Community-rooted St. Theresa’s breaks ground for long-awaited new church

Aaron Lambert

Carmine DeSantis was six years old when St. Theresa’s Parish in Frederick was being constructed.

Having just immigrated from Italy with his family, he didn’t speak a lick of English. This was in 1936, just after World War II had broken out in Europe. He’s been in Frederick ever since, and St. Theresa’s has been an instrumental part of his life.

Founded in 1923, construction for the church was completed in 1938, and still stands today. However, with an ever-growing population and as the main parish for residents of Frederick, Firestone, Dacono and the surrounding areas, they’ve long needed a bigger church.

This dream became a reality Sept. 6, when after nearly 10 years, the St. Theresa’s Parish community broke ground for a new church building. The nine-and-a-half-acre plot of land at the corner of Bobcat and Bella Rosa Parkway in Frederick was donated by a local resident of the area in 2009.

“We have been waiting for this moment,” Father Hernan Florez, pastor of St. Theresa’s for 11 years, told the Denver Catholic.

With a modest population of about 13,000, Frederick is not a big town. However, it is a community that has been around for many years, and St. Theresa’s has deep roots in it. The original building was built by the coal miners who populated the Frederick area in the 1930s, made up mostly of Italian immigrants.

Carmine DeSantis (pictured, center), has been a part of St. Theresa’s Parish since 1936. He says the church has deep roots in the community of Frederick. (Photos by Aaron Lambert)

“They’ve done a good job at building the building,” DeSantis said. “Of course, each person did what they could do. There was no specified electrician or anything, but if you could do a little bit of electrical work, you did the job. We had a lot of good hustlers.”

Today, DeSantis remains one of the original founding members of the parish, along with two others.

“They call us the ‘Three Musketeers,’” DeSantis joked.

After serving in the army during the Korean War, DeSantis became a teacher at a local school near the church. He taught there for 32 years, where, among several roles, he served as a hall monitor and taught driver’s ed. He looks back on those years fondly.

“It was wonderful,” he said. “It was just like a big family. We got lucky.”

Blanca Rodriguez has been a part of the parish for 40 years, and she taught alongside DeSantis in the local school for part of that time. She is also an integral part of the Hispanic ministry efforts of the parish. As with many parts of Colorado, the Hispanic population in Frederick has steadily grown over the past 15 years, and today, over half of St. Theresa’s parishioners are Hispanic.

However, the parish has very active ministry groups for both the English and Spanish speakers. In addition to offering six Masses each weekend, there are Bible studies, two Neocatechumenal Way communities, a Charismatic ministry, the Knights of Columbus and Trinity Ladies Auxiliary group, and others.

The current St. Theresa’s church was sold to a funeral home based out of Boulder. It was built by coal minders in the 1930s.

“There are always people here meeting during the week,” Father Florez said.

In May, a fire broke out inside the church that damaged much of the interior and has rendered the building unsafe for celebrating Masses. The community has been meeting in the parish hall and the nearby gym at Thunder Valley School for Masses.

But that hasn’t slowed them down. St. Theresa’s is a parish marked by its diversity and activity. Even Father Tomislav Tomic, parochial vicar, who originally hails from Bosnia, has been welcomed warmly by the people of St. Theresa’s, which is his first assignment as a priest.

“The parish is great in the sense of accepting me,” Father Tomic said.

The original St. Theresa’s was sold to a funeral home based in Boulder. Soon, the people of St. Theresa’s will have a new church building to call home – a day that Father Florez, DeSantis and the rest of the community has been awaiting eagerly.

“I’ve seen this parish go,” DeSantis said. “We’ve done a lot of good things.”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that DeSantis and Rodriguez taught at a school attached to St. Theresa’s. St. Theresa’s has never had a school attached to it; they taught at a local school that is part of the St. Vrain Valley School District. We apologize for the error.

COMING UP: Opinion: There is cause for hope amid dire reports of clergy sexual abuse of minors

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By Vincent Carroll

This Dec. 13, 2019 opinion column was originally published by the Denver Post.

When will it end, many Catholics must wearily wonder. And not only Catholics. Anyone who reads or listens to the news must wonder when the Catholic church sex scandals will ever be over.

But in one major sense, the crisis already has passed and what we’re witnessing — and will continue to witness for years — is the aftermath.

