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: Five Colorado places named after Catholic saints

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

On Aug. 1, Colorado will have made it way over the hill at a ripe 144 years old. Better known as Colorado Day, the day commemorates the founding of our great Centennial State in 1876.

The Catholic Church has a rich history in Colorado, and believe it or not, various regions, geographic landmarks and places in the state are named after Catholic saints. The San Juan Mountain Range, the San Miguel River and the San Luis Valley are but a few examples.

In honor of Colorado Day, here are five places within “Colorful Colorado” that take their namesake from a Catholic saint. You probably already know a couple of them, but the other three are real “diamonds in the rough” that are worth making the trek; in fact, two of them were built and founded before Colorado was even Colorado.

Mother Cabrini Shrine, Golden, CO

 

One of Colorado’s most popular pilgrimage sites, it’s hard not to be enamored by Mother Cabrini Shrine. Originally founded as a girls’ summer camp by St. Frances Cabrini in 1910, the shrine overlooks the I-70 corridor heading into the mountains and is as charming as it is relaxing. In addition to the praying in the chapel, visitors can stay in the old Stone House that was built in 1914 or one of the various retreat houses that have been added over the years. Aside from being a wonderful space to pray, Mother Cabrini Shrine doubles as a sort of natural Stairmaster to get those steps in with the 373-step staircase leading up to the shrine, affectionately known as the Stairway of Prayer.

St. Catherine of Siena Chapel, Allenspark, CO

Photo by Andrew Wright

Better known as the Chapel on the Rock, this functioning Catholic chapel is perhaps one of Colorado’s most iconic landmarks. As the story goes, in the early 20th century, a man by the name of William McPhee owned the land where the chapel stands, known as Camp St. Malo. McPhee was a parishioner of the Cathedral in Denver, and he often allowed the parish to take kids hiking and camping on his property. During one of those trips, several campers saw a meteorite or shooting star that had appeared to hit the earth. They went looking for it and came upon the Rock that now stands as the foundation of St. Catherine of Siena Chapel. Completed in 1936, the chapel’s official namesake is fitting, as both it and St. Catherine of Siena share a common thread of mystical experiences facilitated by the Lord. It has had many visitors over the years, but perhaps none so famous as St. John Paul II who, ever the outdoorsman, just had to make a stop while in Denver for World Youth Day in 1993.

Abbey of St. Walburga, Virginia Dale, CO

 

Photo courtesy of the Abbey of St. Walburga

Located in the picturesque Virginia Dale, a small community just south of the Wyoming border, the Abbey of St. Walburga is a place where the voice of the Lord lives in the mountains, plains and rivers surrounding it. Named for the patroness of the Benedictine nuns, the abbey was founded in 1935 when three sisters from the Abbey of St. Walburg in Eichstätt, Bavaria were sent to a remote farm in what was Boulder. There, they built a strong foundation for the future of the abbey through hard work, poverty and an immovable trust in God’s providence. Today, the Benedictine nuns of Walburga humbly carry out the good works of the Benedictine order and carry on the legacy started nearly a millennium ago in 1035, when the original Walburg abbey in Eichstätt was founded.

San Luis, CO

Photo by Jeremy Elliot

Moving into the southern most regions of the State of Colorado, the Catholic roots of the region become much more evident. The oldest town in Colorado, San Luis, was founded in 1851 on the Feast of St. Louis, and predates the official founding of Colorado as a state by 25 years. The town is located along the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, which translates to “Blood of Christ.” One of the main attractions of the small town of just over 600 is a shrine at the town’s local Catholic parish. The Shrine of the Stations of the Cross was built by the parishioners of Sangre de Cristo Parish and the beautiful stations were designed and sculpted by native San Luis sculptor Huberto Maesta.

Capilla de Viejo San Acacio, Costilla County, CO

Photo from Wikicommons

Just to the west of the town of San Luis lies one of Colorado’s oldest gems. The Chapel of Old St. Acacius, or Capilla de Viejo San Acacio as it’s known to the locals, is the oldest non-Native American religious site in Colorado that’s still active today. While the building of the church cannot be dated precisely, it was likely completed sometime in the 1860s. The namesake of the church comes from St. Acacius of Byzantium, a third century martyr. Near the church is the small village of San Acacio, which a local tradition holds got its name after one of the earliest San Luis Valley settlements, originally called Culebra Abajo, was attacked by a band of Ute in 1853. As the Ute attackers approached, the villagers asked for the intercession of St Acacius, a popular saint among their people. The Ute suddenly halted and fled before they reached the town, scared off by a vision of well-armed warriors defending it. In gratitude for this salvation, the village was renamed San Acacio, and the villagers built a mission church in honor of the saint.