Arvada parish marks half-century of Christian love, community

Pastor says hallmark of vibrant St. Joan of Arc Church is devotion

Roxanne King

On the feast of St. Joan of Arc, May 30, the only church in the Denver Archdiocese named after the 15th century French peasant girl turned soldier marked it’s 50th anniversary.

A mystic known for her devotion and courage, St. Joan is remembered on the day she was burned at the stake in Rouen, condemned as a witch and heretic. A quarter century later, the verdict that led to her death at 19 was nullified. She was canonized a saint in 1920.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila was the main celebrant of the Arvada parish’s anniversary Mass.

“As we celebrate this anniversary today…and as we celebrate the solemnity of St. Joan of Arc, it is a reminder of what it means to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus,” the archbishop said in his homily. “To be those willing to deny ourselves in the steps of Jesus. That is the invitation that Jesus gives us…to heed the Gospel and to live it no matter what the cost.”

Father Nathan Goebel, the pastor, was a concelebrant of the Mass, as were three former pastors—Father Joseph Cao, Father Timothy Gaines and Father James Kleiner—and former parochial vicars: Msgr. David Croak, Msgr. Anthony McDaid and honorary parochial vicar Dominican Father Robert Staes. The parish’s assisting priest, Father James Cuneo, was unable to attend.

Charter members of the parish were recognized at the Mass.

“The parishioners are the lifeblood of every parish,” Archbishop Aquila said in his closing remarks. “The pastors and parochial vicars come and go but it is you, the people who are so dedicated and faithful to Christ and to the parish, that keep it sustained. So thank you to all of you for your great witness.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila greets parishioners following the 50th Anniversary Mass at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church on May 30, 2017, in Arvada, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

At a festive, sumptuous reception after the Mass, a video and still photos honored the priests, deacons, laity and history of the parish.

“We’ve been blessed with an extremely devout community, one centered in Christ and in community,” Father Goebel told the Denver Catholic. Pastor for about a year, the 34-year-old priest added, “As soon I came in, I was impressed with the number of ministries here, especially spiritual ministries.”

The vibrant parish life is in keeping with the spirit of the saint it honors, Father Goebel said.

“St. Joan of Arc is known for her devotion,” he said. “She received a word from the saints inspired by God to be a witness for the world, which at the time was living in fear and resignation. If our parish emulates anything from her it would be that devotion: not only can they receive the word (of God) in their hearts but they live it out in their lives.”

The 50-plus parish ministries range from the parish preschool to sandwich line to perpetual adoration. Faith formation includes youth ministry, RCIA and the Neocatechumenal Way. Social groups range from Pint with a Priest for young adults to Seniors Club.

“I would put our Senior Club up against any [other] in the diocese,” Father Goebel said, only half-joking. “The Knights of Columbus council in our parish has earned the [organization’s] highest award in the state a number of times and even just this year, the [Knight’s] pro-life family of the year was from our parish, Dan and Jackie Murphy.”

Growth in Arvada led to the founding of the city’s second Catholic parish on Aug. 22, 1967. The pioneer pastor, the late Msgr. James Rasby, named it after St. Joan of Arc because of his special devotion to her.

Archbishop Aquila receives the gifts during the 50th Anniversary Mass at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church on May 30, 2017, in Arvada, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

Before the church was built in 1968, daily Masses were held in the rectory chapel at 58th Avenue and Oak Street, while Sunday Masses were held at Arvada West High School. Holy day liturgies were held at King of Glory Lutheran Church.

Today the modern, 800-seat sanctuary located at 12735 W. 58th Avenue, serves 2,200 households, said Deacon Rex Pilger, director of business and adult formation.

“This year we’ll probably increase to 2,300 households,” he said, citing rapid growth in west Arvada and the north Jefferson County area.

The parish’s anniversary logo features the message: St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, 1967-2017, “50 Years of Love.” The motto aims to highlight the years of Christian love and charity the parish is celebrating similar to the half-century anniversary of a married couple, Father Goebel said.

“It’s not meant to be an epitaph,” he said with his characteristic good humor. “I’m very blessed to be here in the 50th anniversary. It’s humbling because you realize you’re standing on the shoulders of a lot of other people who have sacrificed greatly to make this parish what it is.

