Renovation to make Catholic-centered senior home even better

$10.1 million project at The Gardens at St. Elizabeth in Highlands under way

Roxanne King

In his 56 years of priestly ministry, Msgr. Don Dunn has visited a lot of senior living homes.

“They don’t always radiate happiness,” he told the Denver Catholic. Then, referring to The Gardens at St. Elizabeth in the Highlands neighborhood where he lives, he asserted, “We do.”

“It’s a happy place. We have fun together. There’s a strong sense of community.”

Msgr. Dunn, 81, is one of 88 residents — including four other priests and two religious sisters — living at The Gardens, which just started a total renovation of the 14-story independent living tower.

“When The Gardens [tower] was built in the 1980s it was state of the art, but now it needs renovated to meet the needs of today’s seniors and their active lifestyles,” said Mary Beth Bouhall, regional administrator at the facility. Located at 2835 W. 32nd Ave. in Denver, The Gardens is owned and operated by Catholic Health Initiatives Living Communities.

The $10.1 million project includes adding multiple dining areas to offer options ranging from a casual café to a formal dining room, the addition of a 30-seat movie theater, a hair salon, a massage-spa area, a pet wash, a craft area, a laundry, and a clinic for routine medical services such as blood pressure screenings. The top floor will include a fitness area and penthouses offering 360-degree views.

“The renovations are designed to make seniors’ lives easier and to encourage them to be as independent and active as they can be,” Bouhall said.

The amenities the renovation is adding coupled with a Catholic-centered community, the social gatherings of the facility and those of the vibrant Highlands neighborhood, Bouhall said, aims to make The Gardens a home with everything residents need. Construction should be completed by January 2019.

“We’ve already had a really nice response from seniors in the area about our renovation plans,” Bouhall said. “We’re really excited about our plans and they are, too, in this popular Highlands area. We are accepting applications for the apartments.”

Inspiration for the remodeling comes from the woodwork and architecture of The Garden’s 121-year-old Christ the King Chapel, a historic landmark.

“The chapel is the heart of The Gardens, so we want the renovations to complement its wood and details,” Bouhall said about the Colonial Revival-style brick church, which is flanked on one side by the independent living tower and on the other by assisted living units that serve another 75 seniors.

“The Catholic faith is a very important part of our ministry,” Bouhall said, adding that more than half of the residents at The Gardens are Catholic. “We offer Mass and the rosary daily. Throughout the day you’ll see residents of all faiths stopping into the chapel for prayer and quiet meditation. We also have a director of mission integration/chaplain who puts forward our mission [to nurture the healing ministry of the Church], core values [reverence, integrity, compassion and excellence] and Catholic identity.”

Franciscan Sister Nancy Surma, vice president of Mission Integration for CHI Living Communities, said the organization follows the Ethical and Religious Directives of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for health care services.

“They are inspirational and guide our actions,” she said by phone from her Erlanger, Ky., office.

Aram Haroutunian, lay chaplain and director of Mission Integration at The Gardens, is charged with making sure the spiritual needs of the residents, Catholic and otherwise, are met. For the Masses, he does the organizing for the priest residents who take turns celebrating the liturgies.

“I can’t say enough about them,” Haroutunian said. “They are so selfless. I feel a need to protect them but they want to serve and serve and serve.”

Priest residents include Father Joseph Blanco and Father James Purfield, both of Denver; and Msgr. Dan Huber of Pueblo and Father John Slattery of Colorado Springs. Resident consecrated women are Sister Helen Kunz and Sister Mary Cerny, both Franciscans.

At a recent weekday morning Mass, the 108-seat Christ the King Chapel was nearly filled to capacity with residents and visitors as Msgr. Dunn celebrated the liturgy.

“Celebrating Mass in Christ the King Chapel is really a privilege,” said Msgr. Dunn, a Denver native who served in both the Denver and Colorado Springs dioceses and is perhaps best known for his many years leading Denver’s Catholic Charities.

Since its start, when what is now The Gardens was originally known as the Oakes Home, a tuberculosis sanatorium built by Episcopalian minister the Rev. Frederick Oakes, the chapel was intended to draw people to prayer, Msgr. Dunn noted.

“It was meant to bring the healing presence of Christ to people,” he said. “The chapel is so warm, traditional and very much a home for all of us. I’m grateful we can celebrate Mass together here with the Lord God in the center.”

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History of The Gardens

1894 – What is now The Gardens at St. Elizabeth was built as the Oakes Home, a tuberculosis sanatorium by the Rev. Frederick Oakes, an Episcopalian minister.

1897 – Christ the King Chapel (originally Chapel of Our Merciful Savior) was built.

1934 – The TB sanatorium was closed. Treatment for other conditions continued until 1941, when the building was again closed.

1943 – The Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration bought the property from the Episcopalian Diocese and used it as their motherhouse, renaming it St. Joseph Convent.

1954 – The motherhouse was relocated to Colorado Springs. The sisters renamed their former convent St. Elizabeth’s Retreat and used it as a home for the aged.

1974 – Ground was broken for a new three-story building to be built on the east side of the chapel.

