Eastern Plains parish is ‘God’s happy acre’

St. Mary’s in Brush marks 50th anniversary of the church building

Roxanne King

While St. Mary Parish in Brush is 106 years old, the church building itself just marked its 50th anniversary on June 19.

To honor the milestone, on June 25 parishioners donned blue T-shirts—the color for Mary—to attend Mass celebrated by Archbishop Samuel Aquila and concelebrated by the pastor, Society of Christ Father Marek Ciesla, who hails from Poland.

After the liturgy, the congregation gathered on the church steps for a parish photo then enjoyed an abundant potluck meal provided by the families.

“We have people who are salt of the earth—farmers and ranchers—but the majority live in town,” Father Ciesla told the Denver Catholic about his 350 registered families. “They come together in a beautiful way, supporting each other, very open, very welcoming.”

St. Mary’s Parish in Brush celebrated its 50th anniversary with a Mass and a parish-wide celebration June 25. (Photo by Dave Samples | Lasting Images)

A community of 6,000 people nestled in the South Platte River valley 90 miles northeast of Denver, Brush proudly declares it offers “homegrown happiness.” Parishioners say that’s true about their town and their parish.

“We always viewed it as God’s happy acre,” Marjorie Chapman, 80, told the Denver Catholic about St. Mary’s, a brick church with an open frame bell tower located at 340 Stanford St.

A member of the parish since she was in the third grade, Chapman had the privilege of carrying up the gifts during the Mass with fellow longtime parishioner, Norma Wolfe, 84.

“I made my first Communion, confirmation and was married at St. Mary’s,” Chapman said, adding that she also served as the parish secretary for 10 years.

Widowed 15 years, Chapman’s four children and some of her grandchildren have made their sacraments at the church. Two sons who live “within shouting range” of her home continue to worship there and are active Knights of Columbus. Chapman is a member of the Altar and Rosary Society, which provides a free potluck reception to families after funerals. She and Wolfe were among those in the kitchen helping to get the food ready after the anniversary Mass.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila presided over the anniversary Mass, in which he told the parishioners to not to be afraid to proclaim their faith in the world. (Photo by Gabriella Miller | Denver Catholic)

“It’s my life,” Chapman said about her church. “It’s the life of our family and of the people who we worship with.”

Like the many titles honoring the Blessed Mother’s attributes and apparitions, noted a video shown before the anniversary Mass, the Brush parish offers a unique reflection of Mary—one that echoes the virtues of those who comprise the congregation.

“This has become the symbol to the people on the plains and to the community of Brush of Jesus Christ and of Our Blessed Mother, the first of all the disciples,” Archbishop Aquila said in his homily.

“Do not listen to the voices in our society who say, ‘keep your faith personal’ or ‘keep your faith only when you are in church, not when you’re in the world.’ That is counter to the Gospel,” the archbishop said. “Jesus says, ‘go to the rooftops’ and ‘be not afraid’ to live your faith in the world.”

Archbishop Aquila, far left, and St. Mary’s pastor Father Marek Ciesla, far right, socialize with parishioners during the celebration following Mass. (Photo by Dave Samples | Lasting Images)

Established in a white frame church at the corner of Eaton and Custer streets by Bishop Nicholas Matz on April 11, 1911, the original St. Mary’s was enlarged in 1939 and served the parish for 56 years. In 1966, land was offered to the parish with the stipulation that a new church and rectory be started within three months, which led to the current facilities. Archbishop Urban Vehr dedicated the church on June 19, 1967.

“We are grateful to God for all the people who came before us and dedicated their time, talent and service,” Father Ciesla told the Denver Catholic. “We are also grateful to those who are still answering God’s call, and we look forward to the future with faith, hope and love.”

Parish Trivia
  • Brush is named after cattle pioneer Jared L. Brush, who never lived there and later served as Lt. Governor of Colorado.
  • The first Catholic Mass in Brush was celebrated by Father J.L. Juily in the café of the Old Desky Hotel in 1909, two years before St. Mary Church was established. Father Juily became the church’s first pastor.
  • The original St. Mary’s was so small that the stove heating it took up a fourth of the pew space.
  • In it’s 106 years, the parish has had 17 pastors.
  • The first resident pastor, Father John C. Erger was also the longest serving, with 26 years of ministry.
  • Father James L. Ahern, who oversaw the building of the current church, was the second longest serving pastor with 11 years.
  • Current pastor Father Marek Ciesla, SChr., is also pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Akron and of St. Mary’s mission church, St. John in Stoneham.

