Archdiocese acquires well-known mortuary in central Denver

Newly acquired Caldwell-Kirk Mortuary enables archdiocese to expand services

To fulfill its corporal work of mercy of burying the dead, the archdiocese operates two cemeteries — Mount Olivet in Wheat Ridge and St. Simeon in Aurora — as well as Archdiocese of Denver Mortuary located at Mount Olivet. To better serve the community and expand services, the archdiocese recently acquired a second mortuary, Caldwell-Kirk, in central Denver.

In addition to offering a more conveniently located facility to Catholic families and others, the new site at 2101 N. Marion St., enables the archdiocese to provide its own cremation services, which is a comfort to families who choose that option, administrators said.

“They have peace of mind. Now their loved one never leaves our care for cremation,” said John Miller, outreach coordinator for the mortuaries. “And families don’t have to travel to one side of the city or the other to pre-plan or for at-need mortuary services.”

While there is a preference for traditional burial as Christ was buried in the tomb, the Church has permitted cremation since 1963. However, out of respect for the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit and belief in the Resurrection, the Church teaches that cremated remains must be kept together, not scattered or divided.

Additionally, the remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium.

“The Church wants a final resting place,” Miller said. “It honors the person and gives the family a place to go to visit and remember them.

“And just like in church, where we’re all together as the body of Christ worshiping, shouldn’t we also be all together in a cemetery awaiting our resurrection?”

At the archdiocesan cemeteries, he added, prayers are said daily and Mass is offered monthly for the deceased buried there. According to the Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services Colorado website (, the Church holds that two places are sacred: the physical worship space and Catholic cemeteries, the latter of which serves as a symbol of the Church community unbroken by death.
Because cremation can be less expensive, the practice has grown and become more commonplace. Part of Miller’s position is to help catechize the faithful on proper care and reverence regarding cremation.

“Ministry first is always our emphasis,” he said. “For us, having this location and having the ability to do our own cremation is continuing ministry that people can be reached with.”

With a long, proud history of serving Denver’s African American community, Caldwell-Kirk Mortuary was started in Denver in 1949 by the late William H. Kirk and his late wife Ruby Kirk-Gray as Kirk Mortuary. It moved to its current site in 1960. In 1984, the mortuary was renamed Caldwell-Kirk Mortuary when Elvin Caldwell, Jr., purchased it and became president and general manager. With its sale to the archdiocese, which occurred in the spring, it acquired a new name, Archdiocese of Denver Mortuary at Caldwell-Kirk.

“Our core purpose is to fill the void left by the loss of a loved one with faith,” said Gary Schaaf, executive director of the archdiocese’s mortuaries. “Preserving the tradition of service established by Elvin Caldwell and his staff is a privilege, one that we pledge to continue into the future.”
The archdiocese retained most of the Caldwell-Kirk staff, Miller said. The newly acquired mortuary is currently in the pre-construction phase of getting a facelift, but it is open and will remain so when the renovations begin later this summer.

The Archdiocese of Denver Mortuary was established in 1982 as the first diocesan-owned mortuary in the United States. It has served over 20,000 families in its 37-year history. The nearly 400-acre Mount Olivet Cemetery was established in 1892. Some 120,000 people are buried there from laity to the bishops and archbishops of Denver. The 100-acre St. Simeon Cemetery was established in 2004. Nearly 1,300 people are buried there.

“The Archdiocese of Denver mortuaries and cemeteries are the best kept secret in town,” Miller said, a fact he learned in his outreach efforts to create awareness about end-of-life services the archdiocese offers. “I went to 32 parishes last year to give presentations. It’s one of those subjects no one wants to talk about, but you have to have a conversation and learn what people want.”

Unlike most mortuaries and cemeteries, which are for-profit businesses, the archdiocesan mortuaries and cemeteries are nonprofit entities committed to the ministry of burying the dead, Miller said. They are open to all people, not just Catholics, and staff includes both English- and Spanish-speakers to meet people’s needs.

“We love our ministry,” Miller said. “We are committed to filling the void of loss with faith.”

Archdiocese of Denver Mortuary at Caldwell Kirk

2101 N. Marion St. Denver, CO 80205

COMING UP: Mt. Olivet cemetery offers spiritual, corporal works of mercy

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

On Hart Island in the Long Island Sound of New York City, more than one million unclaimed people’s remains are buried. It is the largest tax funded cemetery in the world.

The city’s Department of Corrections maintains and operates the island, and its prisoners bury the anonymous bodies. Visitors are welcome just once a month.

It’s examples like Hart Island that motivate Al Hooper and John Miller at Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery to take even greater care of the unclaimed after they pass away.

“We’re an extension of the arm of the archbishop, doing the corporal work of mercy of burying the dead and the spiritual work of praying for the dead,” said Miller, Outreach Coordinator for the Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services of northern Colorado.

… it’s safe to say that at least in the Denver metro area, we’re the only cemetery that will take indigent persons — most of the time for free”

That’s why if the county reaches out to Mount Olivet in Denver when they have a homeless person with no known family who passed away, the cemetery buries them at little to no charge.

“I think it’s safe to say that at least in the Denver metro area, we’re the only cemetery that will take indigent persons — most of the time for free,” said Miller.

Not only does the cemetery accept the unknown, but it also houses a Crypt of All Souls, located inside a mausoleum, that offers reserved crypt space for families who cannot afford a burial plot. The cemetery places the cremated remains within the crypt at little to no cost.

“For me, this is hope,” said Hooper, Director of the Office of Social Ministry for the archdiocese. “This is what the faith is about. What do we need Easter for if it isn’t this?

“It’s just wonderfully hopeful,” he said.

Mount Olivet offers Mass each first Friday of the month in the mortuary chapel. Some families have attended the Mass for years, said Miller.

“It’s just one of the spiritual works of mercy that happens [here],” he said.

For Hooper, the merciful services offered through Denver’s Catholic cemeteries show “how healing a church’s understanding about death is for those that are grieving,” he said.

Mt. Olivet Cemetery offers full cemetery services, including standard casket and cremated ground burials and above ground crypts. Mass is also offered on the first Friday of each month at the Archdiocese of Denver Mortuary Chapel on the grounds of Mt. Olivet for those souls buried at the cemetery. (Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic)

It reminds Hooper how fortunate Catholics are to have the Mass to feel connected to their loved ones who have passed away.

“If you really want people to go back to Mass, connect with your deceased at the Mass together,” said Hooper. “As Scott Hahn said, this is where heaven and earth come together — they transcend time and dimension.”

Because we are able to worship God during Mass with the entire Communion of Saints, and it’s there that we pray together for both the living and the deceased, it’s important to celebrate the Church’s liturgy for funerals, said Miller. The liturgy includes a vigil, funeral Mass and committal.

“Each step along the way, each liturgy, prays for the deceased,” said Miller. “And it prays for all the dead, but also the living and consolation in their grief and their sorrow.

“The liturgy itself in my opinion brings healing and closure, especially if it’s done complete,” he said. “The funeral Mass is offered for the deceased, we’re offering our prayers in the greatest miracle of the sacrifice of the Mass in the Eucharist.

“To deprive the deceased of that is [unfair],” he said. “The Church has, in her wisdom and pastoral care of the people of God, this beautiful liturgy to help them in their grief and suffering.”

Both Hooper and Miller hope the services offered through Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services bring healing to those who need it.

“I want to make this very healthy and healing,” said Hooper. “It’s the hope of the whole Christian faith.”

For more information on Denver’s Catholic cemeteries, visit