‘Ambitious’ capital campaign to shape Church’s future in Fort Collins and beyond

Moira Cullings

During his first year of theology in the seminary, Father Rocco Porter was gifted with a special task during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Denver for World Youth Day.

“I held his prayer book all the way through the Mass,” he said. “It was an extraordinary experience just to be that close to him, to be in the same place with him, but then to be standing right in front of him for the majority of the Mass.”

The 1993 Cherry Creek Mass celebrated by the now-saint was unlike anything Father Porter had ever witnessed, especially since he looked up to Pope John Paul II so much.

Father Rocco Porter is the pastor at St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Collins, which, through the Ram Catholic ministry, seeks to nurture the faith of college students at CSU. (Photo by Joshua Paul Photography)

“I knew at that point that whole experience was going to shape my priesthood,” he said.

What the young seminarian didn’t know at the time was the influence the pope’s visit would have on his future assignment as a priest.

An ‘undeniable presence’

Father Porter is the pastor of St. John XXIII in Fort Collins, where many of the Catholics involved in the parish are students at Colorado State University.

Equipped with FOCUS missionaries and a campus ministry called Ram Catholic, St. John has been successful at nurturing the faith of young adults at CSU. But parish staff members haven’t shaken the message Pope John Paul II left for the Catholic Church during his visit to Denver, and it’s prompted them to desire more.

“Twenty-six years later, as the Catholic faithful we look at all the crises inside the Church worldwide, and we have to wonder, what did this pope know?” said Luke Hecker, Capital Campaign Manager at St. John.

“How prophetic that he could see the Church would be in such turmoil as he was planting the seeds of the New Evangelization in Denver, Colorado.”

To participate more deeply in that movement, the team at St. John created the “Undeniable Presence” capital campaign — a five-year project that will shape the future of countless CSU students.

“This is a very, very ambitious capital campaign,” said Hecker.

It’s so ambitious that when Father Porter first presented it to the Archdiocese of Denver, “they pretty much laughed at me and said, ‘This is great. Do you think you’re going to be able to do this?’” said Father Porter.

“I said, ‘No, I don’t think I’m going to be able to do this at all. I think God can.’”

This renderings portrays what the exterior of the brand-new St. John XXIII church building will look like once the project is finished. (Photo provided)

The $31 million project accounts for a new church, Newman center, parish hall and parking structure — a campus situated on the western edge of CSU.

This is largely possible because of Tom Gleason, a Fort Collins Catholic who donated several acres of land to the parish in the 1960s. Initially, the parish planned on selling some of that land in order to use the funds to buy a gas station lot that was out of business.

Although they were able to purchase the lot as part of the project, they were also able to keep the land by entering into a 99-year lease agreement with Blackbird Investments, a Catholic developer that has also agreed to include Catholic student housing on the campus property.

“I thought at first it was a scam,” said Father Porter.

But it wasn’t, and because of the parish’s partnership with Blackbird, the balance left over for St. John is only $8.6 million.

“Only God could take a $31 million project and bring in a benevolent Catholic developer and commit $22.4 million before we ever got a shovel in the ground,” said Hecker. “I think it’s miraculous.

“What we are recognizing is that truly, this project is part of the prophecy of St. John Paul the Great and his pilgrimage to Colorado in 1993 for World Youth Day.”

For Adam Hermanson, architect for the project, the beauty of the new church will serve as a key part of the late pope’s mission.

“Embodying the permanence of the faith, lifting our eyes to heaven, drawing us into the intimacy of the Eucharist, and forming us for mission — this new church will be a tremendous launch pad for the new evangelization,” said Hermanson.

According to Hermanson, it’s the details in the construction that will draw students in to practice and share their faith.

This rendering portrays what the interior of the brand-new St. John XXIII church building will look like. (Photo provided)

“The large stained-glass window extending high above the altar will serve as a beacon to the neighborhood, visible far across the university campus,” he said.

“Parishioners, students, clergy and campus ministry staff will utilize the Newman Center with its coffee shop, meeting rooms and active gathering spaces.”

Ultimately, the design, particularly of the interior of the church, “will be focused on the altar, the tabernacle and the baldachin that marks the center of the sacred space,” said Hermanson.

A worthy mission

The fruits of Ram Catholic are never as evident for Father Porter as when he walks out of the church and onto CSU’s campus.

“The students who are part of campus ministry are happy, joyful and excited,” he said. “Then you walk on campus and you realize there’s so many more students who don’t know Jesus Christ.

“There’s sadness and isolation. Everyone’s walking around with headphones on and nobody’s saying ‘hello’ to anyone. There’s a lack of joy,” said Father Porter. “We need to change the culture of our campuses. They’re missing out on a joy that God wants them to have and they don’t even know it.”

Creating a greater Catholic presence has the potential to change the hearts of young people from all walks of life.

“Those students need to see the church,” said Father Porter, “and they need to see a building that’s going to inspire them to want to go inside and meet the Lord.”

According to Father Porter, there’s around 6,000 to 8,000 Catholics at CSU, and Ram Catholic is able to reach around 1,500 of them. This campaign will help the parish extend its opportunities to grow in faith to many more.

St. John hopes to have all pledges in by June or July of this year, to break ground in early 2020 and complete the whole construction project by the beginning of the school year in 2021.

