  The worthy Priest welcomed this proposition considering it to be his greatest happiness."  (From the Biography by Lazaro Acosta).

He saw to it that a church was built in St. Johns, working very hard and using some of his own money.  In addition he founded the Catholic Church in Springerville, and also in Concho - again using much of his own money.  (These churches in Concho & Springerville were built by Genaro Acosta.)

He spent 20 years serving the people of Apache County - many times traveling on foot to visit parishioners.   Father Badilla served everyone - and was loved by all of the people, including those of other faiths.  When he passed away in Concho, 3 May 1901, his death was mourned by all.  Father Badilla was laid to rest on the grounds of the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in St. Johns, Apache County, Arizona.

Here are a few of the articles I found of him in historical Apache County Newspapers:

16 June 1892 - St. Johns Herald Newspaper

18 June 1898 - St. Johns Herald Newspaper

26 June 1897 - St. Johns Herald Newspaper

19 November 1891 - St. Johns Herald Newspaper

29 March 1894 - St. Johns Herald Newspaper

27 June 1896 - St. Johns Herald Newspaper

4 May 1901 - St. Johns Herald Newspaper

This Plaque hangs in the St. Peter's Catholic Church in Springerville


Here are some links to a couple of other websites that have information on Father Badilla:


  1. Just a thank you note to Dolly Patterson for the time, efforts, and research regarding Fray Pedro Maria Badilla and his biographer Lazaro Acosta, my Great-Grandfather. The biography, written in Spanish, was given to me by my mother Bertha Acosta after the death of her brother Lazaro J. Acosta in 1968. What a tumultuous year that was, and I am old enough to remember. I have carried the biography all these years hoping someday it might see the light of day. And today it has. I cannot imagine a more thoughtful Thanksgiving gesture. And I would like to thank and credit Laurie Flores, a descendant of Maria Acosta (the biographer's daughter) and her husband Andres Saavedra, for her translation from the original Spanish to English.
    Also a thank you for my "cameo" appearance in the newsletter.
    Rchard R. Armijo

  2. Richard, I SO appreciate being able to read about this amazing man! Thanks to you & your cousin for her translation!! I have been wanting to create a blog article about Father Badilla since I learned about him! I hope to possible write further. I am fascinated with the historical figures in Apache County & there are so many that I feel are "unsung heroes" in the communities we live in today - so happy to do my little part in getting their stories out there. :) Thanks again Richard & may you and yours be blessed! Dolly Patterson

  3. I would also like to thank Dolly Patterson for posting this blog and for Richard Armijo for sharing the Biography on the life of Fr. Badilla that was written by his Great Grandfather Lazaro Acosta. I had the pleasure to read & translate the book. Learning about the life of Fr. Badilla and how he came up to Apache County and started his ministry an area that did not even have one church built when he arrived. My Great Great Grandfather Lazaro was truly inspired by how beloved Fr. Badilla was by the residents of Apache County, regardless of their faith, their race or economic status. He was a friend to all and being very educated, it was important for him to see that children would receive an education. Fr. Badilla surely was a key figure in much of my family lines that I descend from like the Acosta’s, the Saavedra’s, the Baca’s and the Jaramillo’s families. There are also so many other family lines who also benefit from learning about how Fr. Badilla worked so hard during his time in this area. I really love reading these blogs and look forward to learning more about other key figures who played a part in the history of Apache County. With Sincere Thanks, Laurie Flores

  4. Laurie, thank you so much for your comments! I can't express how much I have loved finding out about the Acostas, Fr. Badilla, and others - many who I have never heard about before & who I feel need to have their stories heard! They contributed SO much to the building of this area & as you stated - touched so many lives - it is a shame that we have not heard more about them. Thank you for translating the book! What a service that was! Thank you for all of YOUR hard work! And for sharing. Sincerely, Dolly Nielsen Patterson.

  5. Hi Dolly! From my family, the Badilla line, I want to express our gratitude for this article and putting Father Badilla back into "the spotlight" of sorts. We have been doing family research since 2011 and have learned so much about the Badilla's and how influential they were to Arizona, California and the Catholic Church during the 1800's. I am a decendent of Julian Badilla, brother to Father Badilla. From what I understand Julian gave the interview for Mr. Acosta regarding his brother and his rich history. Again, thank you so much for highlighting our family and if there's more information you would be interested in please feel free to email me anytime at