Growth and outreach abound at St. Michael the Archangel

New parish center will help Aurora parish to develop ministries

Anya Semenoff

Every year as the seasons transition from summer to fall, parishioners at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Parish gather together to pray the rosary. Praying the rosary in community is a common practice in many local parishes throughout the Archdiocese, but during St. Michael’s annual international rosary, each individual who leads an Our Father or Hail Mary not only brings a unique cadence and rhythm to the shared prayer, but also does so in a different language. This year, 43 different languages to be precise.

“You really see the universality of the church in a parish like this,” said Father Terry Kissell, who has served as pastor of St. Michael’s for the past nine years.
Established in 1978, when Aurora was still largely undeveloped, over the course of 41 years the parish has seen not only growth in total registered families, but also a profound change in parishioner demographics, not least of all because of the growing immigrant population in the surrounding community.

“It’s a very diverse culture,” said Teri Vasicek, the parish business administrator. “We have a number of immigrants and ethnic cultures represented at St. Michael’s today.”

Included among these are individuals from several different African nations, as well as Romania, Korea, Malaysia, Honduras, Peru, Mexico, and more. This diversity is apparent in parish events such as the international rosary, as well as at the “Taste of St. Michael’s” fair, which highlights the different cultural cuisines specific to all the many parishioner nationalities.

As the parish grew — it now serves roughly 3,000 households — the need for a larger space in which the community could gather for its large roster of ministry offerings and religious education opportunities became even more evident.

You really see the universality of the church in a parish like this.”

“One of the major issues that’s been around as long as the parish has been here is the need for space. [Historically], a number of different ministry groups have had to meet in homes or preschool classrooms,” said Father Kissell.

Following a nearly six-year process which started in December 2013, St. Michael’s in September celebrated the opening of a new 6,200-sq. ft., two-story parish center. The parish hired Eidos Architects to plan the new center, which includes meeting spaces for religious education classes and adult ministries, a long-awaited-for dedicated youth center, and staff offices.

“It was a pleasure working with Father Terry, his hard-working building committee and the Parish on this six-year journey from Master Planning through the completion of construction,” said Bob Saas, a Principal of Eidos Architects in a release provided by the firm. “It was through the patience and commitment to the needs of the church that the parish was able to successfully complete this needed addition of programming and office space.”

With an existing repertoire of approximately 40 ministries, committees, and organizations — some of which have been operating at St. Michael’s since it was first established — the new space will allow for the parish to more comfortably develop.

St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Aurora recently completed construction a new parish center, which they hope will help to accommodate their diverse community and the various ministries that work out of the parish. (Photo provided)

“People are excited and very pleased with how things have turned out,” said Father Kissell. “So I see opportunities for further formation and evangelization.”

For Vasicek, one key area in which the parish has always focused is in social justice and outreach.

“One of the hallmarks of the parish from the moment I’ve arrived has been the attention to and emphasis on outreach,” she said. “We have many vibrant ministries that are reaching out to the poor and underprivileged, in Aurora in particular. Surprisingly enough, it’s the sense of many ministries that we have to reach out to our own.”

As the demographics in Aurora and in the parish boundaries have changed since 1978 — in part due to additional parishes opening nearby that drew away some members, and also with the development of the Denver Tech Center, which offered different employment and residential opportunities — the population dynamics at St. Michael’s likewise shifted. As such, Vasicek said the majority of those who now support the parish are in the lower-to-middle income bracket. But this reality has made the congregation no less generous.

“What we enjoy in terms of savings account is not ours, it’s God’s,” said Vasicek. “Stewardship is a lifestyle. So we hope to be a happy people because there’s nothing that we want because we’ve met all of our needs.”

In a letter introducing the St. Michael’s Stewardship Report in 2018, Father Kissell addressed the parishioners: “I truly would like to express how grateful I am to serve the people of God of St. Michael’s. You are people of faith and love who inspire me. You are dedicated to your families, your friends and your service to the Lord.”

COMING UP: New Lourdes church ‘in harmony with the beauty of the Liturgy’

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New Lourdes church ‘in harmony with the beauty of the Liturgy’

Our Lady of Lourdes in Denver completes renovation of continually growing church

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When the first parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes began their community in 1947, they never imagined the growth that the parish was going to have decades later.

