In 1862, the original Fort Wingate was built near the location of the present day village of San Rafael, New Mexico. Personnel and support staff arriving for the facility presented a need for religious services.
Early services were supplied sporadically from Seboyeta (Cebolleta) and held in a small private chapel. The original parish of San Rafael was established in 1879. A parish census at the time counted a total of 300 Catholics. When use of the private chapel was no longer possible, the need for a church became apparent. Land was donated for the church, and Father Juan B. Brun, who was serving as pastor, began collecting unds along the Santa Fe Railway in the little towns there.
Construction finally began in 1885, but because of disputes, it took seven years to put a roof on the structure, it was finally blessed in 1906, and dedicated to San Rafael, but by then the formerly large parish had become a mission again. During its years as a parish, it served as the headquarters for a large area between the Rio Puerco in the East and Flagstaff in the West, a distance of about 300 miles.
Father George J. Julliard took over when Father Brun moved to the East and served until the Franciscans of Cincinnati returned to the Southwest and were assigned the mission in 1919. The priests resided in Gallup and visited San Rafael from there, Traveling by train. In 1921, San Fidel became a parish and San Rafael was attached to that parish, and was later assigned to Grants.
In 1930, a fire destroyed the church, and until a new church was begun in 1934 services were held in the sacristy, which had been spared, or in private homes. It is the church still in use at this time, although it has undergone much repair. In 1981 extensive renovation was carried out. This was highlighted by the installation of a stained glass window over the door. In 1962 a parish hall was constructed and bleeded. It has since been enlarged.
The mission remained under the care of the Franciscans until 1971 when it was again named a parish. Father Samual Wilson was the first Diocesan pastor assigned. The parish has recently formed a building committee to oversee repairs to the stoneand adobe walls. The current pastor is Father Alberto Avella.