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: ‘Baptize your son,’ her friend insisted. Now he’s a priest.

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Angela Brown and Maria Delfin were great friends in school and lived in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. One day, they decided to make a mutual promise: “When I have my first child, you will be the godmother.”

Years went by, each took their own path and Delfin spent most of their time apart in the United States. In 1987, Brown was expect-ing her first child. Delfin found out and did not forget her promise. “When will you baptize him?” she asked. Yet, Brown hadn’t planned on baptizing her child. She had not even received the sacrament herself.

“When I thought of having Maria be my son’s godmother, I saw it more as a social commitment,” Brown told the Denver Catholic. Nonetheless, after her friend insisted, she decided to baptize her son when he was 17 days old.

After baptism, Delfin moved to the United States permanently and lost touch with Brown and Angel, her godson.

Angel grew up far from the Church, but even then, he reflected a charitable spirit: “He liked to share his toys with other kids so they could play instead of him,” his mother said.

At age 14, he attended a class with the Neocatechumenal Way and he and his mother began a journey of faith. Brown was baptized in the faith and married through the Church. Angel discovered his vocation to the priesthood years later. He studied for two years in the seminary at Santo Domingo and then was assigned to Redemptoris Mater in Denver.

Father Angel Perez-Brown (center) was reunited with his godmother Maria Delfin (right) after 31 years at his ordination May 19. His mother, Angela Brown (left) baptized Father Angel under the insistence of Delfin. (Photo by Andrew Wright )

Meanwhile, Delfin knew nothing of Angel. “I didn’t go to Santo Domingo often. I had no way of getting in touch with him,” she told the Denver Catholic.

When Angel was in the seminary, his mother decided to look for Delfin through social media. Months before Angel’s priestly ordi-nation, Brown found Delfin and told her about her son’s wish: “He wants you to be there when he receives the sacrament.” Delfin didn’t hesitate to fly to Denver.

They met the day prior to ordination, 31 years after Angel’s baptism. She recognized him amid other seminarians and said to him, “I’m your godmother,” and he hugged her.

Father Angel Miguel Perez-Brown was ordained May 19 with four other deacons. His godmother presented the gifts during offer-tory. “I don’t remember feeling as happy as I feel today,” Delfin said after Angel’s ordination.

Father Perez-Brown says her godmother “helped plant this seed,” that is why he wanted her “to witness the fruit she has bore.”

“If she had not influenced my mother, I don’t know where I would be today,” the newly-ordained priest said.

Before Delfin’s return to Orlando, Father Perez-Brown told her, “You already had 30 years of vocation as godmother. Now, please pray for me, because only with prayer will I be a faithful priest.”

Featured image by Anya Semenoff