Evergreen parish builds up families

New religious education program at Christ the King Parish empowers parents as first teachers

The Archdiocese of Denver is seeing the many fruits that Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila’s Restored Order Initiative is bearing for families and parishes across the state. It’s leading pastors and directors of religious education to rethink how to evangelize families as a whole and not simply catechize their children.

Christ the King Parish in Evergreen is one of these parishes. It has implemented a model of evangelization that prepares parents to teach their children about the faith, helping them become what they’re meant to be, the first educators of their children, as the Catechism says (CCC 2223).

“[After the Restored Order Initiative], with the parish council we identified some of the needs of our community, which were to build up the families,” said Father Jim Fox, pastor of the parish for five years. “I always thought we should do more than lip service to the parental promise of baptism – you are the first and best teachers of your children in ways of faith.”

Fr. Jim Fox speaks to a gathering of parents and their children for a religious education program at Christ the King Catholic Church on April 22, 2018, in Evergreen, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

This led the parish to sacrifice its long-standing and, in many ways, successful religious education program and replace it with a non-classroom model initiative that prepared parents to be responsible for their children’s religious education.

“At first, I wasn’t really sure how I felt about the new program. It was a completely different approach that truly relied on parents to be the real teachers of the faith,” said Sarah Aller, mother of two children in the program and former classroom catechist at the parish. “But now I see that it’s educating me in my faith as well, so I can teach my kids. I’ve learned how to better teach my children and refresh my faith.”

A family of faith

Father Fox and the core team – with members of different ages – meet with parents during the first part of the month to teach them the content that parents will then teach their children through conversations, fun activities and prayer.

“As we see in the Jewish roots of our faith, proclamation is an actual part of the faith,” said Christopher Moore, pastoral administrator of the parish, highlighting the importance of this step. “If you are not sharing [the faith], especially with your family, you are not living it.”

Moreover, each family has a mentor in case they have any questions about the content, want to give feedback or have prayer intentions during this time.

Toward the end of the month, all families meet, have a meal and mingle with other families. This provides a space to go over the activities and content of the month with the children and allows for a deeper reflection on the faith and reassurance from other families, Father Fox said.

“[During these gatherings] we try to make the questions experience-oriented and not just fact-oriented. We try to help them apply it to their lives,” Moore said. “This gives people a safe place to talk about the faith if they are uncomfortable. They can share their story and struggles with other people. Then they can carry the same idea into the workplace.”

Christ the King Catholic Church on April 22, 2018, in Evergreen, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

Families are given practical ways to carry out this mission. The parish utilizes the book A Family of Faith by Sophia Press, but Father Fox and the core team modify it according to the needs of the community.

Some activities available for children and families include having a prayer corner in the house, conversation cards to hang from the car mirror or stick on the refrigerator, community service projects and daily or monthly activities such as keeping a journal.

“Car conversations [are] something we enjoy doing,” Aller said, “It forces you to make a time to talk about it as a family.”

Bearing fruit

The new “family of faith” program is not only preparing parents, but also bringing unity to the whole parish.

“The program seems to be drawing families more to the sacraments and through the sacraments to others,” Father Fox said.

“One of my favorite things about the program is that it’s intergenerational. We have the Martha’s and Mary’s [ministry] and the Knights of Columbus helping out,” Moore added. “You have older people interacting all the way down with little kids and sharing their faith in a meaningful way.

“The kids are seeing service, catechesis, evangelization – all the things that embody faith are being modeled to them at every age. People are getting opportunities to participate.”

“[Many people] like the fun family activities. [They] have told us that the curriculum is easy to integrate into family life, easy to teach and to understand,” said Laurie Jarvis, a family mentor in the program. “[The ‘family of faith’ program] with community involvement helps bring the faith from the head to the heart. It is very rewarding to watch Father Fox’s vision come to reality.”

COMING UP: St. Francis of Assisi’s mission alive in Denver parish

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St. Francis of Assisi’s mission alive in Denver parish

Capuchins serve Annunciation Church in footsteps of spiritual father

Ornate scagliola columns firmly outline the central nave of Annunciation Catholic Church as if St. Francis of Assisi upheld the Church himself. His life, deeds and words continue to inspire many men and women at the parish, bearing fruit 800 years after his death.

