Msgr. John Slattery remembered as a ‘founding father’ of Springs diocese

By Veronica Ambul | Colorado Catholic Herald

Msgr. John Slattery, the first vicar general of the Diocese of Colorado Springs and founding pastor of St. Patrick Parish, died Nov. 28 at age 87. Msgr. Slattery had been residing at Mount St. Francis Nursing Center.

Msgr. Slattery was born in Denver on July 5, 1931. He attended Annunciation School and enrolled in St. John Vianney Seminary in 1949. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Denver on June 1, 1957, by Archbishop Urban Vehr.

Shortly after his ordination, he was named assistant pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver, where he remained in until 1966. He was then named pastor of St. Mary Parish in Breckenridge, where he served until 1970. He served as pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish from 1970-1976. He was then named pastor of St. Jude Parish in Lakewood, where he remained until 1981.

In 1981, at the request of Auxiliary Bishop Richard C. Hanifen, Msgr. Slattery was named the founding pastor of a newly-created parish in northeast Colorado Springs — St. Patrick. For the next six years, he celebrated Mass in a retail space on North Academy Boulevard, while overseeing the planning and construction of St. Patrick Church. The site of the new church — a roughly five-acre property on Brook Park Drive — had been donated by prominent Colorado Springs businesswoman Bonnie Fitzpatrick, owner of the Dublin House restaurant.

“It was a challenge; I loved it,” Msgr. Slattery said of starting the new parish. “It was probably the premiere experience of my priesthood.”

In January 1984, Msgr. Slattery was named vicar general of the newly-formed Diocese of Colorado Springs, a role that he held while still serving as pastor of St. Patrick. In 1987, he became administrator of St. Paul Parish. In 1991, his term as vicar general ended and he was named rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral, where he remained until 1997. He then served at Divine Redeemer and Corpus Christi parishes until his retirement in 2000.

In 2009, he was one of three priests in the diocese to be designated a Prelate of Honor by Pope Benedict XVI. With that, he gained the title of “Reverend Monsignor.”

Msgr. Slattery “will go down as a ‘founding father’ of the diocese,” said Bishop Emeritus Hanifen.

Bishop Michael Sheridan said that “Father Slattery’s service in the Diocese of Colorado Springs is legendary. I know how much Bishop Hanifen relied on him in those early years, and I am deeply grateful for all that he has done to serve the mission of the Church in our diocese.”

COMING UP: Why 42 had to be impeached twenty years ago

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Twenty years ago this month, I found myself seriously double-booked, so to speak.

The editing of the first volume of my John Paul II biography, Witness to Hope, was entering the ninth inning, and I was furiously engaged in exchanging edited and re-edited copy with my editors in New York. At the same time, the Clinton impeachment drama was cresting. And as I had long done speechwriting for Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I spent week after week of split time, working on John Paul II from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., then switching to impeachment for a couple of hours before returning to Witness to Hope in the evening.

It was not the optimal way to work but it had to be done, even if it seemed likely that the president would be acquitted in a Senate trial. On December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives voted two articles of impeachment and senior House members, including Mr. Hyde, solemnly walked the two articles across the Capitol and presented them to the Senate’s leaders. On toward midnight, Henry Hyde called me and, referring to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, said, “We’re not going to make it. Trent won’t fight; I saw it in his eyes.” After a long moment I replied that, if we were going to lose, we had a duty to lay down a record with which history would have to reckon.

Which is what the great Henry Hyde did during the January 1999 Senate trial, where he bent every effort to prevent the proceedings from descending into farce.

For Hyde, the impeachment of President Bill Clinton was an unavoidable piece of nasty business. It was not a matter of partisan score-settling, nor was it a matter of punishing a president for gross behavior with an intern in the White House. It was a matter of defending the rule of law. As Henry put it to me when it seemed clear that the president had perjured himself and obstructed justice, “There are over a hundred people in federal prisons for these crimes. How can the chief law enforcement officer of the United States be guilty of them and stay in office?”

Impeachment is a political process and it was clear by mid-fall of 1998 that the politics were not breaking toward removing the president from office. They had been pointed that way over the summer, though. And as the pressures built, it seemed as if the Clinton presidency might end as Richard Nixon’s had: Party elders, in this case Democrats, would go to the White House, explain that it was over, and ask the president to resign for the sake of the country. Then around Labor Day that year, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times and other columnists began suggesting that, if Clinton were impeached and convicted, the sexual revolution would be over, the yahoos of reaction would have won, and we’d be back to something resembling Salem, Massachusetts, during the witchcraft insanity.

That was preposterous. It was also effective. And within days, at least in Washington, you could fill the templates shifting: This wasn’t about the rule of law, it was about sex and the yahoos couldn’t be allowed to win. (That Henry Hyde was the leader of the pro-life forces in Congress neatly fit this storyline, of course, abortion being a major plank in the platform of the sexual revolution.)

So once the game was redefined — Are you for or against the puritanical yahoos? — there was little chance to wrench the political process back to what it was really about: the rule of law. In his opening speech during the president’s trial, Henry Hyde tried valiantly to refocus the argument, insisting that high office did not absolve a man from obeying his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the laws of the United States and his oath swearing to tell the truth to a federal grand jury. To suggest that it did was to “break the covenant of trust” between president and people, dissolving “the mortar that binds the foundation stones of our freedom into a secure and solid edifice.”

It wasn’t a winning argument. But it was the right argument. And on this 20th anniversary, the nation should remember with gratitude those like Henry Hyde who, under fierce assault, stood for the rule of law.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore | Flickr