Church revamp a ‘breathtaking’ gift for parishioners

Faith and beauty go hand-in-hand at St. Francis de Sales in Denver

Drivers who pass by St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Denver at night are in for a treat, according to Tony Johnson, Office Manager at the parish.

“When the interior lights are on, you are now able to see the stunning stained-glass windows as if you were inside the church,” he said. “It’s just breathtaking.”

The parish’s stained-glass windows are a staple of the church building, where thousands of parishioners have come to worship since it was built in 1911. Since the parish itself was founded in 1892, it has served Denver through its church, current STEM school and community outreach.

The stained-glass windows are a staple of St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Denver. Photo by Moira Cullings

“These have shaped us to be a parish that has a far-reaching community that sees the church as their home — where they belong and reach out to one another,” said Father Ken Liuzzi, pastor of the parish.

St. Francis has high involvement in several ministries, especially ones involving the liturgy, said Father Liuzzi.

“There is a good sense of reverence to these ministries,” he said. “They indeed see them as ministry to the Body of Christ.”

Parishioners Karen and Leon Glassman are a testament to the hospitality and joy at St. Francis. They joined the parish around 20 years ago after just one chance experience they had.

It’s just a warm, wonderful community of people.”

The Glassmans didn’t have time to make the Sunday evening Mass at their home parish, so they ventured to St. Francis since it offered one at a later time.

They never expected the outcome that one decision would bring.

“It seemed like from that very first Mass, it felt so warm, so welcoming and so good,” said Karen.

St. Francis de Sales parishioners hope to be able to renovate both the outside and inside of the church they love. Photo by Moira Cullings

As soon as the Glassmans got home, they took steps to join the parish.

Explaining there was nothing wrong with the parish they belonged to at the time, Karen and Leon say they simply felt drawn to the St. Francis community and couldn’t shake the feeling that’s where they were meant to be.

“I feel like all the parishioners are very warm and very happy to return a smile,” said Karen. “It’s an interesting parish in that before Mass, things are very quiet and people go in and sit down and pray. But as people come in, they look at each other and wave and smile.

“And then after Mass, poor Father sometimes has to almost turn out the lights to get many of us to leave because we are all conversing with each other,” she said.

“It’s just a warm, wonderful community of people.”

Leon agreed.

“We’re glad to be there with others that feel the same way about the Mass and worship,” he said.

For many of the parishioners, that atmosphere and the church building  itself has a major impact on their faith experience. But to keep the building up and running for both current and future generations, it is now undergoing several renovations — the most notable being the stained-glass window repairs.

“The plexiglass that they put on the windows years and years ago has clouded so much that it stops the light from going through the windows,” said Johnson.

The renovations at St. Francis will enhance its colorful windows. Photo by Tony Johnson

The wood surrounding the windows is also deteriorating, and Johnson explained they were nervous the windows would fall down. Half of the windows have been repaired — and the difference is clear.

“As the refurbished windows made their appearance, people were astounded at the details in the windows that were previously out of sight, the intensity of the colors and the light that came through,” said Father Liuzzi.

“More and more [parishioners] are standing in front of them and expressing their absolute wonder at the transformed beauty of the windows,” he added. “The brilliance that these windows are now adding to our worship space is truly divine.”

The parish now hopes to fix the rest of the windows, as well as a few parts of the church’s interior that are falling apart.

This church is the crown jewel of the parish.”

“You can feel the Holy Spirit when you enter our church,” said Johnson. “Our congregation feels a sense of pride and we all have a shared vision and a common goal that God has called us to sustain our church.”

The Glassmans have been inspired by the parish’s efforts to fix the church.

“They really believe in keeping the church going,” said Leon. “It needs to be done for future generations.”

An image of the Holy Family is one of several stained-glass depictions that inspire the parishioners at St. Francis de Sales. Photo by Moira Cullings

For Johnson, all the efforts are well worth it.

“This church is the crown jewel of the parish,” he said. “It should be impeccable. This is God’s home. This is where we come to worship him, so it’s a place that should be spirit-filled. You should feel that presence the minute you walk in the door.”

Father Liuzzi is grateful for his parishioners’ eagerness to keep their church building up and running. He sees the worship space and the parish’s passion for its community as the perfect concoction for the mission of St. Francis.

“With these elements working together,” he said, “we will be what all parishes are called to be — a beacon of Christ to the neighbor and farther.”

For more information on the St. Francis de Sales renovation, or if you are interested in donating, visit or call the parish office at (303) 744-7211.

COMING UP: Did Christians ban the Games? Tales, myths and other fun facts about the ancient Olympics

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The 2020 Summer Olympics began less than a week ago, and as is usually the case, there’s been enough stunning athleticism, shocking upsets and yes, even a little bit of drama on display to keep the water cooler chatter abuzz until at least the 2022 games.

