Responding to growth, St. Mark’s breaks ground on expansion

Westminster parish’s $7 million project reorienting, renovating and adding to church

Roxanne King

Among those cheering the March 11 groundbreaking for the renovation and expansion of St. Mark Parish in Westminster were Tricia and Tom Palko. They couldn’t have been happier as St. Mark’s, which is marking its 45th anniversary this year, is foundational in the Palkos’ faith and family life.

The Palkos met as youngsters through St. Mark’s as both of their families were founding members. The Palkos were married there 32 years ago, baptized their children there and both have positions on the parish staff.

“It’s our foundation,” said Tricia Palko, who serves as office administrator. Tom Palko, a physical therapist, serves as RCIA coordinator for the parish.

“I’ve belonged to the parish since the original [1974] groundbreaking,” Tricia Palko said. “My reconciliation class was the first held in the church.”

The $7 million project for St. Mark’s, located at 3141 W. 96th Ave., will reorient and completely renovate the church interior, and will add seating, a new choir loft and baptismal font. It will also add a large narthex for gathering before and after Masses, will add an 80-foot bell tower, a devotional chapel, new accessible restrooms and a covered entrance that will face the existing parish hall. Finally, the project will reconfigure the parish offices, improve outreach ministry space, and will remodel classroom areas.

“We’re updating the whole church,” said Father Ken Koehler, pastor of St. Mark’s since 2004. “It’s basically doing everything. It’s going to be really nice.”

Established in 1973 and built the following year, the church was expanded in 1986. A parish hall was added in 2001.

The current project, which was designed by Integration Design Group and is being built by Haselden Construction, is set for completion in a year. Meanwhile, Masses are being celebrated in the parish hall.

“Hopefully, we’ll be back in the church for Easter [2019],” Father Koehler said.

St. Mark’s pastor Father Ken Koehler stands in the interior of the parish building, which is undergoing a $7 million renovation. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

The project is primarily being paid for by a parish capital campaign, which drew support from nearly 60 percent of the parishioners – nearly three times the support of an average campaign Palko said. Savings and proceeds from the sale of a property also contributed.

“The entire parish has shown appreciation for this project,” Father Koehler said. “I’m deeply moved by their support and excitement about it.”

For the last several years, the parish studied and discussed the needs of the parishioners and the different ministries and met with city officials who confirmed what the parish was experiencing – an increase of young families in the neighborhood due to lower square-footage-pricing than in Denver proper, as well as growth due to increased homebuilding and development on the west side of Interstate 25 in north metro Denver and the addition of RTD’s B Line light rail from downtown Denver to Westminster two years ago.

“In 2015 we were told the population should increase by 20,000 people in five years,” Palko said. “We knew we had to do something to accommodate the need.”

The renovations will mean better access to the church and to the busy parish food bank, a gathering area for fellowship that will provide for respectful silence in the worship space, and a reverential baptismal space that will allow for immersive baptisms.

The recent baptism of the Palkos’ newest grandchild was the last to take place before the church was closed for construction.

“We always joked it was the punchbowl rite because that’s what it looked like,” Palko said, laughing. “I almost wished we’d waited for the gorgeous baptismal font we’re getting.

“This project is amazing for our parishioners,” she added. “It’s a great way for our community to grow and to fulfill the needs of the groups we have.”

COMING UP: Guardian Angels Parish outgrows century-old frame church

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Guardian Angels Parish outgrows century-old frame church

New church a big event in history of tiny Mead parish

Roxanne King

At 11 a.m. on January 1, Guardian Angels Parish in Mead dedicated it’s new parish center, which includes a beautiful church. The event’s date and time honored the first Mass held in the original white frame church for 25 Catholic families over a century ago on Jan. 1, 1911.

Now boasting 270-families, the parish that serves Berthoud and Mead along the Interstate 25 corridor in northern Colorado experiencing a housing boom, simply outgrew its picturesque, steepled church.

“The little church only held 99 people, so we were holding four Masses on the weekend and they were still standing-room only,” Father Alan Hartway, CPPS, told the Denver Catholic.

An exterior shot of the new Guardian Angels Parish Center, which was dedicated Jan. 1 with a special Mass celebrated by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila. (All photos by Jason Weinrich | Denver Catholic)

The handsome new 12,000-square-foot brick Romanesque facility, which is located on the same 7-and-a-quarter-acres site the tiny old church sits on at 109 S. Third St., also includes a dining hall that doubles as overflow seating for the new church, a kitchen, a meeting room and offices.

