On the feast of St. Joan of Arc, May 30, the only church in the Denver Archdiocese named after the 15th century French peasant girl turned soldier marked it’s 50th anniversary.
A mystic known for her devotion and courage, St. Joan is remembered on the day she was burned at the stake in Rouen, condemned as a witch and heretic. A quarter century later, the verdict that led to her death at 19 was nullified. She was canonized a saint in 1920.
Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila was the main celebrant of the Arvada parish’s anniversary Mass.
“As we celebrate this anniversary today…and as we celebrate the solemnity of St. Joan of Arc, it is a reminder of what it means to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus,” the archbishop said in his homily. “To be those willing to deny ourselves in the steps of Jesus. That is the invitation that Jesus gives us…to heed the Gospel and to live it no matter what the cost.”
Father Nathan Goebel, the pastor, was a concelebrant of the Mass, as were three former pastors—Father Joseph Cao, Father Timothy Gaines and Father James Kleiner—and former parochial vicars: Msgr. David Croak, Msgr. Anthony McDaid and honorary parochial vicar Dominican Father Robert Staes. The parish’s assisting priest, Father James Cuneo, was unable to attend.
Charter members of the parish were recognized at the Mass.
“The parishioners are the lifeblood of every parish,” Archbishop Aquila said in his closing remarks. “The pastors and parochial vicars come and go but it is you, the people who are so dedicated and faithful to Christ and to the parish, that keep it sustained. So thank you to all of you for your great witness.”
At a festive, sumptuous reception after the Mass, a video and still photos honored the priests, deacons, laity and history of the parish.
“We’ve been blessed with an extremely devout community, one centered in Christ and in community,” Father Goebel told the Denver Catholic. Pastor for about a year, the 34-year-old priest added, “As soon I came in, I was impressed with the number of ministries here, especially spiritual ministries.”
The vibrant parish life is in keeping with the spirit of the saint it honors, Father Goebel said.
“St. Joan of Arc is known for her devotion,” he said. “She received a word from the saints inspired by God to be a witness for the world, which at the time was living in fear and resignation. If our parish emulates anything from her it would be that devotion: not only can they receive the word (of God) in their hearts but they live it out in their lives.”
The 50-plus parish ministries range from the parish preschool to sandwich line to perpetual adoration. Faith formation includes youth ministry, RCIA and the Neocatechumenal Way. Social groups range from Pint with a Priest for young adults to Seniors Club.
“I would put our Senior Club up against any [other] in the diocese,” Father Goebel said, only half-joking. “The Knights of Columbus council in our parish has earned the [organization’s] highest award in the state a number of times and even just this year, the [Knight’s] pro-life family of the year was from our parish, Dan and Jackie Murphy.”
Growth in Arvada led to the founding of the city’s second Catholic parish on Aug. 22, 1967. The pioneer pastor, the late Msgr. James Rasby, named it after St. Joan of Arc because of his special devotion to her.
Before the church was built in 1968, daily Masses were held in the rectory chapel at 58th Avenue and Oak Street, while Sunday Masses were held at Arvada West High School. Holy day liturgies were held at King of Glory Lutheran Church.
Today the modern, 800-seat sanctuary located at 12735 W. 58th Avenue, serves 2,200 households, said Deacon Rex Pilger, director of business and adult formation.
“This year we’ll probably increase to 2,300 households,” he said, citing rapid growth in west Arvada and the north Jefferson County area.
The parish’s anniversary logo features the message: St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, 1967-2017, “50 Years of Love.” The motto aims to highlight the years of Christian love and charity the parish is celebrating similar to the half-century anniversary of a married couple, Father Goebel said.
“It’s not meant to be an epitaph,” he said with his characteristic good humor. “I’m very blessed to be here in the 50th anniversary. It’s humbling because you realize you’re standing on the shoulders of a lot of other people who have sacrificed greatly to make this parish what it is.
“I don’t feel like I’m a custodian or curator of a museum,” he added. “We’re still developing, still growing. I think our parish is going to be here a long time.”
A few fun facts about St. Joan of Arc Parish:
- Current pastor Father Goebel is part of a popular weekly podcast with three other young priests called, “Catholic Stuff You Should Know.”
- At the time he served as the parish’s founding priest in 1967, Msgr. Rasby, who was then Father Rasby, was the youngest pastor in the archdiocese.
- The parish has four deacons, one of which is retired Deacon Hugh Downey, founder of a ministry in Africa. Because of his apostolate, Deacon Downey lives in Africa half the year.
- Director of Music and Liturgy Andi Weber was once a country singer.
- Besides Msgr. Rasby, previous pastors include: Father Robert Durrie, Father Michael Walsh, Father James Kleiner, Father Timothy Gaines and Father Joseph Cao.