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A pastor with roots in northern N.M.

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By Don Pace

When John Brasher was only 4, his mother Frieda wrote in his baby book that his favorite person was his great grandfather Juan Hinojos, his favorite color was blue, and that he wanted to become a priest when he grew up.

“I come from a family who have always been involved in doing things for others and are deeply religious. But they didn’t only go to mass, they were involved in all aspects of serving their church,” said Brasher, now pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Las Vegas.

Brasher’s father, Clarence, was from Santa Rosa and his mother a native of Pennsylvania. His father was in the Navy and moved the family to Washington, where John was born.

“I wasn’t born in New Mexico, but I don’t claim any other place as home because I’ve always lived here and can’t even fathom going anywhere else to live,” Brasher said. 

Brasher graduated from the University of New Mexico and went to graduate school at North Texas State University.

“I was a long way from my family and not being from Texas I felt like an outsider, but being involved in church was the link that helped me keep it together,” Brasher said. “I was majoring in library science, which at the time was almost exclusively a female field of study. So it was the first time I ever really tasted sex prejudice and the first time I ever encountered race prejudice because they eventually found out I was part Hispanic and suddenly I found myself not on their list of favorites and not quite accepted.”

While in Texas, Brasher heard a local priest talking about the priesthood, a vocation he had mulled over through the years. After returning home to Albuquerque, he began working at Zimmerman Library at UNM, and just days before he was scheduled to enter a Catholic Seminary in San Antonio, the head librarian offered him a full scholarship to pursue his doctorate.

“I was given the opportunity to enter Drexel Library Institute, which was the No. 1 institution in the country, with a full-fledged, all-expenses-paid scholarship, leading to a doctorate degree and tenure at UNM after graduation.

“I turned it down and the head librarian was not a man who liked to be turned down, but when I left that room, I felt like I was walking on air; I was levitating, floating out of there and very pleased that I had made the right decision,” Brasher said.

Brasher said he had a lot of support from his parents as well as from his many brothers and sisters, but several years into his training, he received a letter from his mother.

“She wrote to me and said, ‘I want you to remember that you don’t have to continue your studies because you think you may disgrace us, and if you find that this is not what God wants, you can come home; you have to find what God wants. He will let you know,’” Brasher said.

Before being assigned as pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Brasher spent years ministering in Albuquerque, Arroyo Seco (near Taos), Raton, Clayton, Questa and Springer.

When Brasher arrived in Las Vegas, he found the old church in great need of structural and internal repair. On Christmas Eve of his first year, a radiator pipe within the walls had sprung a leak. As such, he, along with a few helpers, found themselves, in the dead of winter and in freezing conditions digging in the icy ground to temporarily repair the broken pipe.

Brasher credits his finance council and a generous congregation for taking on a project to save the historic church.

“The project isn’t quite done. The church is old and has to be treated carefully. As we continue the work, we try to think long-term so that major construction won’t be necessary,” Brasher said. “We still have a lot of work and will get it done little by little.”

Brasher often teases his cousin, also a priest, that he has a parish church. “And I’ve got a cathedral, and in reality it is called the Cathedral of the North.”

Brasher is a tall man, standing about six feet- four. He is a modest man, who when approached for this interview, said he does not consider himself a hero. He approaches each day with the understanding that people have different ways of internalizing the message he preaches.

“I try to work on a concept where compassion and forgiveness have to come first, and then how church law fits in to keep people on the track to positive change. That’s how I try to work. I’m not going to say I’m really good at it, but I continue to work at it because each mass is somehow different. Each crowd is somehow different, each distraction is somehow different,” Brasher said with a laugh.

Brasher said a healthy rivalry between East and West Las Vegas is fine, but at every turn he reminds his congregation that division is very destructive. He said his counterpart, the Rev. George Salazar at Immaculate Conception Church, and other ministers in the city do the same.

“Talking about things that are happening around us is what it’s all about. You have to talk to today’s issues and at the same time play down this East versus West thing because these kids on both sides of the river are hurting right now,” Brasher said.  

“Remember, kids going to West might have grandparents, brothers and sisters, or relatives who live on the other side of town and vice versa. For example, our confirmation classes have kids from both sides of town and they get along very well,” he said.

“So whatever school wins, whether it’s in sports or choir or academics, I win, I can have a winning weekend every week. If Robertson is playing West, I will cheer for one team the first half and the other team the second half. I may not be the pastor on the east side, but they are my kids too,” Brasher said.

Brasher said what he enjoys about the vocation he has chosen are the people.

“I enjoy celebrating with them during the good times and being with them during the not-so-sweet times. I was brought up in a household where, even though I was the oldest of the boys, I was not expected to have all the answers. So I don’t have trouble leaning on all the fantastic people who give of themselves on a daily basis, and I encourage everyone to take ownership of this place. We don’t come in here to put on a show; we come here to work, we come here to worship and pray,” Brasher said. 

Besides his work at Our Lady of Sorrows, Brasher is also responsible for the 19 missions in the surrounding area.