At their best, the Olympic games bridge cultural divides and unite countries around the world as the greatest living athletes around the globe compete for the coveted gold medal in their respective events. There’s a spirit of global camaraderie that welcomely comes about during every Olympiad; whether watching the Games at home with the family or going to a local bar to cheer on your favorite country, the Olympics bring people together in a way that most other sporting events do not.

Another astounding thing about the Olympics is how they’ve endured over the millennia. Indeed, they provide a special glimpse into the history of the world and those common qualities of humanity that will never die; namely, the need for both unitive, universal community and friendly but fierce competition.

The first recorded Olympic games took place in 776 B.C., though some historians speculate that they could have began as early as the 10th century B.C. The games were held every four years in Olympia to honor the greek god Zeus as one of four Panhellenic festivals, this one coinciding with the second full moon following the summer solstice, usually at the end of July or early August. The Olympics became so significant that the term Olympiad was used to mark a year the games took place, and became a common unit of historical time measurement.

Now, the ancient world wasn’t exactly known for its amicability or even peacefulness, as indicated by the countless wars and power usurpations that took place throughout its history. However, Olympic festivals were marked by a truce among the Greeks called ekecheiria, which roughly means “holding of hands.” This ensured safe travels for athletes and spectators as they made their way to the festival and was a common basis for peace among the Greeks. That the Olympic games could get even the constantly feuding Greeks to lay down their arms and come together in a spirit of solidarity speaks to their significance in ancient history.

Early Olympic events included the footrace, wrestling, the long jump, the javelin throw, the discus throw and boxing. Of course, it’s nigh impossible to read about the ancient Olympics and not come across epic tales of chariot racing, an event which was briefly banned early on but was reinstated by the first century B.C. and drew the interest of several key Roman figures (more on that later).

By the fifth century B.C., athletes from all over the Greek-speaking world came to Olympia for the games. The footrace, also called the Stade or Stadion, was considered the most prestigious event, and is where the english word “stadium” is derived from. Stade was a unit of measurement in ancient Greece which modern historians say is the rough equivalent to 600 feet or 200 yards, though the actual length has been a subject of debate for many years. Either way, it represents the length which runners in the Stadion ran to prove themselves as the fastest sprinters in the ancient world.

Interestingly, very little record about the Olympics games during the time of Christ exists. History tells us that the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was emperor during Christ’s life, won the chariot races during the 194th Olympiad in 4 B.C. In 17 A.D., the popular Roman general Germanicus, who was Tiberius’ adopted son and the future father of the third Roman Emperor Caligula, won the chariot races in 17 A.D., presumably around the time Christ was a teenager.

About those chariot races: they were known to attract elite political figures, some of whom won based on true skill, and others who only wanted the appearance of winning to further exert their power and status. During the 211th Olympiad, Emperor Nero, known for his fierce persecution of Christians and rather narcissistic personality, forcibly moved the Olympic games set to take place in 65 A.D. to 67 A.D. so he could compete while on a tour of Greece. He participated in the chariot races (with six more horses than the other competitors), and declared himself the greatest Olympic victor of all time, though historical eyewitness accounts tell a different story. Nero actually nearly died after a severe wreck, but Nero being Nero, he was still declared the winner.

Thankfully, Nero’s title as an Olympic victor and the Olympiad he “won,” which did not adhere to the established chronology of the games, were subsequently stricken from the official Olympic records after his death.

The Olympics grew over the course of 1,200 years until 393 A.D., when Emperor Theodosius I banned all Pagan festivals from the Roman emperor after Christianity became adopted as the state religion. Popular culture and history has long maintained this story of Christianity being to blame for the halt of the Olympic games. However, in recent years, some historians have disputed this account, saying that it was not for religious reasons but rather economic reasons that the games ended when they did. In fact, even after Theodosius’ death, there are still records of Olympic games taking place up until the fifth century. As the administration of Roman Empire evolved, the Olympics could no longer be sponsored by civil funds and instead became sponsored more and more by rich elites of the time. Simply put, the games became too expensive, and no one wanted to pay for them anymore.

The Olympics did not make a return for 1,500 years, until the Athens Olympics in 1896. Over the last 125 years since their reinstatement, the Games have become an integral piece of modern culture and a remnant of ancient history that was revived to great avail. As the Olympics in Tokyo continue over the next week and athletes compete for the gold, the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians serve as a pertinent reminder of how the spirit of an Olympian imitates closely that of a Christian:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24-27).

So let the Games continue! And may the race be run not for a perishable prize, but an imperishable one.

Featured photo: Met Museum, Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora (jar), ca. 510 B.C. Attributed to the Leagros Group.