Today, more than 70 years later, the parish, which began as folding chairs and the hardwood floors of the first Masses celebrated in the gymnasium of a children’s shelter, has become not only one of the fastest growing parishes in Denver, but also one of the most recognized Catholic schools nationwide.

Father Brian Larkin, pastor of the parish for the last 5 years, has witnessed huge growth in the last few years.

“I believe Lourdes has flourished in so many ways simply because the glory of God’s redemption has been allowed its proper place,” Father Larkin told the Denver Catholic. “Once the love of Christ is given its primacy, allowed to radiate in all its splendor, then our faith moves from simply being an obligation and becomes what it really is: the good news of our redemption.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila dedicated the altar in the newly renovated Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver Sept. 10. (Photo by Brandon Young)

Lourdes is a very vibrant and young parish. They have large RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and marriage preparation programs to support and teach parishioners the “why” of the Catholic Church and its faith.

“The Catholic intellectual tradition is greater than any that exists, but most people aren’t aware of it,” Father Larkin explained. “I teach our RCIA class every year and I invite anyone and everyone to come regardless of whether they are already Catholic or not even interested in becoming Catholic.  Our program had about eight people in it my first year, this year we’re averaging around 90 people each week.”

In 2016, Father Brian announced the beginning of the “Capital Campaign” which intended to repair, restore and embellish the church, as well as to add a narthex gathering space for the growing community. Although at times it seemed impossible, with the contributions of parishioners and the hard work of their general contractor, Fransen Pittman, the project was successfully completed this past summer.

The current church at Lourdes was built in 1966 and had remained unchanged since then. The renovation updated and fixed major issues with mechanical and electric systems, but the main objective of the project was to improve the aesthetics of the church.

For the last couple of years during construction, half of the school gym turned into the church, but in September, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila finally consecrated the altar and re-dedicated the church.

Lourdes pastor Father Brain Larkin said he hopes the parish can be a refuge from the world.. (Photo by Brandon Young)

“A friend of mine used to say that his church ‘lied to his congregation,’ meaning that churches are meant to teach us the faith by the way they are built, and that his didn’t measure up to that standard,” Father Larkin said. “Prior to the renovation, our church wasn’t one which lied, but it didn’t inspire a deeper faith. The new church, in my opinion, is in harmony with the beauty of the liturgy — the music and the gospel resonate with the beauty of the church itself.

“Our numbers have grown, but more importantly, people are drawn into prayer with the aesthetics of the church.”

With a new and renovated parish, Our Lady of Lourdes is now serving the growing community of the south side of Denver. The parish also has one of the most recognized Catholic schools for its unique classical model of education that has been expanding over the last couple of years. In addition to the classical method of education, the school is firmly Catholic, offering daily Mass and monthly confessions, and making devotion to the Blessed Mother one of its pillars.

“Our Catholic faith is the most important part of our mission here at Lourdes Classical and everything we do begins and ends in prayer. We participate in the sacraments frequently and help our students fall in love with Jesus in the Eucharist every day,” said school principal Rosemary Vander Weele.

Evangelization means that what is eternal enters into time, so the timelessness of God breaks into 2019 America. We try to embody that paradigm in our events, in our liturgy, in our community.”

Father Larkin said he is afraid of the future of our culture and the anti-Christian feeling that seems expand daily in our country and our society. Therefore, one of his main goals at Lourdes is to deepen the faith of his parishioners.

“Christians of the coming century in the United States need to know their faith and be on fire for it, or they will likely leave as the culture battles against the Church,” he said. “My hope for Lourdes is not that we do everything, but that we go deep, that people have strong relationships with God, with each other and that the parish can be a refuge from the world.”

Furthermore, one of the greatest challenges for the pastor is to reflect the incarnation of Jesus in our society and remind us that God sent his only begotten Son into the world to provide us salvation. At Lourdes, Father Larkin said this is at the core of the parish’s ministry.

“Christ is fully God and fully man, but it has always been easier to strip him of his divinity or of his humanity.  I see evangelization that way: it’s easier to either remove Jesus from humanity and make him someone wholly alien to the 21st century, or conversely to make him just another human who looks like us, but not like God,” Father Larkin said. “Evangelization means that what is eternal enters into time, so the timelessness of God breaks into 2019 America. We try to embody that paradigm in our events, in our liturgy, in our community.”