Saints, holy figures come back to life at first ‘Night in the Cemetery’

Aaron Lambert

The week before Halloween, the dead rose from the graves at Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

It was much less frightening than a scene from Night of the Living Dead, though. Among those who appeared were St. Therese of Lisieux, Freddie Joe Steinmark and Denver’s very own angel of charity Julia Greeley, all portrayed by actors and actresses. Youth from around the archdiocese were given the chance to walk through the cemetery in the dark of night for the very first “Night in the Cemetery” event.

“If you get [kids] the week before Halloween to come and walk around a cemetery at night, they’re all ears,” said Gary Schaaf, director of Mt. Olivet. “We’re not trying to scare them, but we do understand they’ll be in a different place than when they’re playing Xbox. They’ll be thinking, they’ll be listening, their senses are heightened.”

Actors and actresses from the Regis Ramblers, Regis University’s drama club, portrayed some of the religious figures students encountered during the tour, such as St. Therese of Lisieux pictured above. (Photos by Andrew Wright)

For three nights, middle school and high school youth groups were led on a two-hour tour through Mt. Olivet, learning about some of its rich history and encountering a few saints and other special visitors portrayed in part by members of the Regis University drama club. They were also treated to an outdoor Mass at Gallagher Chapel in the heart of the cemetery.

The first character the students encountered on their tour was Julia Greeley, who was buried at Mt. Olivet for nearly 100 years until recently, when her cause for canonization as Denver’s first saint was opened. As part of the canonization process, her bones were exhumed and now lie at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

The woman who portrayed Julia, Robin Weldon, is currently a resident at the Julia Greeley Home, a homeless shelter for women in Denver. Even before being asked to play Julia, Weldon had read about her life and felt a kindred connection to her.

The tour ended with Mass at Gallagher Chapel in the heart of the cemetery. (Photos by Andrew Wright)

“We had a lot of things in common, without even knowing anything about her,” Weldon said. “Some of the things she has done as far as giving food…I have done that, unaware of her story.”

“It wasn’t hard for me to decide to do it,” she added excitedly.

Schaaf hopes “Night in the Cemetery” becomes an annual occasion. Every kid dreams of walking around a cemetery at night, and this is a great chance to allow them to do that while revealing some of the deeper tenets of the Catholic faith.

“This place is so much in so many ways. It’s sacred ground,” he said. “So many people’s loved ones are out here. It’s where they come and go to a different and deeper place. If you can get kids to swim in a little bit deeper water for five minutes, that’s a good thing. That’s the purpose behind it all.”

COMING UP: New president seeks to advance mission of Arrupe Jesuit HS to underserved families

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The newly-elected president of Arrupe Jesuit High School, Michael J. O’Hagan, will seek to serve students and families in the Jesuit tradition of providing a well-rounded, Catholic formation.

“My vision remains rooted in the original vision of the school, which is to serve families and students who, for many reasons beyond their own control, have been traditionally underserved,” O’Hagan said. “I want to make sure that Arrupe is always connected to its mission of serving young people and families in this Jesuit Catholic tradition.”

O’Hagan was the founding principal of Arrupe Jesuit High School when it opened in 2003 after a lay initiative to bring Catholic education back to the center city of Denver.

Bringing Catholic education back, however, meant new challenges: The area was mostly populated by low-income families who could not afford private education. Thus, the goal of making Catholic education affordable became a primary mission.

The founders took on the work-study model of Chicago’s Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, which allowed students to implement work into their education with a two-fold purpose: Gaining real-life formation while paying for their college prep education.

“It’s a dynamic relationship with the metro area and business community,” O’Hagan said. “Our young people have an experience of the real world that they can connect to their classroom lessons and affords them an opportunity to see a future they didn’t always know existed.”

Arrupe JHS students work 5 days a month and earn a total of around $2.5 million for the school.

My vision remains rooted in the original vision of the school, which is to serve families and students who, for many reasons beyond their own control, have been traditionally underserved.”

The new president’s role will have a greater focus on strengthening the existing relationships with entities that help the advancement of the school through this work-study program. As principal, his responsibility was more internally-focused on faculty, staff and students.

“I’m excited to be able to build partnerships within the business community and benefactors,” he said. “People are drawn to the mission of Arrupe because they’re drawn to our students. It’s the mission of Arrupe that allows us to connect with so many people.”

Over 130 organizations now contribute to the mission of the school, allowing all 420 students to share full-time, entry-level positions in a wide variety of fields including education, health and engineering.

Family-oriented

Other than making sure bills get paid, O’Hagan assured that his responsibility extends to keeping and advancing the Jesuit Catholic identity of the school. This reality calls for a clear understanding of the needs of the students and an integration of families, he said.

Ninety-three percent of students at Arrupe are Hispanic and the other seven percent include African Americans and African refugees.

Some of the challenges that students face on a personal level include being separated from loved ones due to deportation and experiencing trauma and violence due to the realities of the neighborhoods they live in. Nonetheless, O’Hagan assures that the faculty and staff go beyond these facts when defining the kids.

“We’re very aware of the challenges they face, but we’ve made an intentional decision – one that is firmly rooted in the Gospel – to define our kids by their talents and their gifts,” he said. “We often describe ourselves as a school of dreams, the dreams of our kids and the dreams of their moms and grandparents.”

Arrupe JHS takes families seriously. It knows that if the richness given to the students is not shared by the family, it has failed.

For this reason, the school provides many resources for them and also lets them know that they are welcome, highlighting the key role they play in their children’s education.

We’re very aware of the challenges they face, but we’ve made an intentional decision – one that is firmly rooted in the Gospel – to define our kids by their talents and their gifts.”

Families are considered and helped from the application process itself throughout the four years of education by way of workshops and gatherings that help them understand their children’s progress and education.

“We don’t want families to feel like their kids are having an experience of high school that is separate from their families. We want them to have a shared experience,” O’Hagan stated.

After so many years of work in the mission of making the school facilities, staff and mission reflect the dignity and potential of every student, the new president is mostly grateful for the support received.

“I am grateful for the support that Arrupe has received from the community through our first 15 years. We haven’t been successful because we’ve been isolated,” he assured. “We have been successful because of the many partnerships we have built across the city, state and country.”