Growing numbers spark expansion at Our Lady of the Valley

Moira Cullings

In the 1970s, Windsor’s small community of Catholic believers gathered in an unlikely setting.

“We used to meet over a laundromat downtown,” said Father Gregg Pederson.

The community, which had been a mission of nearby parishes for several years, eventually grew large enough to build its own church.

Now, the numbers at Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Parish in Windsor continue to flourish.

“We’ve had an explosion of growth,” said Father Pederson, the parish’s pastor.

Five years ago, Our Lady of the Valley had around 1,000 families. Now, it has over 1,600.

Parishioners gathered at Our Lady of the Valley in Windsor for Mass and an open house to celebrate the parish’s new additions. Photo by Jason Weinrich

Not only has Father Pederson witnessed a spike in new parishioners since he joined the parish, but he’s also noticed a greater parishioner involvement in adult small group ministries and children’s religious education.

It gives the pastor hope for his parish, but also for the entire Church.

“This past month, there’s been a lot of dark news about the Church,” said Father Pederson. “But our people are still faithful here and very vibrant.

“This is a sign of God’s faithfulness to us and our faithfulness to him,” he continued. “It’s all for the glory of Christ and for the sake of saving souls.”

To embrace the growth and accommodate current and future parishioners, Our Lady of the Valley added an adoration chapel, two nurseries, a youth room, a parish hall with a new kitchen, 18 meeting room or classroom spaces, and new offices.

This is a sign of God’s faithfulness to us and our faithfulness to him.”

The construction process began in 2014 when a group of parish staff met with Integration Design Group (IDG) and Adam Hermanson, principal of IDG who served as the architect for the project.

In 2015, committee members met with the town of Windsor and eventually the Archdiocese of Denver to get approval for the project. In August that year, the parish kicked off a capital campaign.

Fransen Pittman, the chosen construction team, began their work after the groundbreaking ceremony in August of 2017. The entire expansion was completed in 11 months.

“It was a pretty monumental effort,” said Mike Myshatyn, Director of Maintenance and IT at Our Lady of the Valley, who also served on the design committee and eventually took on the role of project manager for the expansion.

Archbishop Aquila celebrated Mass with Our Lady of Windsor pastor Father Gregg Pederson and other archdiocesan priests. Photo by Jason Weinrich

The team created three separate buildings or wings tied to one campus building, said Myshatyn. Now, there is a wing for the parish hall and nurseries, a wing for the classrooms and a wing for the offices.

“Each building has its own nuance,” said Myshatyn.

The updates are designed to accommodate on the needs of parishioners who will utilize them. Several of those parishioners were invited to be part of smaller subcommittees, which allowed them to be involved in decisions along the way.

“We wanted to consciously make sure that we reached out to all of the people that had a vested interest and had some insight and personal knowledge of what worked,” said Myshatyn.

“We were talking with the people that were going to end up using this stuff,” he said.

But with a steadily growing parish, the additions are not simply designed for today.

“We designed it with the future in mind,” said Myshatyn. “We really were trying to be forward looking.”

Archbishop Aquila blesses the new chapel at Our Lady of the Valley. Photo by Jason Weinrich

An example of that, he said, is that although the parish might not need 18 classrooms now, the rate of growth over the past few years suggests it will in the future — and possibly even more, which is why the classroom wing is designed with additional strength to hold a second story if it needs one.

Father Pederson attributes the parish’s development to an increased population in Windsor and surrounding towns, the parish’s worship experience and its small group ministries.

We designed it with the future in mind.”

Its bustling community can now enjoy the expansion, which they came together to see during an open house on Aug. 26 following Mass and a blessing by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila.

“Everyone was blown away,” said Father Pederson. “They said it’s so much more beautiful than they expected, and it’s so much bigger than they were envisioning.”

Father Pederson was grateful to be part of such a historic milestone for the parish.

“It’s a very exciting, energetic place to be,” he said.

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]