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A Eucharistic Refuge: Through Holy Ghost Parish, Jesus abides in the heart of Denver

Amidst the towering Mile High City skyline stands a pillar of Eucharistic devotion. A quiet respite from the hectic busyness of downtown Denver, Holy Ghost Parish has served as a destination for Eucharistic adoration for over 90 years. This year, the parish will be a host for the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, making its way through downtown Denver on June 9.

Beginning in Lent 1933, Bishop Urban Vehr granted permission for Holy Ghost Church in downtown Denver to expose the Blessed Sacrament daily. At the time, this was an immense privilege; there were far fewer parishes and zero adoration chapels. In fact, according to the February 1933 issue of the Denver Catholic Register, “this is a rare privilege, and there are few, if any, churches west of St. Louis to which such a privilege has been extended.”

“This privilege comes at a most opportune time,” the Register continued, “when there is urgent need of prayer and supplication for the assistance of Divine Providence in meeting the many problems, financial and others, that face the world today. It will offer the much-needed incentive for a return to prayer as the means of hope and perseverance to the end.”

Indeed, daily adoration of the Blessed Sacrament became a salve to worried souls amid the Great Depression and the lead-up to World War II. A mere two months after permission was granted, the Denver Catholic Register reported that the response to Archbishop Vehr’s Lenten invitation to adore the Blessed Sacrament was so overwhelming that he extended the permission throughout the year. At that time, it was reported that Holy Ghost Church was one of 12 churches in the nation given this privilege — and the only church in the Rocky Mountain region.

Though small in comparison to the massive buildings which surround it, Holy Ghost Parish has been a spiritual bastion in Denver for nearly 100 years. (Photo by André Escaleira, Jr.)

Having begun in the basement church, Eucharistic adoration moved to the newly built upper church in 1943, where it has remained since. Designed by Jacques Benedict, Holy Ghost’s stunning upper church incorporated traditional features from churches that have Eucharistic adoration, like the beautiful baldacchino and massive monstrance. With these features, it’s clear that Eucharistic adoration is in the very bones of Holy Ghost.

The rich tradition of Eucharistic fidelity and adoration has continued through the decades: through wars and peace, successes and difficulties, boons and recessions and even multiple cultural upheavals and societal hardships. As a pillar of Eucharistic devotion, it is a perfect stop for the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage as it makes its way through Denver this June.

Now, Holy Ghost is a spiritual diamond in the rough of downtown Denver. Parishioners tend to drive in for Sunday Mass. Professionals of all ages make their way over for daily Mass, adoration and confession during their lunch breaks. The poor and homeless experience Holy Ghost’s generosity through their social ministry.

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“I see the Eucharistic presence in the heart of downtown as a vital lifeline, even as there are a lot of things that threaten that,” said Father Paul Nguyen, O.M.V., current pastor of Holy Ghost. Whether violence, drugs, commerce, sirens or what have you, there is no shortage of distractions, he continued. “But the Lord who makes himself present in the Eucharist is trying to proclaim something different, something higher and life giving,” Father Nguyen added.

That proclamation emanates from the small yet beautiful church building on the corner of 19th and California, imbued with a deep Eucharistic devotion spanning decades and inviting passersby inside to encounter the Eucharistic Lord.

“They’re literally blown away by the holiness and the features of the church,” said Father Chris Uhl, O.M.V., who served as Holy Ghost’s Pastor from 2011-2022, speaking of those who visit Holy Ghost for the first time. “People walking in, they just get a sense of the holiness of the place.”

“You hear in talking to countless people that they never knew the church was here,” Father Uhl continued. “They come in and they see it and they’re just really impressed with the architecture and the holiness and things like that. That’s the initial draw.”

Once inside the church and struck by its beauty, these souls have an encounter with Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist. They see confessionals open and available for them to receive God’s mercy. They find a quiet retreat from the sounds and smells of downtown, an invitation to and from heaven. This environment of prayer comes together by the work of the Holy Spirit, Father Uhl shared, saying, “Those are things that happen not by design, not by hours of this or anything like that. That’s the Holy Spirit working.”

Holy Ghost Parish holds daily adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and is the parish that has done so for the longest in the archdiocese. (Photo by André Escaleira, Jr.)

With the National Eucharistic Revival coming to its culmination in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage and the National Eucharistic Congress, the American Church is getting a sense of the Holy Spirit’s working in our communities and in our country. As parishes continue discerning prayer opportunities, initiatives and other efforts to reinvigorate belief and devotion in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, it is paramount that the Holy Spirit ought to lead the charge, Father Uhl said.

“Start small. Start with a night,” he shared, recommending a clear invitation to a consistent time of Eucharistic adoration, potentially with confessions offered. “And then, I would count on the Holy Spirit,” allowing Jesus to inspire the hearts of parishioners to encounter him, present on the altar.

“I err towards formation and witness,” Father Nguyen shared, suggesting a sharing of experiences in prayer, especially in adoration, and a reflection on the Church’s teachings about the Eucharist. “Then people are going to take that into their prayer and their relationship with God,” he continued. “That’s for somebody to go through the door and then come to their father in secret that way.”

Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, indeed continues to call his people to himself, inviting them to draw near to him in the Eucharist. For 90 years, this call has echoed through downtown Denver with thousands spending time with Jesus at Holy Ghost Parish. That very call will be on full display as thousands process through downtown Denver to Holy Ghost as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage this June.

“The more that we can see that when we go to Eucharistic adoration, we’re right before the Lord,” Father Nguyen explained, “but it’s all of me who goes before the Lord, too. As it says in the house blessing, ‘may the Lord be here to share in your joys and comfort you in your sorrows.’ It’s the whole spectrum of human life that the Lord wants to be concerned about and a part of. We bring all of that to adoration.”

“When you look at the history, all the things that have gone on around this area, Denver, Holy Ghost is really the only thing left. It really is,” Father Uhl concluded. “Catholicism and Holy Ghost hasn’t gone anywhere. And we’re not going anywhere. We’re still here. We’re in the midst of all the cutting-edge technology and things that are going on. We’re still here and we still present the faith and we present many beautiful aspects of the faith.”

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published June 19, 2023.

André Escaleira, Jr.
André Escaleira, Jr.
André Escaleira is the Managing Editor of the Denver Catholic and El Pueblo Católico. Originally from Connecticut, André moved to Denver in 2018 to work as a missionary with Christ in the City, where he served for two years.

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