Church revamp a ‘breathtaking’ gift for parishioners

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

Moira Cullings

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 sfdsparishdenver.com or call the parish office at (303) 744-7211.

COMING UP: Why stay in the Church?

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There are many people who have either left the Church or are currently considering leaving because of the scandals of recent decades. We have felt pain and righteous anger at our leaders and have suffered scandal from their betrayal. For some, the grand jury reports and lack of accountability for bishops have been the last straw. It’s hard to blame people for feeling this way, but we have to ask with Peter, “to whom, Lord, shall we go?” (John 6:68).

Significantly, this question comes after many disciples walked out on Jesus for his teaching on the Eucharist, and it is the Eucharist that should be at the center of any response to the crisis. Peter answers his own question: “you have the words of everlasting life” (John 6:68). The Church is Jesus’ own body in the world, and we are members of his mystical body, given eternal life by consuming his own flesh at Mass. Without the Eucharist, Jesus’ presence in the flesh, the very heart of the Church, where would we be?

Bishop Robert Barron echoes Peter’s question in a recent pamphlet-style book, with over a million copies in print, Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis (Word on Fire, 2019). He turns to the Bible and Church history to look for perspective on the crisis. Because of the centrality of the Eucharist in the Church, the betrayal of some of our priests and bishops takes on greater significance. They act in persona Christi at Mass, offering the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross to the Father, and we depend on them for our sacramental life.

Fortunately, the validity of the sacraments does not depend upon the sinlessness of priests, but rather the holiness of God. Barron points out, however, that priests will not get off easy, given the extremely harsh words that Jesus offers to those who lead children astray: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me;  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,  it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!” (Mt 18:7-9). Barron also references the punishment of Eli, in 1 Samuel 2-4, who as priest and judge of Israel watched his own sons, who were also priests, abuse the people. Barron argues that this scene gives us the best example of God’s retribution for allowing abuse to happen and not correcting it.

Barron also looks at the tumultuous story of Church history for context on the current crisis. Although the Church is the mystical body of Christ, he references St. Paul assertion that we bear our treasure in earthen vessels, as evidenced by the human weakness of Christians throughout history. In fact, this weakness manifests the Lord’s grace guiding and preserving the Church in spite of us. Barron quotes Belloc that a proof of the Church’s divine foundation “might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight” (43). Heresies, sinful popes, and sexual perversity have not fundamentally destroyed the Lord’s work, even if they have turned many people away. God has promised to remain with his Church and his providence will guide us especially through dark moments.

The crisis challenges us and raises the question of why we are Catholic. Most of us have been born Catholic and may take our faith for granted as something we’ve inherited from our parents. We may view belonging to the Church like membership in a voluntary organization. Rather, our life as members of Christ’s Body is a gift from God that changes our identity and unites us to God and our fellow Christians. As we experience challenges to faith, it is an opportunity to embrace this identity even more strongly — not as something that depends upon myself or anyone else in the Church, but on God. We go to Church to honor and thank him and to receive his grace, not to be a part of a human organization.

The Church is a family, called together by God, but, like any family, we experience pain from our own and each other’s sinfulness. As family, we can’t give up on each other, but have to “stay and fight” as Barron exhorts us, helping each other to be faithful to the mission that Jesus gave us: to love one another as he has loved us and to share the Good News of his salvation.

Featured Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash