Risen Christ Parish honors past 50 years, looks to future

God’s grace showered via thousands of sacraments made at 'ski-jump' church

Roxanne King

Its unique architecture has led some people to call it “the ski jump” church. The pastor, however, prefers to call it “the launching pad to heaven.”

Officially named Risen Christ Catholic Church in Denver by Archbishop James Casey, the parish turned 50 on Aug. 22.

The golden jubilee was observed with a Mass celebrated Aug. 20 by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and concelebrated by the pastor, Monsignor J. Anthony McDaid, and former pastor, Monsignor Kenneth Leone.

Other concelebrants who had once served at the parish included Father Felix Medina, Father John Krenzke, Father James Kleiner, and Father J. Daniel Schaffer. Deacon Tim Unger and Deacon Mark Salvato assisted.

“It is a great joy to be able to celebrate this Eucharist with you to give glory and praise to the Father for the gift of faith that has been present through the 50 years of the family of this parish,” Archbishop Aquila told the congregation.

Risen Christ Catholic Parish celebrated its 50th anniversary at Risen Christ Catholic Parish Aug. 20. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

In his homily, Monsignor McDaid estimated that during it’s half-century the parish has offered 40,000 Masses, conferred nearly 7,000 baptisms and about the same number of confirmations, witnessed 2,000 marriages and has held slightly more funerals.

“When we think of how many people have been touched through this house of prayer, through the grace of God coming to them as they bring their lives—their sorrows, joys, love … their weaknesses and receive the forgiveness of sins—it’s a fabulous thing that you people of God have worked with Christ,” he said. “God’s grace has been poured out to the people through your generosity.”

Archbishop Casey founded the church on 5.15 acres at 3060 S. Monaco Parkway in 1967, appointing Father Joseph O’Malley as its first pastor. Prior to the church being built, parishioners attended Mass in the gym at Cherry Creek High School, and later at the Continental Theater.

“Going from the bleachers at Cherry Creek to the plush seats of the theater was really something,” recalled Tom Boucher, who along with his wife Sue was among the founding parishioners who were collectively recognized at the end of the anniversary Mass. Chuckling, Boucher added, “Father Joe O’Malley used to hear confessions in the popcorn stand!”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila presided over the 50th Anniversary Mass, which was concelebrated with Risen Christ Pastor Monsignor J. Anthony McDaid and former pastor Monsignor Kenneth Leone. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

Ground was broken for the 1,250-seat church, which is shaped like a triangle surrounded by a circle to represent the Trinity and Christian unity, on Dec. 29, 1968. The first Mass in the completed church was held on Jan. 25, 1970.
Designed by local architect James Sudler, the peak of the triangular building soars 76 feet above the altar and features stained glass windows that were originally abstract but today depict the central mysteries of the Catholic faith.

After the Mass, the archbishop blessed five new works by artist Gerry Mulowayi, a Risen Christ parishioner, in the parish’s Holy Family Chapel. The colorful lithographs depict the Holy Family and four other saints.

Following the blessing, parishioners gathered in the parish center for refreshments and to view exhibits showing the parish’s history as well as images of a possible future sanctuary remodel.

“There’s no immediate [remodel] plan or project,” Monsignor McDaid told the Denver Catholic. “Just imaginings on the 50th anniversary to begin a discussion.”

A remodel was done in 2005, but additional improvements are needed to better serve the congregation, the pastor said. Looking to the future, he noted the parish’s demographics are changing as it welcomes immigrants hailing primarily from the Pacific Rim, Africa and Pakistan.

“I’m an immigrant myself,” noted Monsignor McDaid, whose Irish brogue and surname reveal his roots. “The newer immigrants are coming from a different demographic, which is reflected in the new artwork we have in the Holy Family Chapel. [The artist] and his family came to the United States … from the Congo.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila blesses new artwork painted by Risen Christ parishioner Gerry Mulowayi to commemorate the parish’s 50th anniversary. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

Mulowayi’s works reflect the ethnicities of the saints portrayed: Middle Eastern, Portuguese, French and Mexican.

“God is for everyone and the saints portrayed represent a cultural spectrum,” Mulowayi told the Denver Catholic.
Risen Christ’s congregation of 2,150-plus families is faith-filled and generous, the pastor said.

“The parishioners are not only inward looking, but they have been among the leaders of sharing their patrimony with other archdiocesan projects,” he said.

“Let us give thanks to God for all he has worked through this parish,” Monsignor McDaid told his congregation. “Ad majorem Dei gloriam—‘for the greater glory of God’ and for the salvation of souls. That’s what this is all about and what we participate in.”

Risen Christ Parish Trivia
  • Archbishop Casey named the church Risen Christ Catholic Parish in Denver because his former cathedral in Lincoln, Neb., was also called Risen Christ.
  • The design of the church was modeled after the work of Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (called “Le Corbusier”) a pioneer of modern architecture, specifically his Notre Dame du Haut chapel in France.
  • Church artworks include stained glass windows in the “ski jump” spire, a life-size bronze of the Risen Christ by Lynn Kircher, one-of-kind Stations of the Cross and a bronze of the Holy Family by Brian Hanlon, a bronze relief of 30 saints, icons of the Holy Family and the Risen Christ by Father William McNichols, and a 6.5-ton, 12-foot tall marble statue of the Risen Christ by Mario Benassi.
  • The five new lithographs by Gerry Mulowayi depict the Holy Family, St. Anne, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Anthony of Padua and Blessed Miguel Augustin Pro.
  • The parish has had six pastors: founding pastor Father Joseph O’Malley, Msgr. William Jones, Msgr. Lawrence St. Peter, Msgr. Edward Hoffmann, Msgr. Kenneth Leone, and current pastor, Msgr. J. Anthony McDaid.

COMING UP: ‘Well done, good and faithful servants’: Priests celebrate milestone anniversaries

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65 years

Monsignor Edward Madden

Monsignor Edward Madden remembers hearing God’s call of him to the priesthood as young as three years old. While attending daily Mass at St. John’s Parish with his mother, he was inspired by the example the priests there and thought, “I could do that.” Now, 65 years after his ordination, Monsignor Madden remains grateful for the opportunity to serve. “It was a good life,” he said. “I never thought I’d last this long. Whatever the Lord wants, I’ll try to do what he says.” Monsignor Madden says the Mass is what has sustained him all of these years, and he feels blessed to still be able to concelebrate Mass each day at Mullen Home. “The Mass has been the center of everything. I’m greatly devoted to the Mass, so the privilege of offering Mass each day has been a wonderful support and strength for me.” Imparting valuable words of wisdom to younger priests, Monsignor Madden hopes they, too, realize the importance of the Mass, and prayer as well. “The main thing is to bring the Eucharist to the people,” he said.

60 years

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford

Celebrating his 60th anniversary, Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, Archbishop emeritus of Denver, who discovered his vocation in 1952 on a pilgrimage with friends, recalled 1993’s World Youth Day in Denver as one of his fondest memories. “The young people…were greeting Pope John Paul II. When I glanced at [him], he was in tears. They were tears of joy.” Cardinal Stafford, 85, said he considers himself a “blessed, ‘spiritual’ grandfather.” He also shared a word of advice to young priests: “Dear brothers in Christ Jesus! I think of you and turn often to Him on your behalf. I ask the intercession of St. John Paul II, whose influence on your generation has been remarkably fruitful. May he intercede before God that you may be consecrated. ‘Consecrate’ means to offer yourselves in sacrifice. May God consecrate you in truth and holiness. These are days when ‘saints are not enough…You have to keep climbing higher and higher, always climbing higher still. Up to the ultimate sanctity, the ultimate purity, the ultimate bea
uty…You must have the courage to tell the truth’” (Péguy).

Father Angelo Ossino

Though originally ordained in Missouri, Father Angelo Ossino has spent much of the past 60 years as a persist serving richly in the Archdiocese of Denver. He was incardinated into the archdiocese in 1975, and served as pastor and associate pastor at several of Denver’s most vibrant parishes, including St. Pius X, St. Joseph in Golden, and St. Jude in Lakewood. His ministry wasn’t just limited to the parish, however; he taught at various Catholic schools in Missouri and Louisiana, and earned his master’s in religious education from Loyola University in Chicago. His upbringing in an Italian neighborhood in Omaha, Neb., informed the way he lived his life. “Life has been God’s precious and loving gift to me,” Father Ossino recounted. I have learned so much about giving and receiving, about faith and prayer, and about treasuring good food, good friends and good wine! I have so much to celebrate.”