To see what I mean, go to Appendix 4 in the report on sexual abuse of minors by clergy in Colorado issued in October by investigators led by former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer. There’s a bar graph highlighting the “number of victims by decade the abuse or misconduct began.” Towering above all other decades for the archdiocese of Denver is the bar for the 1960s, representing 74 victims. In second place is the 1970s with 25 victims, and the 1950s is third with 14. The 1990s had 11 victims and the 1980s three.

As the report observes, “Roman Catholic clergy child sex abuse in Colorado peaked in the 1960s and appears to have declined since. In fact, the last of the Colorado child sex abuse incidents we saw in the files were 1 in July 1990 and 4 in May 1998.”

In other words, nearly 70 percent of all the abuse documented in the attorney general’s report within the Denver archdiocese occurred a half-century or more ago.

Denver’s history differs somewhat from the national experience, but not wildly so. Researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice concluded in 2004 after examining the national data on accusations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy between 1950 and 2002 that “more abuse occurred in the 1970s than any other decade.” The 1960s were also atrocious years for Catholic youth and so was the first half or so of the 1980s.

It appears that accusations in the years since have held to the same chronological profile. Mark Gray, a survey researcher at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, reported recently that CARA has analyzed 8,694 accusations of abuse made between 2004 and 2017 (compared to 10,667 earlier allegations studied by John Jay researchers). The result: The distribution of cases is “nearly identical to the distribution of cases, over time, in John Jay’s results.”

In other words, a large majority of the accusations of abuse that have surfaced in this century are also dated to the horrible era of 1960 to 1985.

This pattern even holds for incidents in last year’s Pennsylvania grand jury report, although news coverage often left the impression that it recounted a fresh flood of new incidents. The report’s scope and details were certainly new and devastating, but most (not all) of the incidents and perpetrators were old (or dead). Those accused of abuse in the Pennsylvania report, for example, were on average “ordained as priests in 1961,” according to Gray.

Given this context, it’s hardly surprising that “the most prolific clergy child sex abuser in Colorado history,” according to the special investigator’s report, namely Father Harold Robert White, was also ordained in 1961.  His depredations “continued for at least 21 years,” the heyday of sexual abuse and church complacency, during which time he “sexually abused at least 63 children.”

Chilling.

I am perfectly aware that the Colorado investigation hardly exhausts the number of victims of clergy sexual abuse. It covers diocesan priests but not those who served in religious orders. Records are likely incomplete and some perhaps destroyed. And the actual number of victims certainly exceeds the number who have come forward.

There is also the question of a reporting time lag — the fact that victims often don’t muster the courage to come forward for years. But if this had been a major factor in the reduced number of incidents after 1985 at the time of John Jay College’s 2004 report, that number would surely have seen a disproportionate surge by now. And yet it has not.

The authors of the state investigation emphasize that they are unable to reliably say that “no clergy child sex abuse has occurred in Colorado since 1998,” and warn against concluding that clergy child sexual abuse is “solved” given ongoing weaknesses they outline regarding how the church handles allegations.

Their caution is understandable given the church’s history in the past century (in the report’s words) of “silence, self-protection and secrecy empowered by euphemism,” and their recommendations to strengthen the diocese’s procedures are for the most part on point. But it is also true that child sexual abuse will never be “solved” in the sense of it being eradicated — not in religious denominations, and not in schools, daycare centers, scout troops, youth sports, and juvenile social service and detention facilities, to cite just some of the venues that predators unfortunately exploit and where an accounting for the lax standards of the past has not been undertaken.

John Jay College researchers also released a followup study in 2011 in which they noted, “the available evidence suggests that sexual abuse in institutional settings . . .  is a serious and underestimated problem, although it is substantially understudied.” Meanwhile, “no other institution has undertaken a public study of sexual abuse and, as a result, there are no comparable data to those collected and reported by the Catholic Church.”

Early this month, Bishop Richard J. Malone resigned from the Buffalo Diocese over gross mishandling of sexual abuse claims. He likely won’t be the last. Meanwhile, Catholics still await the Vatican’s promised explanation for how defrocked former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who allegedly preyed on seminarians for decades, could have been promoted time and again. Is there any credible defense?

So the bad news hasn’t stopped. But behavior in the priestly trenches actually is much improved, and that is surely cause for hope.

Email Vincent Carroll at [email protected]