Historic Denver church is the ‘heart of the city’

St. Elizabeth of Hungary known for serving the homeless, less fortunate

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In the heart of the Auraria Campus in downtown Denver is St. Elizabeth of Hungary, one of the city’s most iconic churches. It is not uncommon to see believers and non-believers in the parish due to all of its remarkable characteristics, starting with its unique location.

Established in 1878, St. Elizabeth is one of the more unique long-standing historic churches in Denver. The beautiful exterior and unique architecture are what draw people in. Its 162-foot bell tower is what dominates the Auraria neighborhood. However, besides its beauty, what really stands out at St. Elizabeth are the ministries that reach out to the less fortunate.

The sandwich line is one of the largest and oldest ministries at St. Elizabeth of Hungary, in which active volunteers and members of the parish gather every morning and prepare food to give to homeless people in the area. They serve meals to over 150 homeless people each day for 364 days a year — Christmas Day being the only exception.

The poor and hungry are served a meal from 11 a.m. to noon daily. Each person that goes through the line is treated with respect and dignity and served with no questions asked. In 2019, over 45,000 meals were served.

From L-R, Lynda Collins, Scott London, Leslie London and Kelly Henninger serve sandwiches to the homeless during sandwich line ministry at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church on February 23, 2020, in Denver, Colorado. (Photos by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

“It is a great blessing for me to serve as Pastor of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary Church since becoming a Mission to the Cathedral in 2016,” Father Ron Cattany told the Denver Catholic.

St. Elizabeth also has a special connection with some saints and servants of God. Servant of God Julia Greeley served the poor each month at St. Elizabeth. In addition, during her time in Denver between 1902 and 1912, Mother Cabrini also included St. Elizabeth on her donation circuit.

“My blessing is doubled serving at the only Church in Colorado attended by two Servants of God,” added Father Cattany.

Even though the traditional neighborhood for St. Elizabeth was destroyed by urban renewal in the late 1960s, the church still lies in its strategic location.

“The historic bells of St. Elizabeth toll for those who want to pray, those who want to learn, those who society considers invisible, and those who want to serve,” Father Cattany concluded. “St. Elizabeth is the heart of the city.”

COMING UP: Five Colorado places named after Catholic saints

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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.