Build, and they will come

Guardian Angels Parish in Mead raising funds to build a bigger church

Aaron Lambert

Having a small church can lead to big problems, especially in a booming area.

Father Alan Hartway and Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Mead are in desperate need of a bigger church. The parish launched a capitol campaign in April to raise funds for the construction of a new church building. The project is split into three phases, and they need to raise $3.6 million to begin the first phase of construction.

The campaign was launched in an effort to keep with the rapid growth of Mead and the surrounding Northern Colorado areas. Their parishioners come from Mead and all the nearby towns, including Longmont, Loveland, Berthoud and Johnstown. They have a total of 230 families currently registered, and that number keeps increasing.

The tiny church building they have has been there since the early 1900s, and as charming as it is, it’s just not cutting it anymore. Guardian Angels has gone from having one Mass per weekend in 2007 to having four Masses every weekend, each of which fills their 99-person capacity building to the brim with parishioners.

Guardian Angels pastor Father Alan Hartway, left, and parishioner Doug Staver, right, enjoy a conversation in the current Guardian Angels church building, which is far too small for their rapidly growing parish. They are currently raising money to build a bigger church. (Photo by Aaron Lambert | Denver Catholic)

“It’s packed. People drive away,” Father Hartway said.

It’s not just the masses that are full, either.

“If we have a wedding or a funeral, we have to go to St. John’s in Longmont or somewhere larger to accommodate all the families,” said Donna Staver, a Guardian Angels parishioner. She and her husband Doug are on the committee for the capitol campaign.

The parish also boasts a hall in its office building that’s one of the bigger spaces available for public gatherings in Mead. In addition to bible studies and youth groups, the hall serves as the meeting place for local non-Catholic services as well, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and a food bank. Father Hartway said the hall was used 315 days in 2014.

Guardian Angel’s active involvement in the local community is a part of a bigger spiritual philosophy Father Hartway has. He doesn’t see himself as just the priest at Guardian Angels; he strives to be a spiritual leader for Mead and the surrounding areas.

“I really believe we have to be a part of the whole community. We can’t just do our own little thing,” Father Hartway said. “People like when there’s outreach and there’s focus. It builds pride. Our presence here is valuable to people, and we want to grow that because we can.”

When they began soliciting funds from their parishioners to build the new church, people were very receptive, Donna said. They’ve had an 87% support rate.

“They were all thrilled with the idea of building a new church,” she said.

They’ve also received funds from people who aren’t Catholic, which shows that Guardian Angel’s presence in the community reaches more than just the Catholics, Father Hartway said.

They own seven and a quarter acres of land, located on their property, and the new building will be built there. It will seat 350 people initially, but will be expandable for the future.

Once the new church is built, the old church building will remain where it is and serve as a prayer chapel, as well as a place to have weddings and funerals.

The initial plans for the new church were designed for easy expansion, and could take up to 10 or 20 years for all three phases to be fully completed, Father Hartway said.

“If we really were to think about it, we’d need something even bigger because in 20 years, there’s going to be far more growth here,” he said. “It’s a no-brainer why we have to build.”

For more information or to donate money towards the construction of the new church, contact Guardian Angel’s parish office at 970-535-0721.

COMING UP: John Paul II, youth minister

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Pole that he was, Karol Wojtyla had a well-developed sense of historical irony. So from his present position in the Communion of Saints, he might be struck by the ironic fact that the Synod on “Youth, Faith, and Vocational Discernment,” currently underway in Rome, coincides with the 40th anniversary of his election as Pope John Paul II on October 16, 1978. What’s the irony? The irony is that the most successful papal youth minister in modern history, and perhaps all history, was largely ignored in Synod-2018’s working document. And the Synod leadership under Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri seems strangely reluctant to invoke either his teaching or his example.

But let’s get beyond irony. What are some lessons the Synod might draw from John Paul II, pied piper of the young, on this ruby anniversary of his election?

1. The big questions remain the same.

Several bishops at Synod-2018 have remarked that today’s young people are living in a completely different world than when the bishops in question grew up. There’s obviously an element of truth here, but there’s also a confusion between ephemera and the permanent things.

When Cardinal Adam Sapieha assigned young Father Wojtyla to St. Florian’s parish in 1948, in order to start a ministry to the university students who lived nearby, things in Cracow were certainly different than they were when Wojtyla was a student at the Jagiellonian University in 1938-39. In 1948, Poland was in the deep freeze of Stalinism and organized Catholic youth work was banned. The freewheeling social and cultural life in which Wojtyla had reveled before the Nazis shut down the Jagiellonian was no more, and atheistic propaganda was on tap in many classrooms. But Wojtyla knew that the Big Questions that engage young adults — What’s my purpose in life? How do I form lasting friendships? What is noble and what is base? How do I navigate the rocks and shoals of life without making fatal compromises? What makes for true happiness? — are always the same. They always have been, and they always will be.

To tell today’s young adults that they’re completely different is pandering, and it’s a form of disrespect. To help maturing adults ask the big questions and wrestle with the permanent things is to pay them the compliment of taking them seriously. Wojtyla knew that, and so should the bishops of Synod-2018.

2. Walking with young adults should lead somewhere.

Some of the Wojtyla kids from that university ministry at St. Florian’s have become friends of mine, and when I ask them what he was like as a companion, spiritual director, and confessor, they always stress two points: masterful listening that led to penetrating conversations, and an insistence on personal responsibility. As one of them once put it to me, “We’d talk for hours and he’d shed light on a question, but I never heard him say ‘You should do this.’ What he’d always say was, ‘You must choose’.” For Karol Wojtyla, youth minister, gently but persistently compelling serious moral decisions was the real meaning of “accompaniment” (a Synod-2018 buzzword).

3. Heroism is never out of fashion.

When, as pope, John Paul II proposed launching what became World Youth Day, most of the Roman Curia thought he had taken leave of his senses: young adults in the late-20th century just weren’t interested in an international festival involving catechesis, the Way of the Cross, confession, and the Eucharist. John Paul, by contrast, understood that the adventure of leading a life of heroic virtue was just as compelling in late modernity as it had been in his day, and he had confidence that future leaders of the third millennium of Christian history would answer that call to adventure.

That didn’t mean they’d be perfect. But as he said to young people on so many occasions, “Never, ever settle for anything less than the spiritual and moral grandeur that God’s grace makes possible in your life. You’ll fail; we all do. But don’t lower the bar of expectation. Get up, dust yourself off, seek reconciliation. But never, ever settle for anything less than the heroism for which you were born.”

That challenge — that confidence that young adults really yearn to live with an undivided heart — began a renaissance in young adult and campus ministry in the living parts of the world Church. Synod-2018 should ponder this experience and take it very, very seriously.