COMING UP: ‘Small in number, strong in faith’

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‘Small in number, strong in faith’

On 100th anniversaries, parish longevity owed to tight-knit communities

Aaron Lambert

St. John’s Parish, located in Stoneham, Colo., is not a big parish; however, this doesn’t stop them from practicing their Catholic faith to the fullest extent.

“The church is small in number, but very strong in faith,” said Father Marek Ciesla, pastor of St. John’s, which, along with St. Joseph’s in Akron, is a mission parish of St. Mary’s in Brush. The small church celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding on Sunday, Oct. 16 with a special Mass presided by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, followed by food fellowship and fun.

Built in 1916, St. John’s in Stoneham has been a parish for a community of primarily farmers and ranchers whose families have been living in the area for generations. Father Ciesla said that this celebration was really for them.

St. John's Parish in Stoneham celebrated their 100th anniversary on Oct. 16. Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila presided over the Mass. (Photo by Andrew Wright

St. John’s Parish in Stoneham celebrated their 100th anniversary on Oct. 16. Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila presided over the Mass. (Photo by Andrew Wright

“To celebrate this 100th anniversary of the church, [we] want to recognize the family members and neighbors who started the church and show [we] are grateful to previous generations,” he said. “They try to pass it on to the next generation, and they do. They are successful because they do it on their knees; they are praying.”

With a modest population of 224, Stoneham’s community is very close-knit, and an average of 50 people show up for Mass each Sunday, Father Ciesla said. Everybody knows each other, and Father Ciesla has observed that the way of life in Stoneham informs the way St. John’s parishioners approach their spiritual lives.

“They see spirituality as a very important part of their lives; not only individual spirituality but the spirituality of the parish family,” Father Ciesla said of his parishioners. “It goes across generations because we have older people and we have young ones here in the pews, and they are the same, down-to-earth people who know where their blessings come from. They know God is first in their lives.”

Following the Mass, St. John parishioners and other members of the community gathered for fellowship and food. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

Following the Mass, St. John parishioners and other members of the community gathered for fellowship and food. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

“They work in the fields, they work with animals, they are the salt of the earth,” he continued.” “These people are working very hard, and here [in Stoneham], they are in open fields and close to nature, and they make a better connection to the creator. The support each other. You can feel this sense of support they have for each other, and openness too. They are open to newcomers, they are open to the people who enter their church.”

Another centenary: Our Lady of Lourdes in Wiggins

A fellow small community parish is also celebrating 100 years this month. Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Wiggins is a mission parish of St. Helena in Fort Morgan, and pastor Father Frank Garcia share similar sentiments about his small-yet-strong parish community.

“It’s a very, very faithful community, very close-knit,” Father Garcia said. “They love their parish, always have.”

The newly remodeled sanctuary at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Wiggins. The parish will be celebrating its 100th anniversary on Nov. 12. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

The newly remodeled sanctuary at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Wiggins. The parish will be celebrating its 100th anniversary on Nov. 12. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

Though Oct. 29 marks Our Lady of Lourdes’ official centennial anniversary, the celebration will take place on Nov. 12 at the 5 p.m. Mass. Father Garcia will say Mass, and a dinner will follow, where fellowship and a retracing of the parish’s history will take place.

Our Lady of Lourdes has bounced around a bit over the years, Father Garcia said, serving as a mission parish for St. Mary’s in Brush at the turn of the century, then to Sacred Heart Parish in Roggins, until recently, when the deanery boundary changes put it under the jurisdiction of St. Helena Parish. It’s ironic that Father Garcia inherited Our Lady of Lourdes, he said, because his first assignment as a pastor 10 years ago was at Sacred Heart in Roggins, which included Our Lady of Lourdes at the time.

The community at Our Lady of Lourdes is small but very tight-knit, said pastor Father Frank Garcia. Parishioners typically gather after Sunday Mass for donuts and fellowship. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

The community at Our Lady of Lourdes is small but very tight-knit, said pastor Father Frank Garcia. Parishioners typically gather after Sunday Mass for donuts and fellowship. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

Father Garcia said Our Lady of Lourdes has around 140 parishioners, and that life for people in Wiggins very much revolves around the parish.

“They love their parish very much,” Father Garcia said of his parishioners. “It’s very old school; everything revolves around the parish up here, everything revolves around their Catholic faith. It’s that type of community. They’re very, very happy about this centenary.”

Our Lady of Lourdes 100th anniversary celebration

Saturday, Nov. 12, 5 p.m.
Our Lady of Lourdes Church
506 Main St. Wiggins, CO 80654