St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (SEAS) in Fort Collins is known around town as the ‘Church on the hill.’
“It’s the easiest way to explain where to find us,” said Vanessa Schibler, who has been a parishioner at SEAS since she was eight years old.
But the church that can be seen for miles has always lacked something special — a building dedicated solely as a church sanctuary and not a multi-purpose room.
Around 30 years ago when the parish was founded, the plan was to utilize a multi-purpose building and, once the parish was established, build a separate sanctuary next to it. Now, the wait is finally over.
“[Parishioners] see this as their long-awaited promise,” said Father Joseph Toledo, pastor of St. Elizabeth’s.
SEAS broke ground on Sept. 23, and for Schibler, who has worked at the parish for 10 years, it was an emotional experience.
“I was in tears because I was thinking my parents were here at the first ground breaking ceremony,” she said. “Now, it’s me and my family here at the next phase. It was really emotional to think I’m going to have an aisle for my daughters to walk down, [and] the big, beautiful baptismal font that hopefully they’ll baptize their babies in.
“It just makes me feel so incredibly blessed and humbled to be able to be a part of this next phase,” she said.
Although such a massive parish project can be daunting, Father Toledo didn’t have to look far to gain help with funding the $8.1 million cost of the church. 477 families have already raised $6.8 million. And that help is coming from parishioners of all ages.
It was really emotional to think I’m going to have an aisle for my daughters to walk down, [and] the big, beautiful baptismal font that hopefully they’ll baptize their babies in.”
“When we started asking for help for this project,” said Father Toledo, “one of the things I started to see was the kids were asking the parents, ‘Can we help?’
“One little girl two years ago began a lemonade stand,” he continued. “She said to her mother, ‘I want to help the church.’ She presented the church with the profits from the lemonade stand.”
Many children and teens have been giving Father Toledo what they can to help the church’s latest development, and it reminds the pastor of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
“They say that in Jerusalem, the Western Wall is a wall that was built by the poor,” he said, “and that’s the only wall that’s still standing. I think in a sense, you can compare it to the children.”
Their involvement makes Father Toledo feel “like a proud father.”
A place to call home
It’s no wonder SEAS parishioners are oozing with excitement over the long-awaited church building.
“My heart is really at home in this parish,” said Schibler. “This church and the people that are in it are very much my second family. It’s more than just a place that we come to once a week to worship and receive Christ in the Eucharist.
“It’s really the first place I come to in the hard times and the first place I come to celebrate my joys in,” she said.
But the parish has gone through major struggles, including a scandal with former pastor Tim Evans in the early 2000s. Because Evans had married Schibler and her husband, she was even more shocked by what happened.
“It was a really great sadness that came upon our parish for a little while,” she said. “You could feel this heavy heart within the parish. It just took a lot of time for us to come together and heal.”
Father Toledo said the damage done was difficult to overcome and that it took time for SEAS to mend.
“In the last 10 years, the parish has really bounced back,” he said. “It’s a place that is welcoming, it’s a place that is family-oriented. It’s a place people are really finding a home.”
Now, the parish is stronger than ever and bustling right along with the Fort Collins community.
“You can see that this town is flourishing with jobs and housing and recreational opportunities and material wealth,” said Schibler. “It’s just so beautiful to see that in the midst of all that, God’s people really want to see his Church flourish as well, and to grow along with the community.”
The vibrancy of SEAS was immediately clear for parishioners Mike and Angela Oberlander and their children, who joined the parish just over a decade ago.
“The parish is very welcoming,” said Mike. “SEAS has a culture of embracing folks who are new to the area and the parish.”
SEAS has several ministries and continued faith formation for children and adults, and the Oberlanders have been involved on the pastoral council and in music ministry. Angela takes part in Denver Catholic Biblical School and Mike works with the building committee.
SEAS has a culture of embracing folks who are new to the area and the parish.”
“All of these things make the parish a vibrant place,” said Mike.
The Oberlanders are now eager to enjoy the church building alongside their fellow parishioners.
“Our architects have done a fine job illustrating what the new church will look like,” said Mike, “so it is with great joy that we turned over dirt [at the groundbreaking.
“It will still be the ‘Church on the hill,’ but I think it will really convey to passersby that this is a special, holy place,” he said.