Fifty years of building Christ’s community together at Queen of Peace

Amidst capital campaign, Denver’s most diverse parish source of a ‘new Pentecost’

Roxanne King

Queen of Peace Parish in Aurora, while predominately middle to lower income, is the most diverse in the archdiocese and among the busiest.

It is a beacon of hope for immigrants, refugees, the poor, and for the average Catholic seeking the sacraments and/or deeper faith formation. This year the parish turns 50, but to continue its service to the congregation and to the wider Catholic and Aurora communities, the church needs to build a new $12.5 million parish center to replace its current outdated and unsafe facility. With $4.6 million pledged since November, a dramatic success given the parishioners income levels, they have nearly reached their $5 million capital campaign goal.

“This is a great accomplishment for this community, which is more than 50 percent immigrant,” said Father Felix Medina, pastor since 2013.  “From the moment I arrived, I have been aware of the urgent need to address the challenge of our great growth in parishioners and our lack of functional facilities to accommodate our many services and groups.”

More than 12,000 people walk through the parish’s doors every week and are served by some 100 different ministries and activities, ranging from Mass (6,000 people attend weekly) and religious education (1,200 students are in religious education); to social ministry, including Aurora’s only soup kitchen, and a St. Vincent de Paul Society, to pro-life apostolates that offer material and spiritual aid to needy mothers, to faith-building charisms and community-building cultural groups.

“The motto for our campaign, Building Christ’s community together, summarizes what our parish has done for thousands of people during these last five decades,” Father Medina said. “The beauty of the Catholic Church, which is for people of every language and color, is manifested here at Queen of Peace.”

In a letter of support for the parish’s building plans, auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez, concurred.

“Queen of Peace is the parish with the most diversity of nations and people in the archdiocese,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “God has given to you the responsibility and blessing of welcoming and serving immigrants from all over the world … who are seeking the comfort of God in a new and unknown place.”

“This parish has always welcomed people from outside,” Father Medina explained, noting that initially Queen of Peace served people from across the United States located at three military facilities active in Aurora, just one of which remains.

Aurora, CO – Pastor Father Felix Medina seeks to build a new parish center to bring Denver’s most diverse Catholic church together. (photo by Andrew Wright)

In recent decades, ethnic diversity in the city has swelled, making Aurora a “minority-majority city,” meaning the total population of minority groups is larger than the white, non-Hispanic or Latino groups, according to the city’s 2016 demographic report. In Aurora Public Schools, 130 countries and 166 languages are represented among the student population.

“The new parish center will bring together people from more than 100 nations,” Father Medina said, referring to his congregation’s diversity.

Established on June 12,1968 by Archbishop James Casey, on Sept. 4 that year, Father Frank McCullough, OMI, oversaw a groundbreaking for the first parish structure, which included a 40-seat chapel, rectory and offices. In 1970, a second facility was built, which included a chapel, a gym, meeting rooms and a kitchen. Five years later, as the parish expanded, a 1,200-seat church was built.

In 1987, the Oblates of Mary left and the Denver Archdiocese appointed the first diocesan pastor of the parish, Father Bill Breslin. That same year, Queen of Peace opened a day hospitality center for the homeless at a nearby location. In 1999, Archbishop Charles Chaput dedicated a new church building.

Vince and Dini Zagarella have worshiped at Queen of Peace since 1969, when the parish, consisting of a handful of families, held Mass at the local Seventh Day Adventist Church.

“Their services were on Saturday and ours were on Sunday,” Vince Zagarella recalled with a chuckle.

“We’ve grown from an intimate, fairly affluent parish to a parish of many, many nationalities that is no longer affluent,” added Dini Zagarella.

Transplants from New York, the Zagarellas relish their parish’s diversity. Their three children, who are now grown with families of their own, made their sacraments at Queen of Peace.

“It’s our home,” Dini Zagarella said.

The couple has held various leadership positions in the parish and currently serve as honorary chairs of the capital campaign

“It’s great that we’ve reached almost $5 million, but we need a lot more than that,” Dini Zagarella said. “We just keep praying God will help us.”

The parish determined its center was no longer adequate back in 2005, but an economic downturn and other setbacks forced the congregation to put their hopes for a new parish center on hold. Given the deplorable condition of the current parish center, waiting is no longer an option.

“It is falling apart,” Father Medina said. “There are leaks in the rooms, leaks in the foundation, mold, asbestos, out of code wooden floors. The shingles are falling apart. The old building needs to be torn down and a new one built over it.”

“Eventually, our parish center will be condemned,” Vince Zagarella said. “It’s beyond repair and embarrassing. We had to put good money into stopping the leaks before we even started the capital campaign.”

To cover the total building project cost, the parish plans to augment capital campaign proceeds with savings and building fund monies, a grant, a loan, the possible sale of a property,

and by fundraising among outside sources, such as former parishioners.

“We need outside funds,” Vince Zagarella said.

Aurora, CO – parishioners and the community of Queen of Peace parish (photo by Andrew Wright)

The parish hopes that out of gratitude for its generous service to former parishioners and to the wider community, people may be willing to help the congregation reach their goal as they approach their 50th anniversary. A new parish center is essential to continue the new evangelization at Queen of Peace, the pastor said.

“It will make possible the continued teaching and integrating of so many into our society and into the Church,” Father Medina said, “helping them to be good Catholic citizens of our society—responsible and equipped for the challenges of living their faith in the world today.”