1975 – Residents were moved from St. Elizabeth’s Retreat (the old Oakes Home) to the new structure, which was named St. Elizabeth Center. The original Oakes Home was demolished. Christ the King Chapel was named a historic landmark of the city of Denver.

1987 – On March 26 ground was broken for the erection of a 14-story apartment building west of the chapel.

1988 – In August, the new structure was opened and renamed The Gardens at St. Elizabeth.

1995 – The Sisters of Charity Healthcare Systems assumed control of The Gardens at St. Elizabeth.

1996 – Sisters of Charity Healthcare Systems partnered with Franciscan Healthcare and formed Catholic Health Initiatives.

1997 – Christ the King Chapel centennial.

COMING UP: Past 25 years remembered, next 25 anticipated at More Than You Realize conference

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“Be not afraid!”

This was the rallying cry at the Aug. 11 More Than You Realize conference, echoing the very same call St. John Paul II gave exactly 25 years ago when he visited Denver for World Youth Day in 1993.

Over 5,000 faithful from across the Archdiocese of Denver filled the seats of the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland at what was the largest Catholic gathering in Colorado since WYD ’93. The all-day conference was presented in both English and Spanish tracks, featured a dynamic lineup of renowned Catholic speakers, and culminated in a powerful commissioning Mass.

The name More Than You Realize and consequently, the logo resembling an eyechart, stems from the idea that almost everything may appear a certain way at surface level, but upon closer inspection, it can be more than one realizes and seen in a different light. This is especially true when it comes to the Catholic Church.

Over 5,000 gathered at the Budweiser Events Center Aug. 11 for the More Than You Realize conference, which celebrated the last 25 years since World Youth Day in Denver and looked to the next 25. (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

In planning for nearly two years, pastors from each parish of the archdiocese hand-picked those parishioners and members of their community who they wished to attend the conference, which revolved around the idea of discipleship. Through engaging videos and talks given by speakers such as Chris Stefanick, Luis Soto and Dr. Edward Sri, attendees were invited to join a new movement of discipleship within the archdiocese, echoing the one sparked 25 years ago at World Youth Day.

“[I] had a great rejuvenating time at the More Than You Realize Conference,” said Alex Martinez, a parishioner at St. Pius X Parish. “I am excited to see the MTYR movement take shape.”

Brenda Garrett, a parishioner of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception said, “It was an amazing event, so blessed my pastor Father Ron from the Cathedral Basilica sent me. I am so proud to be part of this movement.”

The key to evangelization

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford spoke before Mass began about the impact of World Youth Day 1993 and the challenges the Church faces today.

“What does the summer of ’93 teach us about our present circumstances in 2018?” the cardinal asked. “The Holy Spirit was sent out in a special mission to our Church in 1993. The power of that sending was unexpected and disorienting to me as archbishop and to most others.”

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford speaks during the More Than You Realize conference. (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

But despite urban violence, threats of boycotts, organized protests and other issues prior to World Youth Day 1993, “a fundamental change took place in the Church of Denver,” said Cardinal Stafford, “but not only here — among the young people who came throughout the world, [and] even the Holy Father.

“Above all, our Church was transformed,” he said.

Cardinal Stafford said that to evangelize those who don’t know the Gospel, we first need “…a deep awareness of the delight of the Father taking in each of us as baptized men and women,” he said.

“I would urge you to think deeply and to pray deeply about realizing how delighted God is in you — each of you — because you are received by the Father as being [part of] the body of his Son, who is beloved.”

‘Jesus is much more than you realize’

In his homily given in both English and Spanish, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila also touched on what World Youth Day 1993 means for us today.

“The world likes to tell us many things about ourselves,” he said, “and not many of them today are good or uplifting. Just look at the distorted image of beauty that is prevalent today, let alone the distortions of what it means to be a human person…

“The devil is certainly having a field day in a world that has abandoned God, and even in some members of the Church who have a weak faith in Jesus,” he said.

But despite similar issues taking place in 1993, the pope brought to Denver a message of hope.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila celebrates the commissioning Mass that closed out the conference. (photo by Andrew Wright)

“When St. John Paul II spoke to the youth gathered for the prayer vigil on Saturday night at Cherry Creek State Park, he reminded them that God and a much bigger role for them to play in history,” said Archbishop Aquila.

That message is just as important today, within an archdiocese and Church that stand at a crossroads, the archbishop said.

“We have an opportunity to make a major impact for Jesus Christ, even as the surrounding culture is becoming less Christian.”

The pope opened the doors for those who attended to become greater disciples of Christ — not just directly after World Youth Day, but forever.

“St. John Paul II believed in retrospect that a revolution had taken place in Denver,” said the archbishop. “We, today, are the inheritors of this spiritual revolution, and we must not be afraid to put out into the deep to let our nets down for a catch.

“Jesus is much more than you realize. The Church is more than you realize. And your role in the plan of God is much more than you realize or [can] even imagine,” he said.

“And so, I beg you as your shepherd today to open your hearts to Jesus and speak heart-to-heart with him who loves you most.”

Aaron Lambert, Moira Cullings and Vladimir Mauricio-Perez contributed to this report.