Supreme Court justice nominee a testament to Catholic education

Neil Gorsuch attended Denver’s Christ the King School

Roxanne King

The nomination of Coloradan Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court justice during Catholic Schools Week appears to affirm the celebration’s 2017 theme: “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.”

Gorsuch’s life exemplifies those qualities, according to President Donald Trump and Catholic educators.

Although Gorsuch attends an Episcopalian church in Boulder, he grew up attending Christ the King Catholic School in Denver and a Jesuit high school in Maryland.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila, who as a parish priest in the ‘80s taught Gorsuch religion at Christ the King, was delighted with his former student’s Jan. 31 nomination.

“I think it’s great that this has happened during Catholic Schools Week!” the archbishop said of the news, which was announced during the Jan. 29-Feb. 4 national observance.

Kevin Kijewski, the archdiocese’s superintendent of Catholic Schools, was equally elated.

“It’s great to see how a Catholic education, especially a Catholic education from within our own Archdiocese of Denver, can not only form and guide students to succeed and be the best they can be, but to provide the moral judgment and competence to play-out in such a highly visible and influential position.

“It is a testament to our schools and to having a Catholic education,” he told the Denver Catholic.

In a Feb. 1 interview with Fox 31, Kijewski noted, “Catholic thought and the Catholic intellectual tradition has shaped him.”

Gorsuch, a Denver native and judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, graduated with honors from both Columbia University and Harvard Law School and earned a doctorate in legal philosophy from Oxford University. After law school, he was chosen to be a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. He is the son of Anne Gorsuch, who was the first female secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency.

President Donald J. Trump has nominated fourth-generation Coloradoan Neil Gorsuch to be the next Supreme Court justice Jan. 31. Gorsuch grew up attending Christ the King Catholic School in Denver, and his eighth grade teacher, JoAnn Ehrlich, remembers Gorsuch as being “humble, honest and fair.” file photo

President Donald J. Trump has nominated fourth-generation Coloradoan Neil Gorsuch to be the next Supreme Court justice Jan. 31. Gorsuch grew up attending Christ the King Catholic School in Denver, and his eighth grade teacher, JoAnn Ehrlich, remembers Gorsuch as being “humble, honest and fair.” (File photo)

“Judge Gorsuch was born and raised in Colorado and was taught the value of independence, hard work and public service. While in law school, he demonstrated a commitment to helping the less fortunate. He worked in both Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Projects and Harvard Defenders Program,” Trump said in his nomination. “He could have had any job at any law firm for any amount of money, but what he wanted to do with his career was to be a judge, to write decisions and to make an impact by upholding our laws and our Constitution.

“The qualifications of Judge Gorsuch are beyond dispute,” he said. “He is a man of our country and a man who our country really needs and needs badly to ensure the rule of law and the rule of justice.”

JoAnn Ehrlich, who has taught at Christ the King for some 25 years, was Gorsuch’s eighth-grade teacher.

“I’m really proud of him,” she told the Denver Catholic. “I was whooping and hollering for him [Jan. 31] like he had won the Super Bowl. Only it’s better—it’s better that he may be a Supreme Court justice.”

Ehrlich said the virtues of the eighth-grader she taught are evident in the man she watched accept the nomination.

“I remember him as being humble, honest and fair,” she said. “That’s what I saw then, that’s what I see now.”

Not only was Gorsuch a good student but he also had a great sense of humor and was friends with everyone, Ehrlich said. Even then, recalled Ehrlich, she saw “sparks” of his judicial career choice.

“He loved talking about history or government or politics,” she said. “He was just a good kid, a really good kid.”

In accepting the nomination, Gorsuch expressed gratitude and humility.

“Standing here in a house of history, and acutely aware of my own imperfections, I pledge that if I am confirmed I will do all my powers permit to be a faithful servant of the Constitution and laws of this great country.

“I am so thankful tonight for my family, my friends and my faith,” he added. “These are the things that keep me grounded at life’s peaks and have sustained me in its valleys.”

Featured image by Drew Angerer | Getty Images

COMING UP: Father Jan Mucha remembered for his ‘joy and simplicity’

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

When Father Marek Ciesla was 11 years old, he encountered a priest in his hometown in northern Poland who was visiting his parish on mission.

“I was impressed,” said Father Ciesla. “A couple of my friends and I were talking about how energetic, how wonderful this priest was. I think in this way he inspired us a little bit to follow the call to the priesthood.”

The priest was Father Jan Mucha, and little did Father Ciesla know that decades later and an ocean away, he would reunite with the man that inspired him and his friend to pursue the priesthood.

In 2010 when Father Mucha was retiring from his role as pastor of St. Joseph Polish Catholic Church in Denver, Father Ciesla was sent from Poland to the Archdiocese of Denver to take his place.

The priests spent two days together, and Father Ciesla was struck by the familiarity of Father Mucha.

“For some reason, the way he was talking and the words he was using, something rang a bell,” he said. “I asked him if he remembers visiting my parish. And he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I had it on my list. I remember.’”

Father Ciesla was amazed that the man he was there to replace was the same one who had impacted his life all those years ago.

“God works in mysterious ways,” said Father Ciesla. “I never thought I would meet him again.”

Father Mucha passed away March 21 after serving the archdiocese for 40 years. He was 88 years old.

Father Mucha was born March 16, 1930 in Gron, Poland to parents Kazimierz and Aniela Mucha. He was one of five children. Father Mucha attended high school in Kraków and went on to study philosophy and theology at a seminary in Tarnów.

Father Mucha was ordained December 19, 1954 in Tarnów by Auxiliary Bishop Karol Pękala. He served at St. Theresa Parish in Lublin, Sacred Heart Parish in Florynka and as a Latin teacher at Sacred Heart Novice House in Mszana Dolna.

He was incardinated into the Archdiocese of Denver on April 20, 1978. Before he was granted retirement status in August of 2010, he served at St. Joseph Polish for nearly 40 years.

“Father Mucha was dedicated to his people and there was a joy about him,” said Msgr. Bernard Schmitz, who had known Father Mucha since his own ordination in 1974 and more recently within his former role as Vicar for Clergy.

“I admired his joy and simplicity,” said Msgr. Schmitz. “He seemed to have no guile and what you saw is what you got. He was very proud of his Polish heritage and was unafraid to be Polish.”

Father Mucha’s move to the United States came about after he visited St. Joseph Polish while on vacation. The pastor at the time was sick, and parishioners asked Father Mucha to stay.

After receiving approval from his superiors in Poland and the archbishop in Denver, Father Mucha did stay, and ended up serving the parish for nearly four decades.

“He was happy to serve here,” said Father Ciesla. “All the time, he was a man of faith. He kept his eye on Jesus.”

Msgr. Schmitz believes Father Mucha’s faithfulness and tenacity as a priest will leave a lasting impression on those he served.

“He was dedicated to the priesthood and didn’t want to retire until he was sure his people would be well taken care of,” said Msgr. Schmitz. “He could come across as tough, but really he was a compassionate person [with] a heart open to the Lord’s work.”