New mountain church offers ‘spiritual recreation’

(UPDATED Oct. 2, 2014 with photos from Sept. 14 dedication, photos by Shannon Lukens)

Every summer thousands of Colorado families head over Rabbit Ears Pass to Steamboat Springs to mountain bike, fly fish, hike Fish Creek Falls, and soak in the hot springs. During the winter, skiers and snowboarders flock to the mountain resort on the western ridge of the Continental Divide for fun in the snow.

“We’re a destination town,” said Father Ernest Bayer, pastor of Holy Name Parish since 2005. “My vision is to give visitors two reasons to come: physical recreation and spiritual recreation.”

To accommodate the spiritual recreation of a congregation that doubles in size during the peak seasons, the parish recently completed a 15,382-square-foot expansion. The new church increased capacity from 300 to 600.

“During peak season we had standing room only,” Father Bayer said.

Work began on the small existing church at 524 Oak St. in July 2012 with contractor services provided by Fox Construction, owned by parishioner Tom Fox. Mountain-inspired architectural services were provided by Greenwood Village-based Eidos Architects.

“(A mountain architecture style) was accomplished through various geometries,” according to Mae Ann Saas of Eidos, “and heavy utilization of wood and stone in the design.”

“It’s meant to look like God’s holy mountain,” Father Bayer said. “Mount Zion.”

Features include an altar of Colorado red granite, a tabernacle of a bronze burning bush, a baptismal font with a lower pool for immersion, and a bell tower with four bells.

The capital campaign to fund construction launched in 2008.

“It took about six years to raise the money,” Father Bayer said of the $9.1 million project. “It’s a huge miracle, an example of how the body of Christ pulls together. God sent some very generous people our way, locals and out-of-towners.”

Fundraising efforts were energized when plans for stained glass windows were announced. Local artist and parishioner Greg Effinger was commissioned to design sets of windows, totaling about 166 sections overall.

“The windows are amazing,” Father Bayer said. “Everything’s original.”

Themes range from creation through Church history to the second coming of Christ, with an emphasis on the institution of the Eucharist in the Last Supper windows. Effinger worked with a team from the wider community to produce the windows, headed up by local stained glass craftsman and parishioner Georgian Kalow.

God put a “dream team” together to make the entire project possible, Father Bayer said of the parishioners, donors and workers.

“Lots of people worked very hard on it,” he said. “God’s doing wonderful things in Routt County … it’s an oasis in the midst of our crazy world.

“Come and see us,” he added. “We made room for you!”

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Archbishop Samuel Aquila will dedicate the new church at 4:30 p.m. Mass Sept. 14. For photos of the construction process, visit catholicsteamboat.com/church-expansion.

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”