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Our Lady of the Plains celebrates 50 years with gratitude and rejoicing

Out on the Eastern Plains, in the small town of Byers, there is much cause for rejoicing. Our Lady of the Plains in Byers, the only Catholic parish for miles, recently celebrated their 50th parish anniversary. 

Early in the 20th century, a number of Catholic families settled on the plains, which meant a church was to be built. St. Joseph Church in Deer Trail was constructed, followed a decade later by another church in Strasburg, served by the same mission priests. 

For nearly 50 years, the community was served by these priests. As the community grew and the faith took deeper root, there was need to build a larger, more centralized church building. Byers was selected because of its strategic location halfway between Denver and Limon, Bennett and Deer Trail. 

After the decision was made, the Bate and Linnebur families donated the land on which the church stands today. The community rallied together to begin raising funds to construct the church, which was completed in 1972. The first Mass was celebrated January 1, 1973.

Parishioners were welcome to peruse scrapbooks and other carefully kept historical effects during the 50th anniversary celebrations. (Photo: André Escaleira, Jr.)

Today, the church stands as a pillar of devotion on the Eastern Plains, with a sizable, diverse community of Catholic faithful, many of whom were in attendance for the June 4 bilingual anniversary Mass celebrated by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila. 

“It’s just everything,” said Stacie May, a long-time parishioner who grew up in the community, about the blessing of having a Catholic church in town. “It’s always been a part of my life. I just feel like Our Lady of the Plains has always been there.”  

Reminiscing on the early days of the parish community, she shared the challenges of traveling to the next-nearest church for the sacraments and the excitement of seeing a church built in her community. “We had a little tiny church in Strasburg and a little, tiny church in Deer Trail,” May said. “We had mission priests when I was small, and we didn’t have the opportunity to be able to visit a church whenever we wanted to.” Today, though, May and her fellow community members are able to pray and receive the sacraments more readily because of the church’s presence in the community. “Having a church closer than Limon or Aurora has spoiled us,” she continued, “and it’s amazing how many of us are out here!”  

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The community has indeed grown over the years, May shared. “I think celebrating the growth is a celebration,” she told the Denver Catholic. “The fact that we’re still here, the fact that there are still priests to have here. That’s huge because there’s a shortage of priests. The fact that we have Father Jeff, who is just a godsend; he’s the best. And that we have three deacons now. I mean, that speaks volumes to me. For it to be a small parish, that’s huge. We’re blessed.” 

The parish community came together to celebrate their growth, faith and history, especially over the last 50 years. Beginning with Mass on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity with Archbishop Aquila, the parish continued their celebration at nearby May Farms, where neither thunder nor torrential rain could dampen the festivities. Dozens gathered to spend time together through the afternoon in faith, friendship and fellowship. 

“The parish has given myself long-lasting friendships,” shared Nadine Timmons, another long-time parishioner active in the community, and a member of the planning team for the 50th anniversary celebration. “My faith journey has developed slowly, but with the help of this parish, immensely. I wouldn’t have stepped out and joined the Biblical School and committed to four years, having just completed that this month, if it wasn’t for this parish.” 

Indeed, there is much cause for rejoicing in Byers, said Archbishop Aquila in his homily, referencing the words of the second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinithians.

“He reminds the people of his time, the people of Corinth, and he reminds you today, rejoice,” Archbishop Aquila preached. “Rejoice for the 50 years of this parish, rejoice moreover for the faith that you have received. Rejoice moreover that you have become the daughters and sons of father. Rejoice moreover of the love of Jesus Christ for you, that he has forgiven you your sins, that he has died for you. And when you hear the words in the Eucharist, ‘This is my body given for you. This is my blood poured out for you,’ Receive those personally in your own heart. That is what the Lord has done for you. And there is much to rejoice about.” 

“How blessed we are,” concluded Timmons, “that two men long ago spearheaded donating land for this church to be built on. They then gathered more to help complete the building of this cinder block church which still stands 50 years later. Those blocks hold up the most beautiful stained-glass windows east of the Metro Denver area.” 

André Escaleira, Jr.
André Escaleira, Jr.
André Escaleira is the Interim Managing Editor of the Denver Catholic and El Pueblo Católico, as well as the Digital & Social Media Manager for the Archdiocese of Denver. Originally from Connecticut, André moved to Denver in 2018 to work as a missionary with Christ in the City, where he served for two years.

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