50 years

Father James Kleiner

Father James Kleiner, originally ordained in Canada, served as pastor at St. Joan of Arc and St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Now retired, he celebrates his 50th anniversary. He attributes his “initial thrust” into the vocation to priesthood to “Catholic education and the thrust for missionary work.” The anniversary marks a special time in his life: “It’s a time of memory of the many experiences and people over the years. Our whole faith is a question of memory. It is a milestone — I am thankful for the gift of perseverance. It’s amazing to look back over the 50 years and how the perceived problems have changed, and how the world has changed.” Father Kleiner notes that his sense of humor has helped him persevere in the vocation. “While the vocation is serious, we have to live too, and not take ourselves too seriously. I think wisdom-figures were very important to me, which in my old age, I feel the lack of, but I had outstanding mentors over the years. And they were the ones who encouraged me…I miss that very much.”

Father Michael Smith

Father Michael Smith was born in Missouri in 1936 and was ordained in 1967 in St. Louis. He taught at Regis Jesuit High School and later was involved in campus ministry at St. Louis University and Regis College in Denver. Later, he was appointed pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Paonia and later Sacred Heart Parish in Fruita, where he was known for his “inclusiveness and acceptance of people just as they are,” according to an article about his retirement in the Diocese of Pueblo. “I was appointed pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Fruita, Colo., and pastor of nearby Holy Family School in Grand Junction, Colo. These parishioners and school children taught me how to be a good pastor and a man for others for 14 years: for me, heaven had met earth,” Father Smith said. He currently lives in Denver with the Xavier Jesuit Center and is involved in pastoral ministry.

Monsignor Ken Leone

Monisgnor Ken Leone looks back on the past on the past 50 years as a priest fondly. “I think I am the luckiest person on the face of this earth because I have gotten to see God at work in so many situations,” the joyful priest said. “A lot of people think there are no longer miracles like there were in the time of Jesus; that is absolutely not true. God is at work, and I have seen God at work. It’s just amazing.” Monsignor Leone has had a very fruitful tenure as a priest and has remained active outside of parish life. He still, to this day, provides spiritual direction to seminarians at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and leads retreats frequently. “It’s amazing how you see God at work on those retreats,” he said. Overall, Monsignor Leone has no regrets and has loved every minute of being a priest. “It’s the greatest life you could ever live on the face of this earth,” he says proudly. “I would do it over again in a heartbeat.”

Father Edward Poehlmann

Not one to retire yet, even at 50 years, Father Edward Poehlmann serves as pastor of Presentation of Our Lady Parish in Denver. He’s served several extended assignments as a parish pastor throughout his priesthood, including St. Mary’s in Breckenridge and its missions for 18 years (he headed three building projects while there), St. Clare of Assisi for 12 years, and Presentation for the last 12 years (and just signed on for six more). He grew up attending Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver, where the seed for his priestly vocation was planted. When he was ordained in 1967, he taught religion and philosophy at a few of the local Catholic high schools alongside being a parish priest. Reflecting on the past 50 years, Father Poehlmann said he’s “grateful for a number of things: good health, wonderful parishioners … and opportunities to serve in all these other capacities.” To younger priests, he offers these words of advice: “They have to set up a lot of meaningful relationships in parishes. People demand that  today. You really have to be yourself.”

Father Roland Freeman

After finishing high school, Father Roland Freeman joined the Benedictines as a brother. During his formation, he reflected on the centrality of the Eucharist, the “front and apex” of the Christian life, and then he left the Benedictines to enter the seminary and become a priest. He was ordained on May 27, 1967. During his priesthood, he had a variety of ministries that involved sharing the sacraments, teaching children, adults, seminarians, giving retreats to priests and laity, and using his professional training in helping others with emotional disorders. He served as Director of a psychological services center. Currently, he lives at All Saints Parish in Denver and is the director of Social Religious Education for the archdiocese and Executive director of chaplains at Rose Medical Center, chaplain of the Sisters of Loretto Retirement Center, and assists in several parishes with sacramental ministries. For him, this anniversary is an occasion for “deep thanksgiving to God and profound wonder at God has accomplished, even in my life”. He says that the key to being faithful to his vocation is “fidelity to prayer, the prayer of the Eucharist, which is the gift that forms one into the profound and unsurpassable mystery of Christ’s selfless love for all.”