The Capuchins Franciscans that have served Annunciation Parish in Denver for nearly 50 years have made this possible. Led by the spirit of the saint, they have attended this Denver neighborhood with a mark of brotherhood, poverty and dedication.

“From the time of St. Francis to the present day, our whole approach to ministry is that we are primarily brothers. And [that is exactly how] we reach out to people,” said Father Charles Polifka, pastor of Annunciation Parish and Capuchin for 51 years. “Yes, we have people like myself who are ordained, but primarily, it’s a sense of brotherhood and community that we try to build.”

The parish was built by Irish, Slavic, German and Italian immigrants, consecrated in 1907, and restored by Hispanic and African-American parishioners that arrived in the 1950s.

Since the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor was assigned to the parish by Archbishop of Denver James V. Casey on May 1970, the friars have looked to identify and meet the needs of the community.

Annunciation Catholic Church channels the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi in its service to others. The parish is served by Capuchin Fransicans who follow in the footsteps of their spiritual father. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

“Our people want to find security and a home here, and there are many living in fear because of what is happening with immigration,” Father Polifka said. “To be able to help them have faith is big: Letting them know they are accepted, that they are loved, that they are people who bring gifts and bring greatness to our community and neighborhood. To affirm their worth and value is something that is very important.”

The way Capuchins have served the church community, which is now predominantly Hispanic, has brought about fruits in families, as Doricel Aragon, a parishioner who grew up in the neighborhood, reflected: “The church is an extension of our family. It is an example for us. It has helped us form our children with love for God and the Church.”

Poverty and dedication

Father Polifka, who is currently assisted by one other Capuchin in the parish, Father Joseph Mary Elder, hopes their Franciscan spirituality is reflected in all ministries, including the school, food bank, and youth and young adult programs.

According to James Chappell, a parishioner who has known Father Charles and the Capuchins for over 30 years since he lived in Kansas, the friars carry out this wish vividly: “They are so humble and are a wonderful group. They take seriously the vows of poverty.”

The Capuchins are not seen on golf courses. They’re out there working on their knees, playing with kids, helping people, working with divorced couples, being part of the healing process…”

“The Capuchins are not seen on golf courses,” he continued. “They’re out there working on their knees, playing with kids, helping people, working with divorced couples, being part of the healing process…”

Chappell is a member of the Ancient Order of the Hibernians at Annunciation, an Irish Catholic fraternal organization that helps the pastor and parish reach its financial and spiritual goals through the planning of different events.

A critical way in which the order helps the parish is through the financial support of Annunciation Catholic School, considered one of the most important ministries by Father Polifka.

“The school provides for people in our parish and community a safe place, a loving place and a faith-filled place,” he said. “People are looking for a safe place for their kids, a place where their kids are loved and where the values of our catholic faith are lived.”

In addition to a rich and active parish life, Annunciation Catholic School serves underprivileged students and provides top-notch educational opportunities for them. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

For Chappell, the success that he sees in the work of the Capuchins and staff at the school outweighs the needs and dangers students face, which range from poverty to violence and neglect.

“The children in the school are some of the very less fortunate financially in the archdiocese. But consistently their test scores show them at the top or near the top of [Denver schools],” he assured. “When you look at the percentages of kids that are successful, it’s in the 80s and 90s and not in the 40s. The education of our kids is one of the most important missions and [our Capuchins and teachers] do a great job at that.”

Father Polifka sees their mission at Annunciation Catholic School as a continuation of the mission that the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kans., left when they founded the parish school in 1890. “Their faith and community are still evident here,” he said.

“It’s powerful to see a guy in a brown rope that looks like a linebacker from the Denver Broncos surrounded by so many high school kids,” Chappell said, referring to Father Elder. “They do a great job and it’s not just me, they’re beloved by many people.”

For more on Annunciation, visit annunciationdenver.org.