Archbishop Aquila, clergy and faithful express gratitude for Archbishop Chaput


For Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and many Colorado clergy and lay members, the deep influence that Archbishop Charles J. Chaput exerted during his time as Archbishop of Denver is still present in the many personal relationships he made and the numerous initiatives that came to fruition during his tenure. As his 31 years of episcopal service came to a close with his recent retirement, the image of the man who shepherded the Archdiocese of Denver from 1997 to 2011 can be best described by those who were closest to him.

“I am extraordinarily grateful to Archbishop Chaput for all the years of loving service and guidance he provided to the Archdiocese of Denver,” Archbishop Aquila said. “His deep faith and love for the Lord and for the Church was evident in all his decisions, and most especially in his decision to move forward with the establishment of St. John Vianney Seminary, to support so many of the lay apostolates, and to bring new religious orders to the archdiocese. As a priest, it was a joy to serve with him and work on so many different projects that furthered the new evangelization.”

“With his retirement as an archbishop, it’s only fitting that we pay tribute to his impact on the faithful of our archdiocese and the Church in the United States.”

Monsignor Thomas Fryar, pastor at St. Thomas More Parish, spent much time with, and served in various roles under, Archbishop Chaput. He especially admires the sense of fatherly presence the archbishop had to his flock, which was reflected by the fact that people knew they could often find him celebrating the Sunday evening Mass at the Cathedral.

“He would not only try to be available for them at Sunday Mass, but he would stay at the back of the church greeting people – and sometimes that would take almost as long as the mass,” he said.

By this simple gesture, he made a deep impact on the lives of numerous lay people, according to Eric Zellweger, current chair of the archdiocesan finance council. That was precisely how he met the prelate.

Photos by Catholic News Agency

One Sunday after Mass at the Cathedral, when Zellweger was in his 20s, archbishop noticed he was new and invited him to lunch. “We ended up having lunch and playing racquetball,” Zellweger recalled.

Nonetheless, in spite of the archbishop reaching out to him, Zellweger said he was still lukewarm in his faith and fell away for a period of time. It would take a few years to recover his faith and contact Archbishop Chaput again.

Once he called the archbishop and told him his story, Zellweger said that the mercy and love he received from Chaput further increased his desire to grow closer to Christ.

“He’s very saint-like, very warm, open, and merciful – yet he never compromises the teachings of our faith,” Zellweger said. “That’s what really drew me to reach out to him. I felt that warmth, that truth and that beauty that he always conveys to everyone that he meets. He’s very authentic.”

Dr. Mario Chavez’s story is another example of Archbishop Chaput’s personal pastoral care.

Dr. Chavez also met the prelate after Sunday Mass at the Cathedral. They had a brief conversation about a trip Chavez would be making to Europe. Six months later, archbishop saw him again and said to him, “You’re back from your trip! What was your favorite part?”

For Dr. Chavez, the archbishop’s exceptional memory was a result of his “genuine interest in people,” a quality that impressed him.

One day after going out for breakfast and inviting him to the visit the seminary, the archbishop asked him if he had ever thought about the priesthood. To the archbishop’s surprise, Chavez told him he wasn’t Catholic – he attended  Mass because his girlfriend was a member of the cathedral choir.

“At that point, he took me to the [seminary chapel] and showed me the stained glass and explained the story to me. From that time forward, he started meeting with me on a biweekly basis and took me through the Catechism and Scripture and formed me in my faith,” Dr. Chavez recalled. “I was under spiritual direction with him for two to three years and cultivated a good friendship… Growing up I never had a father, so he became a lot like a father figure to me… He’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever met.”

Many of the priests who were seminarians during Archbishop Chaput’s time in Denver are also grateful for his closeness and fatherly care.

“I remember that fatherly leadership that he provided not only me, but so many others,” said Father Samuel Morehead, pastor at All Souls Parish, who spent his seminarian years under the archbishop. “I have memories of him coming to speak candidly, to lead the men in the seminary as a father, answering our questions, engaging us in meaningful dialogue.”

This openness was also evidenced by the fact that anybody could send him an email and receive a response “within record time,” the priest assured. “That really made you feel like he was in your life and engaging you.”

Among Archbishop Chaput’s great legacies as Archbishop of Denver, people will not hesitate to highlight the many apostolates and initiatives he supported and encouraged, some of which include the Augustine Institute, FOCUS, Endow and Centro San Juan Diego.

For Msgr. Fryar, Archbishop Chaput’s role in the growth of both Saint John Vianney and Redemptoris Mater seminaries was pivotal, and believes it became “a model in the whole United States [for] its strong formation presence.”

Father Morehead believes it was the work that Archbishop Chaput dedicated to the seminaries that advanced so many other apostolates in the archdiocese.

“[Some of these ministries] came to light because we had the right people here at the right time in the faculty at the seminary. It was a ripple effect of goodness,” he assured, a goodness that came from his disposition to the Holy Spirit.

“I was always inspired with his openness to trust in his work of the Holy Spirit to stir up holy initiatives in the life of the Church,” Father Morehead continued.

Archbishop Chaput’s work is thus fondly remembered by many people who were positively influenced by his “pastor’s touch,” “simplicity” and “courage.”