25 years

Father Andreas Hoeck

Father Andreas Hoeck was born into a Catholic family, and when he received the sacraments of confession, communion and confirmation as a child, the inner calling to the priesthood was confirmed. He joined the seminary and was ordained on April 4, 1992. Right after his ordination, he was sent to earn a doctorate in Catholic Exegesis (Bible Interpretation) at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. Since 2001, Father Hoeck has been teaching biblical science at Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary. He also helps in a variety of parishes, and preaches on several of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. For his 25th anniversary, Father Hoeck shares: “Looking back over these years, the heart is definitely filled with gratitude to God for having been given the grace of perseverance, of joy and inner peace.” But it is not just looking back: “One also realizes that the number of years ahead are rather counted, and one sets his sight on the eventual goal in the not too distant future. That powerful thought helps to steady the pace and ‘press on towards Christ’ (Philippians 3:14), as long as health and physical strength hold up.” He says that his priestly vocation “is sustained and fostered by the daily celebration of Holy Mass, daily personal prayer, the ever-deeper reflection on the word of God, and the dedication to one’s task at hand.”

Father Gregorie Vidal

Father Gregorie Vidal was born on January 25th, 1963, in Albi, in the South of France. Raised in a Catholic family, he met the Community of the Beatitudes when he was a teenager in the early 1980s through a prayer group his parents were attending, and he entered the Community in 1983. He then studied in Rome, and served the Lord in Africa for 2 years (Central Africa), where he learned to speak the native language Sango. He was ordained a Catholic priest on June 28th, 1992, in Cordes (Diocese of Albi, France), and served many years in France, and also as a Pastor in Nimes. He arrived in the US in 2009 and has been serving as a Pastor in the Parish St. Catherine of Siena (Denver) since then. He completed a Ph.D in Theology (Sacred Scriptures) in March 2012, about the “Divine sonship and universal brotherhood, in the Gospel of Saint Luke”. Father Gregorie is a man of many languages (French, Italian, English, Spanish, Sango), of many talents (soccer, marathon, nature and science) and even a ventriloquist!

Father Frank Maroney

Father Frank Maroney, ordained in Denver and current pastor of St. Francis of Assisi in Longmont, celebrates his 25th anniversary. He remembers how after a youth group meeting, the youth director asked him if he had ever thought about becoming a priest. “I replied that was not my cup of tea. And he responded profoundly, saying if I had any inkling at all, I had a responsibility to find out for sure. Well, I hadn’t had an inkling, until he asked me!” Father Maroney spent a few years discerning and eventually told the Lord, “Lord, I hope you know what you are doing this time!” before entering the seminary in Denver. Father Maroney said, “[Young priests probably] have words of advice for me! They seem to be so well rooted not only in Scripture…I appreciate their commitment and sense of zeal. It gives me a sense of hope for the Church.” The key to being faithful to the vocation, he said, is “The Lord, of course,” and the priests in his Caritas support group that meet monthly.

Other anniversaries

5 years

Rev. Juan Bonilla
Rev. Wojiech Gierasimczyk
Rev. Samuel Morehead
Rev. Ryan O’Neill

10 years

Very Rev. Randy Dollins, V.G.
Rev. Timothy Hjelstrom
Rev. Mark Kovacik

20 years

Rev. Jorge Aguera
Rev. Daniel Norick
Very Rev. Rocco Porter, V.F.
Rev. Daniel Zimmerschied

30 years

Rev. Timothy Gaines – 30
Very Rev. Michael Pavlakovich, V.F.
Most Rev. Jorge Rodriguez, S.T.D.

35 years

Rev. Msgr. Edward Buelt
Rev. John Hilton