Beloved Arvada parish celebrates centennial anniversary

Shrine of St. Anne marked 100 years with joy and a rejuvenated church

For the past 100 years, the Shrine of St. Anne Catholic Parish has joyfully served the community of Olde Town Arvada and surrounding areas. 

On July 26, Shrine of St. Anne celebrated its 100th anniversary with a special mass. This year, St. Anne also completed a major church renovation to refresh and rejuvenate the church. After lots of hard work and various delays due to the pandemic, on September 22, St. Anne had their solemn dedication of the altar with a special mass celebrated by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and Father McGrath. Although the celebration was limited because of COVID-19 restrictions, parishioners who were unable to attend in person were able to witness this special moment via virtual live streaming.

It marked a rather unexpected, yet still joyful contrast to nearly 100 years ago, when on June 25, 1922, many visitors from other Denver Catholic churches and all members of the new church, attended the dedication of the Shire of St. Anne. That same day, Bishop Tihen presented a relic of St. Anne to the new church congregation, a particle of her wrist bone. He had acquired this reliquary in France, near the Shrine of Lourdes, during a visit to Europe in 1921.

To this day, the reliquary is still located in the chapel, displayed to the parishioners of St. Anne. Bishop Tihen also presented a consecrated altar stone which was placed at the back of St. Anne’s new altar. However, these sacred pieces are not the only things that make Shrine of St. Anne Parish so special. Both parishioners and employees have a special affection for this church that has brought them closer to Christ.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila celebrated a dedication Mass for the Shrine of St. Anne on Sept. 22. The parish marked their 100th anniversary this year. (Photo by Jerry Martinez)

“Being a part of the Shrine of St. Anne community is to truly feel that we are an essential part of the Body of Christ,” said Karen Oldham, parishioner and Director of Religious Education at Shrine of St. Anne. “As transplants to Colorado over 35 years ago, St. Anne’s welcomed my family with open arms.  Since it is not an overly large parish, it is easy to get to know others, make friends, and get involved in the parish life.”

For Father Sean McGrath, pastor of the parish since June 2017, returning to St. Anne after he was a Parochial Vicar in the ‘90s is a huge blessing and makes him feel part of the family. 

“It’s a pleasure to return to The Shrine of St. Anne as the pastor,” Father McGrath said. “Twenty-nine years ago, the Shrine of St. Anne was my first assignment as a parochial vicar, working with Father Tom McCormick, indeed a fantastic pastor. There are many familiar faces in the pews which tells you the test of time.” 

St. Anne is a diverse and rapidly changing community that includes older parishioners that have seen their families grow up attending this parish. Shrine of St. Anne is also home to one of the Archdiocese of Denver’s Catholic Schools, which opened in 1961. Shrine of St. Anne Catholic School is a welcoming community that focuses on religious academics and Catholic faith formation. The school has over 355 students in grades K-8.

In conjunction with their 100th anniversary, the Shrine of St. Anne recently completed a complete renovation of their parish. (Photo by Jerry Martinez)

The Shrine of St. Anne offers a wide range of ministries to serve the community and continue evangelizing. A clear example is the Youth Ministry and Confirmation programs that serve the community in different ways. Some of their activities include, but are not limited to, serving the homeless community twice a year with Christ in the City, sponsoring a program with the City of Arvada to clean a local park trail multiple times a year, volunteering activities with other ministries, and being part of the Mountain Madness Youth Conference and the Steubenville of the Rockies Youth Conference.

Over the past three years, St. Anne parishioner Barbara Lambright and a group of other fellow parishioners have knit thousands hats for the homeless, the needy, fire departments and various charities. They call themselves the Arvada Mad Hatters. Denver 7 recently featured Lambridge as an Everyday hero. “We’ve always given back of our time talent and treasures, and this is a way of doing it,” Lambright told Denver 7.

Lambright and the Mad Hatters are just one part of the lovely and vibrant faith community that makes up the Shrine of St. Anne. With the mission, “To call all people together in Christ so that they will grow in holiness, live by His teaching and proclaim His Good News,” the parish has made sure to keep their faith alive and overcome all the challenges they have had to face, especially during the pandemic.  

“Throughout all the ups and downs, the one consistent thing I get from our parishioners is their devotion to this church, their desire to stay connected, and to be involved,” said Debbie Capra, receptionist and bulletin editor for the parish. “They want our parish and school to continue to be considered places that people CHOOSE to bring their families for their worship and their children’s education.” 

“To be a part of the Shrine of St. Anne, is to always feel loved, welcomed, and right at home in ‘Grandma’s House!’” Oldham concluded. 

COMING UP: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.