Father Jan Mucha remembered for his ‘joy and simplicity’

When Father Marek Ciesla was 11 years old, he encountered a priest in his hometown in northern Poland who was visiting his parish on mission.

“I was impressed,” said Father Ciesla. “A couple of my friends and I were talking about how energetic, how wonderful this priest was. I think in this way he inspired us a little bit to follow the call to the priesthood.”

The priest was Father Jan Mucha, and little did Father Ciesla know that decades later and an ocean away, he would reunite with the man that inspired him and his friend to pursue the priesthood.

In 2010 when Father Mucha was retiring from his role as pastor of St. Joseph Polish Catholic Church in Denver, Father Ciesla was sent from Poland to the Archdiocese of Denver to take his place.

The priests spent two days together, and Father Ciesla was struck by the familiarity of Father Mucha.

“For some reason, the way he was talking and the words he was using, something rang a bell,” he said. “I asked him if he remembers visiting my parish. And he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I had it on my list. I remember.’”

Father Ciesla was amazed that the man he was there to replace was the same one who had impacted his life all those years ago.

“God works in mysterious ways,” said Father Ciesla. “I never thought I would meet him again.”

Father Mucha passed away March 21 after serving the archdiocese for 40 years. He was 88 years old.

Father Mucha was born March 16, 1930 in Gron, Poland to parents Kazimierz and Aniela Mucha. He was one of five children. Father Mucha attended high school in Kraków and went on to study philosophy and theology at a seminary in Tarnów.

Father Mucha was ordained December 19, 1954 in Tarnów by Auxiliary Bishop Karol Pękala. He served at St. Theresa Parish in Lublin, Sacred Heart Parish in Florynka and as a Latin teacher at Sacred Heart Novice House in Mszana Dolna.

He was incardinated into the Archdiocese of Denver on April 20, 1978. Before he was granted retirement status in August of 2010, he served at St. Joseph Polish for nearly 40 years.

“Father Mucha was dedicated to his people and there was a joy about him,” said Msgr. Bernard Schmitz, who had known Father Mucha since his own ordination in 1974 and more recently within his former role as Vicar for Clergy.

“I admired his joy and simplicity,” said Msgr. Schmitz. “He seemed to have no guile and what you saw is what you got. He was very proud of his Polish heritage and was unafraid to be Polish.”

Father Mucha’s move to the United States came about after he visited St. Joseph Polish while on vacation. The pastor at the time was sick, and parishioners asked Father Mucha to stay.

After receiving approval from his superiors in Poland and the archbishop in Denver, Father Mucha did stay, and ended up serving the parish for nearly four decades.

“He was happy to serve here,” said Father Ciesla. “All the time, he was a man of faith. He kept his eye on Jesus.”

Msgr. Schmitz believes Father Mucha’s faithfulness and tenacity as a priest will leave a lasting impression on those he served.

“He was dedicated to the priesthood and didn’t want to retire until he was sure his people would be well taken care of,” said Msgr. Schmitz. “He could come across as tough, but really he was a compassionate person [with] a heart open to the Lord’s work.”

COMING UP: Msgr. Horrigan remembered as “humble, faith-filled man”

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Msgr. Leo Horrigan, after suffering from a long illness, died Sept. 17, 2017, after serving for 56 years as a priest. He was 83.

The longtime Denver resident was born one of seven children on Nov. 20, 1934, in Shenandoah, Iowa, to Edward and Evelyn Horrigan. When he was just three years old, his family moved to Denver.

He attended grade school at St. John the Evangelist Catholic School in Denver and graduated from St. Francis de Sales High School in Denver in 1952. He attended Regis College from 1952-1953 and St. Thomas Seminary in Denver from 1953-1956. He was ordained on Dec. 20, 1959, in Rome by Archbishop M. O’Connor, and went on to receive his S.T.L. from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1960 and an M.A. from the Catholic University of America in 1966. He was appointed a Prelate of Honor by Pope St. John Paul II on Sept. 25, 2000.

Some of Msgr. Horrigan’s assignments include pastor at St. Philomena Parish, Blessed Sacrament Parish, where he served for 13 years, and Notre Dame Parish in Denver, where he served for four terms. He also served as the Archdiocesan Scout Chaplain and as the ordinary confessor of the Franciscan Motherhouse in Coloorado Springs.

Msgr. Leo Horrigan in 1975, from the Denver Catholic Register archives.

He also served in various Archdiocesan positions including Vicar for Clergy. He was the first to have the position in the diocese, under Archbishop James V. Casey. He retired June 11, 2010.

Father Robert Fisher, who knew him professionally, remembered Msgr. Horrigan as a “tremendously faithful” man.

“I knew him to be incredibly knowledgeable and a very good pastor. He was at the Cathedral while I was a seminarian,” Father Fisher said. “He was a tremendous guy, incredibly faithful. Those that I know who had him as a pastor absolutely loved him.”

Msgr. Horrigan celebrating Mass at Blessed Sacrament in 1976, from the Denver Catholic Register archives.

Msgr. Thomas Fryar, current pastor at St. Thomas More Parish, also served as Vicar for Clergy and explained how the position is a difficult but rewarding one, and that Msgr. Horrigan is remembered as a good pastor because of his experience with that role.

“He was the first one in that role under Archbishop Casey. He helped overseeing priests and their roles in their parishes, and he did it in a very humble way,” Msgr. Fryar said.

Monsignor Fryar knows people who still remembered Monsignor Horrigan as a faithful pastor.

“One thing I’m very aware of is that he had such a profound impact on people that they still remembered him even now. You enter the lives of people and you have no idea how it will touch people in later years [as a priest],” he said. “He was a gentle, loving and faith-filled presence in the community.

“Even in retirement and infirmity, he helped bring the sacraments to people. He was always wanting to be available to share the grace of God with others. He’s a man I really looked up to.”