New Mexico priest announces raffle winner of 1969 Pontiac Firebird that he restored

By Krysty Ronchetti     6/30/2017

GALLUP, N.M. — After spending several months under the hood of the 1969 Pontiac Firebird Convertible working on its 350 c.i. V-8 engine, Reverend Matthew Keller, a priest at Sacred Heart Cathedral and the Vicar General for the Diocese of Gallup, N.M., was thrilled to announce the winner of the restored muscle car. Nearly a year in the making, the donated and now completely refurbished red convertible was raffled off at last month’s Sacred Heart Parish Fiesta to Phoenix resident, Debbie Diaz Vazquez.

Vazquez, who is originally from Gallup but moved to Arizona twenty years ago, purchased the ticket as a way to give back to her childhood community.

“I heard about the raffle through a friend of mine on Facebook. The day before the raffle I bought four tickets online. Then I just prayed and trusted that if it were God’s will for me to win, I would. I thought it was a wonderful way to help raise money for one of the poorest communities in the state and an area I’m so fond of, having grown up there,” Vazquez said. “When Father Keller called me on Saturday to tell me I had won I was just in shock. All I had wanted was to help out with the fundraiser, and now I get to drive this beautiful car. I feel very lucky.”

Vazquez plans to travel to Gallup next month to pick up the car in person. Father Keller said he is excited that this car will go to someone who has a heart for the Gallup community and is glad they were able to meet the fundraising goals for the year.

“We want to thank everybody who participated in the raffle and supported the restoration program. The raffle proceeds are going to provide assistance to men who are in the priestly formation program and to foster priestly vocations in the Diocese. Knowing this is the second year we’ve been able to do this, gives all of us involved with V8 for Vocations a lot of joy,” Keller said.

The Reverend is a die-hard muscle car fan who had auto body training and worked on many car projects before he became a priest. He has now worked on two classic cars over the past two years for the annual raffle.

With the help of donated equipment, Father Keller and several in the community of Gallup turned a three-car garage in the back of the Cathedral into a functioning mechanic shop. There, future seminarians, car lovers, Catholics and non-Catholics started popping in to help revamp the 2016 raffle car, a Chevelle, and this year’s car, the ’69 Pontiac.

The team detailed the carousel red classic car’s original cream interior and refreshed the V-8 engine. The car has a three-speed hydramatic transmission, power steering, power brakes and only 79,000 miles. Rico Motors of Gallup donated a new paint job for the car as well.

Last year’s successful raffle raised $140,000 to help five students attend seminary. Proceeds from this year’s raffle have raised over $100,000 which should help another handful of future students attend seminary.

Father Keller is already busy planning for next year’s raffle. A generous donor in Connecticut has offered his 1966 Ford Mustang Convertible to be restored by the priest and his garage community volunteers for next year’s V8 for Vocations raffle which will take place at the Parish Fiesta on June 2, 2018.

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