“He’s obviously a man of great conviction and confidence, but I think what might not come out so much in his public columns and in how he can be attacked… is his immense humility,” Zellweger said. “I remember him saying once to me: ‘People try to paint me as a conservative or a liberal based on my views… but I am just trying to teach the Gospel and live the Gospel authentically.’”

“As archbishop, I believe he was and is still a man of utter integrity. I believe he is honest and forthright, and passionately loves Jesus and his Church,” Father Morehead concluded. “And while being always a man of mercy, compassion and a good pastor to his people, I’ve also admired his ability to stand up for what he believes and knows to be the truth.”

COMING UP: Five Colorado places named after Catholic saints

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On Aug. 1, Colorado will have made it way over the hill at a ripe 144 years old. Better known as Colorado Day, the day commemorates the founding of our great Centennial State in 1876.

The Catholic Church has a rich history in Colorado, and believe it or not, various regions, geographic landmarks and places in the state are named after Catholic saints. The San Juan Mountain Range, the San Miguel River and the San Luis Valley are but a few examples.

In honor of Colorado Day, here are five places within “Colorful Colorado” that take their namesake from a Catholic saint. You probably already know a couple of them, but the other three are real “diamonds in the rough” that are worth making the trek; in fact, two of them were built and founded before Colorado was even Colorado.

Mother Cabrini Shrine, Golden, CO


One of Colorado’s most popular pilgrimage sites, it’s hard not to be enamored by Mother Cabrini Shrine. Originally founded as a girls’ summer camp by St. Frances Cabrini in 1910, the shrine overlooks the I-70 corridor heading into the mountains and is as charming as it is relaxing. In addition to the praying in the chapel, visitors can stay in the old Stone House that was built in 1914 or one of the various retreat houses that have been added over the years. Aside from being a wonderful space to pray, Mother Cabrini Shrine doubles as a sort of natural Stairmaster to get those steps in with the 373-step staircase leading up to the shrine, affectionately known as the Stairway of Prayer.

St. Catherine of Siena Chapel, Allenspark, CO

Photo by Andrew Wright

Better known as the Chapel on the Rock, this functioning Catholic chapel is perhaps one of Colorado’s most iconic landmarks. As the story goes, in the early 20th century, a man by the name of William McPhee owned the land where the chapel stands, known as Camp St. Malo. McPhee was a parishioner of the Cathedral in Denver, and he often allowed the parish to take kids hiking and camping on his property. During one of those trips, several campers saw a meteorite or shooting star that had appeared to hit the earth. They went looking for it and came upon the Rock that now stands as the foundation of St. Catherine of Siena Chapel. Completed in 1936, the chapel’s official namesake is fitting, as both it and St. Catherine of Siena share a common thread of mystical experiences facilitated by the Lord. It has had many visitors over the years, but perhaps none so famous as St. John Paul II who, ever the outdoorsman, just had to make a stop while in Denver for World Youth Day in 1993.

Abbey of St. Walburga, Virginia Dale, CO


Photo courtesy of the Abbey of St. Walburga

Located in the picturesque Virginia Dale, a small community just south of the Wyoming border, the Abbey of St. Walburga is a place where the voice of the Lord lives in the mountains, plains and rivers surrounding it. Named for the patroness of the Benedictine nuns, the abbey was founded in 1935 when three sisters from the Abbey of St. Walburg in Eichstätt, Bavaria were sent to a remote farm in what was Boulder. There, they built a strong foundation for the future of the abbey through hard work, poverty and an immovable trust in God’s providence. Today, the Benedictine nuns of Walburga humbly carry out the good works of the Benedictine order and carry on the legacy started nearly a millennium ago in 1035, when the original Walburg abbey in Eichstätt was founded.

San Luis, CO

Photo by Jeremy Elliot

Moving into the southern most regions of the State of Colorado, the Catholic roots of the region become much more evident. The oldest town in Colorado, San Luis, was founded in 1851 on the Feast of St. Louis, and predates the official founding of Colorado as a state by 25 years. The town is located along the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, which translates to “Blood of Christ.” One of the main attractions of the small town of just over 600 is a shrine at the town’s local Catholic parish. The Shrine of the Stations of the Cross was built by the parishioners of Sangre de Cristo Parish and the beautiful stations were designed and sculpted by native San Luis sculptor Huberto Maesta.

Capilla de Viejo San Acacio, Costilla County, CO

Photo from Wikicommons

Just to the west of the town of San Luis lies one of Colorado’s oldest gems. The Chapel of Old St. Acacius, or Capilla de Viejo San Acacio as it’s known to the locals, is the oldest non-Native American religious site in Colorado that’s still active today. While the building of the church cannot be dated precisely, it was likely completed sometime in the 1860s. The namesake of the church comes from St. Acacius of Byzantium, a third century martyr. Near the church is the small village of San Acacio, which a local tradition holds got its name after one of the earliest San Luis Valley settlements, originally called Culebra Abajo, was attacked by a band of Ute in 1853. As the Ute attackers approached, the villagers asked for the intercession of St Acacius, a popular saint among their people. The Ute suddenly halted and fled before they reached the town, scared off by a vision of well-armed warriors defending it. In gratitude for this salvation, the village was renamed San Acacio, and the villagers built a mission church in honor of the saint.