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: The Vatican’s Choice: Jimmy Lai or Xi Jinping?

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In mid-May, Chinese leader Xi Jinping unveiled a plan to bypass Hong Kong’s legislature and impose draconian new “national security” laws on the former British colony. Putatively intended to defend Hong Kong from “secessionists,” “terrorists,” and “foreign influence,” these new measures are in fact designed to curb the brave men and women of Hong Kong’s vibrant pro-democracy movement, who have been aggravating the Beijing totalitarians for a long time. With the world distracted by the Wuhan virus (which the Chinese government’s clumsiness and prevarication did much to globalize), the ever-more-brutal Xi Jinping regime evidently thinks that this is the moment to crack down even harder on those in Hong Kong who cherish freedom and try to defend it.

This latest display of Beijing’s intent to enforce communist power in Hong Kong coincides with the most recent persecution of my friend, Jimmy Lai.

Jimmy and I have only met once. But I have long felt a kinship with this fellow-Catholic, a convert who first put his considerable wealth to work in support of important Catholic activities and who is now risking all in support of the pro-democracy movement in Kong Kong. Arrested in February, and then again in April, Jimmy Lai has been charged with helping organize and lead “unauthorized protests.” That he was in the front ranks of pro-democracy demonstrations is true. The question is, why do the Chinese communists regard peaceful protest in support of freedoms Beijing solemnly promised to protect as treasonous?

In late May, the thugs in Beijing tightened the ratchet of repression another notch: Jimmy Lai’s case was transferred to a court that could give the 72-year old a five-year sentence, or even consecutive sentences. But what else could be expected from a regime that was already trying to bankrupt Lai’s pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, by pressuring both Chinese and international firms to stop buying advertising space there? Shamefully, far too many have kowtowed to those pressures, and a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed article reported that Apple Daily is now cut off from 65% of the Hong Kong advertising market. Meanwhile, Beijing, while trying to reassure the business community that everything will be just fine, warns business leaders (as well as diplomats and journalists) not to “join the anti-China forces in stigmatizing or demonizing” the new national security laws.

The Xi Jinping regime may be less stable than it wants the world to think it is. Secure regimes do not increase repression, as Beijing has done for several years now. Moreover, labeling all criticism of the Xi Jinping government as “anti-China” is not the play a regime confident about its legitimacy and stability would make. Such tactics seem clumsy; they bespeak sweaty nervousness, not calm self-assurance.

The attempt to break the Hong Kong democracy movement is one facet of a broader campaign of repression that has not spared Chinese religious communities on the mainland. One million Muslim Uyghurs remain penned in Xinjiang concentration camps, where they are being “educated.” Protestant house churches are under constant threat. And repressive measures continue to be taken against Catholics and their churches, despite the almost two-year old (and still secret) agreement between the Holy See and Beijing. That agreement, which gave the Chinese communist party a lead role in the nomination of bishops, looks ever more like one in which the Vatican gave away a great deal in return for hollow promises; Chinese Catholics who do not toe the party line as the Chinese communist party defines that line are still persecuted. The effects of this sorry affair on the Church’s evangelical mission in the China of the future – hopefully, a post-communist China – will not be positive.

Around the world, voices have been raised in support of Hong Kong’s brave pro-democracy demonstrators. Has the Holy See’s voice been heard? If so, I missed it and so did many others. Are strong representations in favor of religious freedom and other basic human rights being made by Vatican officials behind the scenes in Beijing and Rome? One might hope so. But if the Holy See’s current China policy is in fact a reprise of its failed Ostpolitik in central and eastern Europe during the 1970s, those representations are more likely tepid and wholly ineffectual.

With one of its most courageous Catholic sons now in the dock and facing what could be life-threatening imprisonment, the Vatican now faces a defining choice: Jimmy Lai or Xi Jinping?