‘Small in number, strong in faith’

On 100th anniversaries, parish longevity owed to tight-knit communities

Aaron Lambert

St. John’s Parish, located in Stoneham, Colo., is not a big parish; however, this doesn’t stop them from practicing their Catholic faith to the fullest extent.

“The church is small in number, but very strong in faith,” said Father Marek Ciesla, pastor of St. John’s, which, along with St. Joseph’s in Akron, is a mission parish of St. Mary’s in Brush. The small church celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding on Sunday, Oct. 16 with a special Mass presided by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, followed by food fellowship and fun.

Built in 1916, St. John’s in Stoneham has been a parish for a community of primarily farmers and ranchers whose families have been living in the area for generations. Father Ciesla said that this celebration was really for them.

St. John's Parish in Stoneham celebrated their 100th anniversary on Oct. 16. Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila presided over the Mass. (Photo by Andrew Wright

St. John’s Parish in Stoneham celebrated their 100th anniversary on Oct. 16. Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila presided over the Mass. (Photo by Andrew Wright

“To celebrate this 100th anniversary of the church, [we] want to recognize the family members and neighbors who started the church and show [we] are grateful to previous generations,” he said. “They try to pass it on to the next generation, and they do. They are successful because they do it on their knees; they are praying.”

With a modest population of 224, Stoneham’s community is very close-knit, and an average of 50 people show up for Mass each Sunday, Father Ciesla said. Everybody knows each other, and Father Ciesla has observed that the way of life in Stoneham informs the way St. John’s parishioners approach their spiritual lives.

“They see spirituality as a very important part of their lives; not only individual spirituality but the spirituality of the parish family,” Father Ciesla said of his parishioners. “It goes across generations because we have older people and we have young ones here in the pews, and they are the same, down-to-earth people who know where their blessings come from. They know God is first in their lives.”

Following the Mass, St. John parishioners and other members of the community gathered for fellowship and food. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

Following the Mass, St. John parishioners and other members of the community gathered for fellowship and food. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

“They work in the fields, they work with animals, they are the salt of the earth,” he continued.” “These people are working very hard, and here [in Stoneham], they are in open fields and close to nature, and they make a better connection to the creator. The support each other. You can feel this sense of support they have for each other, and openness too. They are open to newcomers, they are open to the people who enter their church.”

Another centenary: Our Lady of Lourdes in Wiggins

A fellow small community parish is also celebrating 100 years this month. Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Wiggins is a mission parish of St. Helena in Fort Morgan, and pastor Father Frank Garcia share similar sentiments about his small-yet-strong parish community.

“It’s a very, very faithful community, very close-knit,” Father Garcia said. “They love their parish, always have.”

The newly remodeled sanctuary at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Wiggins. The parish will be celebrating its 100th anniversary on Nov. 12. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

The newly remodeled sanctuary at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Wiggins. The parish will be celebrating its 100th anniversary on Nov. 12. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

Though Oct. 29 marks Our Lady of Lourdes’ official centennial anniversary, the celebration will take place on Nov. 12 at the 5 p.m. Mass. Father Garcia will say Mass, and a dinner will follow, where fellowship and a retracing of the parish’s history will take place.

Our Lady of Lourdes has bounced around a bit over the years, Father Garcia said, serving as a mission parish for St. Mary’s in Brush at the turn of the century, then to Sacred Heart Parish in Roggins, until recently, when the deanery boundary changes put it under the jurisdiction of St. Helena Parish. It’s ironic that Father Garcia inherited Our Lady of Lourdes, he said, because his first assignment as a pastor 10 years ago was at Sacred Heart in Roggins, which included Our Lady of Lourdes at the time.

The community at Our Lady of Lourdes is small but very tight-knit, said pastor Father Frank Garcia. Parishioners typically gather after Sunday Mass for donuts and fellowship. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

The community at Our Lady of Lourdes is small but very tight-knit, said pastor Father Frank Garcia. Parishioners typically gather after Sunday Mass for donuts and fellowship. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

Father Garcia said Our Lady of Lourdes has around 140 parishioners, and that life for people in Wiggins very much revolves around the parish.

“They love their parish very much,” Father Garcia said of his parishioners. “It’s very old school; everything revolves around the parish up here, everything revolves around their Catholic faith. It’s that type of community. They’re very, very happy about this centenary.”

Our Lady of Lourdes 100th anniversary celebration

Saturday, Nov. 12, 5 p.m.
Our Lady of Lourdes Church
506 Main St. Wiggins, CO 80654

COMING UP: Small-town parish celebrates 100 years

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On Sunday, Oct. 16, St. John’s Parish in Stoneham celebrated its 100th anniversary. Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila was in attendance and presided over a special Mass paying tribute to the history of the parish. Many families and friends of the parish gathered in thanksgiving for the past 100 years and celebrated at a reception following the Mass. Denver Catholic photographer Andrew Wright was there to capture the heartwarming occasion.

St. John's Parish in Stoneham celebrated their 100th anniversary on Oct. 16. Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila presided over the Mass. (Photo by Andrew Wright

St. John’s Parish in Stoneham celebrated their 100th anniversary on Oct. 16. Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila presided over the Mass. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

A young boy kneels in front of the altar at St. John's during the anniversary Mass. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

A young boy kneels in front of the altar at St. John’s during the anniversary Mass. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

The hosts used at the anniversary Mass were made from wheat grown and harvested by the parishioners of St. John's. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

The hosts used at the anniversary Mass were made from wheat grown and harvested by the parishioners of St. John’s. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

Two altar boys stand at the altar during Mass. People of all ages gathered for the anniversary celebration, including an elderly gentleman who has been a parishioner at St. John's for 75 years. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

Two altar boys stand at the altar during Mass. People of all ages gathered for the anniversary celebration, including an elderly gentleman who has been a parishioner at St. John’s for 75 years. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

Archbishop Aquila greets a parishioner after Mass. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

Archbishop Aquila greets a parishioner after Mass. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

Archbishop Aquila poses with Father Michael Bodzioch, Deacon Richard Wilson, Father Marek Ciesla, Father David Stahl and two men from the local Knights of Columbus council outside of St. John's Parish. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

Archbishop Aquila poses with Father Michael Bodzioch, Deacon Richard Wilson, Father Marek Ciesla, Father David Stahl and two men from the local Knights of Columbus council outside of St. John’s Parish. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

Following the Mass, St. John parishioners and other members of the community gathered for fellowship and food. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

Following the Mass, St. John parishioners and other members of the community gathered for fellowship and food. (Photo by Andrew Wright)