Father Medina, a native Spaniard who received his call to the priesthood through the words of St. John Paul II while attending Denver’s 1993 World Youth Day and providentially was sent to serve here, likened the ministry of his parish to a “new Pentecost.”

“There is one Spirit [here], the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Christ,” he said. “It is the only Spirit that can unify us in a new Pentecost. People were from every country at Pentecost [in the Acts of the Apostles] and yet they heard the apostles speak to them in their own language. We make that present again here on a daily basis. Each of us is from a different corner of the world, but we belong to the same Body of Christ.”

The parish’s anniversary events will highlight the many cultures represented among the congregation by featuring their different foods and music. A Marian pilgrimage in November will honor the parish’s patroness.

“We will have concerts and activities throughout the year,” Father Medina said.

Bishop Rodriguez will celebrate a bilingual Mass with former parishioners who are now priests on June 2 to kick off the anniversary. Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila will celebrate the anniversary Mass on Aug. 12. Founding parishioners are especially invited to join the current members at the anniversary events and liturgies.

“I … congratulate you on the Christian work of integration, hospitality and evangelization that you do for brothers and sisters from so many different countries, with different languages and cultures,” Archbishop Aquila said in a letter to the parish. “What you are about to undertake is the result of vision, good planning and courage. Your parish is a great witness to the people of Aurora, and thanks to your building efforts, it will serve many more people in the years to come.

“My prayers are with you as you begin this great journey of faith.”

 

QUEEN OF PEACE FAST FACTS

— Sacraments: 6,000 people attend Mass every weekend; 2,000 adults attend faith formation annually; 600 baptisms, 400 First Communions and 350-plus confirmations are conferred annually; 1,200 students attend Religious Education and more than 100 teens participate in youth groups annually; 80 couples a year are prepared for marriage.

— Social Ministry: the soup kitchen, the only one in Aurora, serves 30,000 people a year; Annually, 1,200 mothers and fathers attend parenting classes and 250 people attend English as a Second Language classes; the St. Vincent de Paul Society serves 50 needy families weekly.

— Pro-life: Gabriel House serves more than 300 people and distributes more than 7,000 diapers a month.

— Charisms and Cultural Groups: the parish offers Focolare and the Neocatechumenal Way, violin and matachines classes, an African Catholic society, a Filipino society, and more.

 

QUEEN OF PEACE

To find out more or to donate

Call: 303-364-1056

Online: www.queenofpeace.net

COMING UP: Why 42 had to be impeached twenty years ago

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Twenty years ago this month, I found myself seriously double-booked, so to speak.

The editing of the first volume of my John Paul II biography, Witness to Hope, was entering the ninth inning, and I was furiously engaged in exchanging edited and re-edited copy with my editors in New York. At the same time, the Clinton impeachment drama was cresting. And as I had long done speechwriting for Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I spent week after week of split time, working on John Paul II from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., then switching to impeachment for a couple of hours before returning to Witness to Hope in the evening.

It was not the optimal way to work but it had to be done, even if it seemed likely that the president would be acquitted in a Senate trial. On December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives voted two articles of impeachment and senior House members, including Mr. Hyde, solemnly walked the two articles across the Capitol and presented them to the Senate’s leaders. On toward midnight, Henry Hyde called me and, referring to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, said, “We’re not going to make it. Trent won’t fight; I saw it in his eyes.” After a long moment I replied that, if we were going to lose, we had a duty to lay down a record with which history would have to reckon.

Which is what the great Henry Hyde did during the January 1999 Senate trial, where he bent every effort to prevent the proceedings from descending into farce.

For Hyde, the impeachment of President Bill Clinton was an unavoidable piece of nasty business. It was not a matter of partisan score-settling, nor was it a matter of punishing a president for gross behavior with an intern in the White House. It was a matter of defending the rule of law. As Henry put it to me when it seemed clear that the president had perjured himself and obstructed justice, “There are over a hundred people in federal prisons for these crimes. How can the chief law enforcement officer of the United States be guilty of them and stay in office?”

Impeachment is a political process and it was clear by mid-fall of 1998 that the politics were not breaking toward removing the president from office. They had been pointed that way over the summer, though. And as the pressures built, it seemed as if the Clinton presidency might end as Richard Nixon’s had: Party elders, in this case Democrats, would go to the White House, explain that it was over, and ask the president to resign for the sake of the country. Then around Labor Day that year, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times and other columnists began suggesting that, if Clinton were impeached and convicted, the sexual revolution would be over, the yahoos of reaction would have won, and we’d be back to something resembling Salem, Massachusetts, during the witchcraft insanity.

That was preposterous. It was also effective. And within days, at least in Washington, you could fill the templates shifting: This wasn’t about the rule of law, it was about sex and the yahoos couldn’t be allowed to win. (That Henry Hyde was the leader of the pro-life forces in Congress neatly fit this storyline, of course, abortion being a major plank in the platform of the sexual revolution.)

So once the game was redefined — Are you for or against the puritanical yahoos? — there was little chance to wrench the political process back to what it was really about: the rule of law. In his opening speech during the president’s trial, Henry Hyde tried valiantly to refocus the argument, insisting that high office did not absolve a man from obeying his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the laws of the United States and his oath swearing to tell the truth to a federal grand jury. To suggest that it did was to “break the covenant of trust” between president and people, dissolving “the mortar that binds the foundation stones of our freedom into a secure and solid edifice.”

It wasn’t a winning argument. But it was the right argument. And on this 20th anniversary, the nation should remember with gratitude those like Henry Hyde who, under fierce assault, stood for the rule of law.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore | Flickr