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: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash