Fort Collins parish dedicates long-awaited new church building

30 years in the making, new St. Elizabeth Ann Seton church is a place of ‘encounter’

“We need tangible things that help us touch the invisible:” This is what guided Father Joseph Toledo in his vision for constructing a church building especially devoted to the worship of God.

As pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Fort Collins (SEAS), Father Toledo undertook the arduous project of building the church that the parish community had been waiting for since its foundation, over 30 years ago. Until then, they had celebrated Mass in a multi-use building also utilized for other parish activities. The long-awaited time came on August 10, when Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila dedicated the new church.

For Father Toledo, building a church in which to worship wasn’t enough – he wanted to make sure it was capable of lifting the hearts of the people to God through its beauty.

“When you walk in, churches are meant to draw your attention to God,” he said. “The building is meant to be a place for encounter with the Lord. And if we have a beautiful building, then the beauty can draw us to God. When we come to the sacraments, we encounter the Lord in an even more real way because that building has helped us to enter into the sacrament.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila dedicated the new St. Elizabeth Ann Seton church Aug. 10 with a special Mass. (Photos by Katie Brennan)

And in fact, upon entering new the SEAS Parish building, the eyes immediately focus on the sanctuary, the golden tabernacle, the two angels at its side and the image of the Last Supper on the altar, contrasted by blue mosaics and the marble.

A majestic crucifix hangs from above and is accompanied by depictions in the apse of the Father and the Holy Spirit, as well as saints who were sanctified through their work in the United States.

“Our new church definitely draws your attention to God in a way that our old one didn’t. The old one was filled with wonderful people and a lot of wonderful things happening, but you can’t help but look up and marvel at God’s work when you walk into this new church,” said Kristen Balk, who, with her husband Nate and four children, found a “home” in the welcoming community at SEAS.

But it was precisely the close and welcoming parish community that parishioners Judy and Patrick Fox found when they arrived 10 years ago which led Judy to wonder whether a new parish building was really necessary in the first place.

“As much as the church is very welcoming and warm, I found what I call ‘church’ among the community of parishioners. So, at first when Father Joseph announced that we needed to build a new church, I said, ‘Why? I think the church is fine. We don’t need to have anything fancy to worship,’” Judy said.

She not only realized the need for a new church building after learning about the state of the structure and the costly repairs that had to be made, but also when she was able to walk in the completed church.

“It’s truly a great place where God needs to be worshipped,” she said. “It’s gorgeous, it’s beautiful, it’s something that God deserves. It can bring people closer to him.”

“It was really cool to share with our kids and talk about how this is [a historical moment], and that hopefully for many, many years our family will be able to come back and say, ‘We’ve been here since the beginning,’” Kristen added.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton pastor Father Joseph Toledo hopes the new church will be a place of worship and encounter for those who visit.

This desire to leave a legacy – a beautiful place of worship – for the future generations of the Fort Collins area was one of the many reasons that led parishioners to give so generously to complete the $8.9 million project.

“This process has had its ups and downs, but in the five years it’s taken to build this church, from the beginning to the end, God has always been present in every step of it,” said Father Toledo, who was amazed by the generosity and desire of the parishioners to build a beautiful place of worship for God and the community.

“The parishioners at St. Elizabeth were so generous. When we needed pews and were short, somebody would come and say, ‘Father, here’s the money you need to get the pews.’ When we needed an altar… when I didn’t know where the money for the candles and additions would come from, someone would come up and say, ‘Father here’s the money,’” he said.

“This church is not just meant for the SEAS community, but as a gift to the Lord and to the whole archdiocese, because we’re all on a journey toward heaven,” Father Toledo concluded. “And this is a place that I hope people from all over the archdiocese stop by, if they ever find themselves in Fort Collins. That’s why we build churches. We don’t build churches as monuments for ourselves – the church is meant to be used for the mission of bringing people to the Lord.”

COMING UP: ‘Church on the hill’ breaks ground on new sanctuary

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‘Church on the hill’ breaks ground on new sanctuary

For St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Fort Collins, new dedicated worship space will be a ‘long-awaited promise’

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.

September 23, 2018. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish Groundbreaking new church building. Photo by Jason Weinrich

“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.

Children at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton participated in the new church groundbreaking. Photo by Jason Weinrich

“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.”

Father Joseph Toledo, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, speaks to parishioners during the new church groundbreaking. Photo by Jason Weinrich

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.