Parishioner Kerry Sewczak said that when she attended the first Mass in the new 250-seat church, which took place on Christmas Eve 2017, she was astonished.

“It’s amazing, especially the reredos (altarpiece),” she told the Denver Catholic. “It was always referred to as a parish center, so it didn’t occur to me that it was a church. I think a lot of people were surprised that it really does look like a church!”

“The architecture of the new church professes our faith life,” said Sewczak’s husband Jim, who was on the design committee. “Father put that vision in front of us.”

“Church architecture is supposed to tell the story of the Gospel,” explained Father Hartway, a Missionaries of the Precious Blood priest. “So when you come into our church, the story doesn’t end with the crucifix on the wall, there’s the Resurrection after that. Our architecture tells the whole story.”

The Knights of Colombus process into the new church as the dedication ceremony begins. The architecture of the church is meant to embody the Christian journey from baptism to Heaven. (All photos by Jason Weinrich | Denver Catholic)

Starting with a bent axis entry, which forces a worshiper to turn their whole body to enter the building, echoing the spiritual practice of conforming oneself to Christ and his will; to the baptismal font inside the church door, reminding one of their new life in Christ; to the crucifix hanging above the altar, depicting Christ’s sacrifice; to the marble altarpiece, representing the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem, located behind the altar for the Eucharistic banquet, and ending with the stained-glass window of the Lamb of God above the altarpiece, the church embodies the Christian journey from baptism to heaven.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila was the main celebrant of the dedication Mass, during which he blessed the church and its contents, including the altar, the cross and the Stations of the Cross.

“Bless this altar built in the house of the Church that it may ever be reserved for the sacrifice of Christ and stand forever as the Lord’s table where your people will find nourishment and strength,” the archbishop prayed as relics were deposited in the altar and before anointing and censing it.

Noting that the day was the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the archbishop exhorted the faithful to turn to her.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila blesses the altar of the new parish center. (All photos by Jason Weinrich | Denver Catholic)

“Mary intercedes for us that we may come to know her Son,” the archbishop said. “Her last words in the Gospel are, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’”

The archbishop thanked all those responsible for the new facility and Father Hartway for his perseverance in guiding the project. In expressing his own gratitude, Father Hartway gave special thanks to the parishioners and parish staff as well as the architects, Bruce Larson and Peter Incitti, and the builder, Krische Construction.

The $4.5 million project is funded by a parish capital campaign, the pastor said.

“(It) came in on time … and pennies under budget,” Father Hartway said, drawing laughter.

The new church/parish center and related landscaping efforts—a Meditation Park open to the public featuring a new bronze Guardian Angel near an older bronze symbolizing Spring, which sit next to the original church located at the corner of the busiest intersection in Mead—aim to both serve the faithful and to aid evangelization, the pastor said.

“The Guardian Angel statue, because angels are so appealing to people, is a good entry to evangelization,” Father Hartway told the Denver Catholic. “That’s why we located it where we did. She’ll be able to invite people to come here to rest and to feel welcoming hospitality.

“Events can still be held in our old church,” he said, adding that the parish plans to restore and maintain the beloved, carpenter Gothic church. “Eventually, we may turn it into an adoration chapel.”

In the Christmas bulletin, Father Hartway expressed the joy the latest improvements mean for the life of the parish.

“Occupying our new parish center is arguably the second biggest event in the history of the parish, the first being the first little church,” he wrote. “Look how far we’ve come and imagine how far we’re going.”

GUARDIAN ANGELS PARISH FUN FACTS

  • In 1910 Catholic families bought the old Mount Zion United Brethren Church and dragged it a mile down Weld County Road to its present location, where it was renamed Guardian Angels Catholic Church.
  • Relics placed in the altar of the new church are from St. Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese-born former slave who became a Canossian religious sister in Italy, and St. Gaspar del Bufalo, an Italian priest and founder of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood order.
  • The face of the new Guardian Angel bronze was posed by a child of the parish.
  • The new Romanesque marble reredos is flanked by two 5-foot trumpeting angels. It dates to 1881 and is from the now-closed and demolished Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Philadelphia.
  • The Stations of the Cross, the statue of Mary in the center of the reredos, and the corpus on the crucifix, are hand-carved olive wood from Bethlehem and were created by artisans of Bethlehem Arts.