History of the Lord’s Ranch Community
Father Richard (Rick) Thomas, a Jesuit priest originally from Florida, came to El Paso, Texas, in 1964 to take over as director of Our Lady’s Youth Center (OLYC). OLYC was founded in 1953 by Fr. Harold Rahm, S.J. to serve the needs of a poor section of downtown El Paso known as Segundo Barrio. The programs of the Youth Center included an employment office, a credit union, sports teams for youth, English classes, and providing hot meals for hungry children of the neighborhood. As executive director, Father Thomas continued and added to the many social services that Fr. Rahm had started, but he felt that he was not making much of an impact in the spiritual lives of those coming for help.
However around 1969-1970, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in what is called the charismatic renewal, began among some of the staff members and Father Rick. Gradually all of the staff experienced this renewal by the Holy Spirit and joined together in regular prayer meetings twice a week and Bible studies in the morning five days a week. Growing out of the Bible study was a now-famous 1972 Christmas excursion to share a meal with the people who lived and worked in the garbage dump in Juarez, Mexico. During that meal, the Lord multiplied the food the group had brought to share with 120 people, and 300+ people were all able to eat their fill. There was so much food leftover that the group took the extras to two orphanages on the way home to use it up. This multiplication of food really got the attention of those who witnessed it. From this miracle developed the garbage dump ministry which grew to include a business cooperative to sell bottles and cardboard, a school, a medical and dental clinic, and a daycare center.
The Lord’s Ranch started
Three years later in 1975, Father Thomas purchased 160 acres of land near Vado, New Mexico, about 30 miles from Our Lady’s Youth Center in El Paso, and he called it The Lord’s Ranch. Originally intended to be a replacement for a summer camp that OLYC operated for inner city kids, the Ranch evolved into an active farm and dairy. Volunteer workers grew and harvested food for the poor on this semi-arid property, and also milked cows and goats, using the milk to make cheese. The fruit and vegetables grown were sent to the Lord’s Food Bank, as were the huge wheels of cheese produced. The cheese was given to pregnant women who were unable to get enough protein to nourish their developing babies. The healthy babies born to these women were affectionately known as “cheese babies.”
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, a disease in the soil killed all the fruit trees and vines that were planted on the Ranch. Many volunteers left around that time so the milking of the cows and goats had to be discontinued. The focus shifted to hosting out-of-town youth groups and providing a place of spiritual retreats. When the violence from the drug-wars in Juarez escalated in 2009, mission groups stopped coming to visit for a few years but now that things have settled down quite a bit across the border, we are hosting visitors once again.