Remembering Denver’s patron of the poor, Father Woody

25th memorial Mass to honor works of mercy continuing in priest’s name

Roxanne King

“His works continue. His love endures.”

So reads the invitation to the memorial Mass and reception marking the 25th anniversary of the death of the famed Monsignor C.B. “Father Woody” Woodrich.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila will be the main celebrant of the Mass, set for 7 p.m. Nov. 10 at Holy Ghost Church downtown. All are invited.

“We want to remember him well and beautifully,” Victoria McCabe, director of Father Woody Programs at Regis University, said about her former pastor. “We’ll gather as many family and friends as we can to celebrate his ministry here on earth—the ministry that continues with his shepherding from heaven.”

Father Woody, a former New York City adman, co-founded Samaritan House, the first facility in the nation built specifically to shelter the homeless; started a renowned Christmas dinner with gifts and a holiday money-giveaway that still serve thousands of poor each year; headed archdiocesan communications; served as editor of the Denver Catholic Register (now the Denver Catholic), where he more than tripled the circulation; pastored Holy Ghost and Annunciation parishes, and ministered as a hospital chaplain.

When he died suddenly at age 68, an obituary in his former newspaper called him “Denver’s patron saint of the hungry and homeless.”

It seems providential that the 25th anniversary of his death should occur in the Year of Mercy, as mercy was the mark of his priesthood, McCabe said.

“Every person mattered to him—every person,” she said, adding that he was led by Christ’s admonition, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (Mt 25:40).”

Father Woody’s legacy of mercy continues today in ministries he either started or inspired. Key among them:

  • Samaritan House, which annually provides 127,000-plus nights of shelter, serves 455,000 meals and houses 2,250 people. Now run by Catholic Charities, Samaritan House began when Father Woody famously opened the doors of Holy Ghost Church to give warm refuge to hundreds of homeless people one bitterly cold winter. That action eventually led to present-day Samaritan House, which next month marks 30 years sheltering the homeless and achieving great success helping them to become self-sufficient.
  • Father Woody Programs, in which more than 100 college students annually serve inner-city youths, the homeless and the elderly around the city, riding to their destinations in a fleet of vans called Father Woody’s Wheels.
  • Father Woody’s Haven of Hope day shelter, which provides hot sit-down meals, private showers, laundry service, clothing and counseling to the homeless. Haven of Hope is currently adding a four-story wing to its facility, which will expand services to include classes for GED, employment readiness and money management; dental, eye and mental health clinics; and legal services.

“His work has not been diminished one iota,” said Lovey Shipp, who nicknamed the blunt talking but quick smiling Father Woody “the Master Pastor” when she served as his secretary the last five years of his life.

“He’s got an army of people following in his footsteps,” McCabe said.

All priests are welcome to concelebrate the Mass, which will be followed by a Reception of Remembrance.

“We’ll have a lot of his art on the walls and the video ‘In His Footsteps: The Legacy of Father Woody’ running,” McCabe said. “He had a message of love and was intent on getting it to everyone. We couldn’t help but find it contagious.”

Father Woody Memorial Mass

When: 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 10
Where: Holy Ghost Church, 1900 California St., Denver

COMING UP: Samaritan House turns 30 – Sam’s Supper celebration

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More than $365,000 was raised for Catholic Charities’ Samaritan House Sept. 10 as 300 people turned out to mark its three decades providing shelter to the homeless. Dubbed “Sam’s Supper” the event was held at Mile High Station in downtown Denver, not far from the shelter. Festivities included an Art Walk and Reception attended by former Denver archbishop Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, inspiring stories about residents served at the shelter, and awards for honorees presented by Larry Smith, president and CEO of Catholic Charities Denver. Recipients included donors John and Carol Saeman, first house parents Bob and Mary Dalton, first director Father Bill Kraus, and president and CEO of the Daniels Fund Linda Childears, who received on behalf of the late philanthropist Bill Daniels. Also honored was the late Msgr. “ Father Woody” Charles B. Woodrich who helped to found the shelter. The shelter’s anniversary events continue with a pilgrimage walk Sept. 24 at Mother Cabrini Shrine in Golden, and a reception Oct. 15 and rededication Dec. 10, both at the shelter.

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Larry Smith, president and CEO of Catholic Charities Denver, presents an award to supporters and donors first house parents Bob and Mary Dalton, some of the shelter’s first supporters and members when Samaritan House opened in 1986. (photo by James Baca)

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First Director Father Bill Kraus O.F.M. Cap., is presented a statue for his support by Larry Smith, president and CEO of Catholic Charities Denver. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

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The shelter’s first supporters and members, John and Carol Saeman, when Samaritan House opened in 1986 and are still strong supporters today. (photo by James Baca)

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Former Denver archbishop Cardinal J. Francis Stafford reflects on the significance and impact of Samaritan House. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

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Michael Malloy, longtime director of case management at Samaritan House Homeless Shelter is master of ceremonies for the Sam’s Supper event (photo by Andrew Wright)

Samaritan House historical photos

Msgr. Charles B. Woodrich (Father Woody), former pastor of Holy Ghost Parish, shows renderings of what would become Samaritan House, which opened its doors in 1986. Denver Catholic archive photo

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Cardinal J. Francis Stafford with Ed and Laurie Vieira (photo by James Baca)

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Don and Linda Childears with Lovey Shipp. (photo by James Baca)