“I don’t feel like I’m a custodian or curator of a museum,” he added. “We’re still developing, still growing. I think our parish is going to be here a long time.”

Parish Trivia

A few fun facts about St. Joan of Arc Parish:

  • Current pastor Father Goebel is part of a popular weekly podcast with three other young priests called, “Catholic Stuff You Should Know.”
  • At the time he served as the parish’s founding priest in 1967, Msgr. Rasby, who was then Father Rasby, was the youngest pastor in the archdiocese.
  • The parish has four deacons, one of which is retired Deacon Hugh Downey, founder of a ministry in Africa. Because of his apostolate, Deacon Downey lives in Africa half the year.
  • Director of Music and Liturgy Andi Weber was once a country singer.
  • Besides Msgr. Rasby, previous pastors include: Father Robert Durrie, Father Michael Walsh, Father James Kleiner, Father Timothy Gaines and Father Joseph Cao.

COMING UP: In new Denver school, Byzantine spirituality meets Montessori method

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.- With the goal of encountering children on a more personal level to meet their academic and spiritual needs, a Montessori school influenced by the Byzantine Catholic tradition is opening in Denver, Colorado.

Pauline Meert, who co-founded Sophia Montessori Academy along with Irene O’Brien, said the two “wanted to combine Montessori and Catholicism because it just made so much sense.”

Meert said the school aims to help children fulfill their God-given potential, and that “the Montessori message really makes that possible for each child, not just for a classroom as a whole, but for each individual.”

Students in Montessori schools work in periods of uninterrupted time – ideally three hours – having the freedom to choose from an established range of options. The Montessori Method uses hands-on techniques in presenting concepts to individual children, rather than a group oriented, lecture-based approach to learning. The student’s involvement in his or her own work then gives the teacher the freedom to spend time with each child and cater to each of their needs.

Sophia Montessori of Denver is in its final stages of its development, pending licensing and a few business inspections. But classes for children aged between three and six are expected to start in the fall of this year, and both Meert and O’Brien hope the school, currently with 11 families enrolled, will grow in number and into the high school level.

When asked about the origin of the school’s idea, Meert discussed her connection to children and her dream helping bring about a child’s full potential. She began her Montessori training in high school, and later envisioned Catholic teaching and the Montessori Method together.

Meert said the school has been four years in the making, but that she added the Byzantine spirituality aspect within the past year after she became a parishioner at Holy Protection Parish in Denver.

“The Byzantine faith is going to be the foundation,” she said, noting that the day will begin with a form of the Jesus prayer.

Montessori schools often begin the day with the “silence game,” in which children learn how to be calm and quiet in a time period of about 30 seconds to two minutes. Many schools have interpreted this freely, but she expressed a desire to tie this into the Byzantine’s Jesus Prayer.

“The beauty about being Byzantine is that we do that through the Jesus prayer: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on us, your children,’ she said, “You know because it’s kind of hard to call them sinners right away.”

The school will also have the kissing of icons and will teach according to the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

“The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a very hands-on way of teaching the children about who Jesus is in time and space: through the parables, through infancy narratives, and through learning the nomenclature of the church.”

Children want to be a part of the world of adults and understand the liturgy, she said, and so the teachers aim to give them direct experiences related to the tabernacle and liturgical seasons.

“If we just tell them to be quiet and read a book during mass and during liturgy then we are not meeting their needs. They just want to know, they just want to be a part, they want to be welcomed by the church.”

She said many people would be surprised at the theological discussions she’s had with four-year-olds as well as the harmony created in the classroom. The environment is “surprisingly peaceful and calm, even though there are 20 three-to-six year-olds together.”

Meert also described the trust needed to allow children the freedom to make choices within prescribed limitations. “Three year-olds can do so much!” she said.

Meert defined this freedom as “not the freedom to do whatever you want, but…the freedom that Saint Thomas Aquinas talks about – having freedom within responsibility, within boundaries and within awareness of other people.”

In her interview with CNA, she also voiced her hope to establish afternoon classes for homeschooled kids and support for parents.

“We want to give parents tools and support. Some of the Montessori approach is common sense, but sometimes it’s a little trickier and parents just need extra support (or) someone to bounce ideas off of,” she said.

“We really want to be that support with those tools, and create a community that is often missing in our life.”

Featured image by Natalia Zhuravleva – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47443889