The capital campaign project will finance a new church building, parish hall and Newman center. This renderings portrays what the piazza of the brand-new St. John XXIII church building will look like. (Photo provided)

The parish’s staff remains in awe of the campaign’s continued success, especially at this time in the Church’s history.

“I thought this last crisis was going to hurt the ministry,” said Father Porter. “[But] it’s bringing students to the ministry. I think people are seeing the tremendous battle.

“I think they took that as this isn’t a time to abandon the Church — this is a time to take over the Church, renew the Church, be in this battle and help God purify the Church.”

This project is a testament to that desire.

“The Catholic Church has reason for hope again,” said Father Porter. “I really think that God is probably using this project, and he’ll continue to use others, to really build up his Church again because the Church is in such disarray right now.

“It’s going through some very dark times. I think it gives something for Catholics to get behind and to rebuild God’s Church to what it needs to be.”

COMING UP: Denver’s first Catholic classical high school opens under patronage of Our Lady of Victory

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Nearly half a millennium ago, thousands of Catholics heeded Pope Pius V’s call to pray the Rosary requesting Our Lady’s intercession for the deliverance of Europe from Turkish invasion.

In a miraculous triumph, at what came to be known as the “Battle of Lepanto,” the outnumbered Christian “Holy League” overcame the Turkish forces, winning Our Lady of the Rosary a new advocation: Our Lady of Victory.

Today, Denver’s new and first Catholic classical high school has chosen Our Lady of Victory as its patroness, with the mission of developing the whole person and forming students who are holy, well-educated and prepared to engage the present culture and contribute to society.

Our Lady of Victory High School is part of the Chesterton Schools Network, which encourages parent-led Catholic schools across the nation, inspired by the life and work of G.K. Chesterton, who wrote a poem about the victory at Lepanto.

Although the school is not an archdiocesan high school, it has been officially recognized by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila as a Catholic school. This fall’s inaugural 9th grade class will launch at the St. Louis Parish School building in Denver with nearly 20 students.

“Chesterton’s model of joyful Catholicism draws upon the classical tradition but is very evangelical: It engages the culture with a joyful approach to being Catholic… rather than a reactionary one,” said Dr. R. Jared Staudt, President of the school, Director of Formation at the Archdiocese of Denver and Visiting Associate Professor at the Augustine Institute. “We want to form saints to go out and do great things for the Lord within our culture.”

The classical education approach highlights the trivium (logic, grammar and rhetoric) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy).

“We emphasize Socratic dialogue as well as the trivium: how to read texts carefully and understand them through grammar, how to think about them in a coherent manner through logic, and then how to express yourself well in writing and speech through rhetoric; but also the quadrivium: How do we understand the logical order and beauty of the universe?” Dr. Staudt explained.

The benefits of this type of education are many, he assured.

“It’s not just a practical output, but about forming strong dispositions of thinking, of being able to evaluate things, being able to form a plan of action for your life that will translate into being successful in the future.

“It’s about becoming the person that God wants us to become… We emphasize the fundamental things that shape who we are, so that, secondarily, we are also good at doing things,” Dr. Staudt said.

Part of what makes this goal possible is the communion between faith and reason. Students begin the school day with daily Mass; read Homer, Plato, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dostoevsky, G.K. Chesterton, etc.; and study the Bible and the Catechism. They participate in a curriculum where history, philosophy, literature and theology are “braided together,” as their website states.

Part of what makes it unique is also its approach to the fine arts and to mathematics and science.

“We emphasize the fine arts because we want the students to be engaged with beauty and wonder… We want to humanize them, to make them more fully alive,” Dr. Staudt said.

“I would say we also approach math and science from that perspective. We take math and science very seriously, but not as something dry and textbook based, but something that is engaging the beauty, the logic, the wonder of the universe, and the fact that we can logically understand [it] because it is itself something that is a creative work of a mind, of God’s mind, and his beauty is impressed within it.”

As part of this approach, the school has implemented in its unique formation a lot of time in the outdoors, beginning the year with a three-day backpacking trip with the students and ending with a whitewater rafting trip.
The school also plans on having retreats throughout the year, attending and hosting fine arts events and providing service opportunities for its students.

“I think that’s truly part of what makes us unique, that we want to develop the whole person: body, mind and soul,” Dr. Staudt explained.

“It’s about becoming the person that God wants us to become… We emphasize the fundamental things that shape who we are, so that, secondarily, we are also good at doing things.”

The seed for the foundations of the school began with the desire of a group of Denver Catholic parents for a holistic, classical formation for their children, also motived by the need for a Catholic high school in the South Denver metro area.

Hoping to open a Catholic classical high school for their children in the future, six dads organized a series of monthly talks titled “The First Educators” at St. Mary Parish in Littleton from September to November 2018 as a first step to help in this direction.

Little did they know that their dream would become reality only a few months later, with the help of Dr. Staudt, the Chesterton Schools Network and the support of other parents around the archdiocese.

With six experienced teachers on board, the mission-driven school is set to begin forming students in the classical tradition.

“We want them to be holy. I would say that is our biggest overarching goal, that we want to form saints in the sense that they are thinking people who are well-educated and well prepared to engage the world and make a contribution in society – but [in a way] that holiness integrates everything else that we do,” Dr. Staudt concluded.

For more information, visit ourladyofvictorydenver.com.