Its unique architecture has led some people to call it “the ski jump” church. The pastor, however, prefers to call it “the launching pad to heaven.”
Officially named Risen Christ Catholic Church in Denver by Archbishop James Casey, the parish turned 50 on Aug. 22.
The golden jubilee was observed with a Mass celebrated Aug. 20 by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and concelebrated by the pastor, Monsignor J. Anthony McDaid, and former pastor, Monsignor Kenneth Leone.
Other concelebrants who had once served at the parish included Father Felix Medina, Father John Krenzke, Father James Kleiner, and Father J. Daniel Schaffer. Deacon Tim Unger and Deacon Mark Salvato assisted.
“It is a great joy to be able to celebrate this Eucharist with you to give glory and praise to the Father for the gift of faith that has been present through the 50 years of the family of this parish,” Archbishop Aquila told the congregation.
In his homily, Monsignor McDaid estimated that during it’s half-century the parish has offered 40,000 Masses, conferred nearly 7,000 baptisms and about the same number of confirmations, witnessed 2,000 marriages and has held slightly more funerals.
“When we think of how many people have been touched through this house of prayer, through the grace of God coming to them as they bring their lives—their sorrows, joys, love … their weaknesses and receive the forgiveness of sins—it’s a fabulous thing that you people of God have worked with Christ,” he said. “God’s grace has been poured out to the people through your generosity.”
Archbishop Casey founded the church on 5.15 acres at 3060 S. Monaco Parkway in 1967, appointing Father Joseph O’Malley as its first pastor. Prior to the church being built, parishioners attended Mass in the gym at Cherry Creek High School, and later at the Continental Theater.
“Going from the bleachers at Cherry Creek to the plush seats of the theater was really something,” recalled Tom Boucher, who along with his wife Sue was among the founding parishioners who were collectively recognized at the end of the anniversary Mass. Chuckling, Boucher added, “Father Joe O’Malley used to hear confessions in the popcorn stand!”
Ground was broken for the 1,250-seat church, which is shaped like a triangle surrounded by a circle to represent the Trinity and Christian unity, on Dec. 29, 1968. The first Mass in the completed church was held on Jan. 25, 1970.
Designed by local architect James Sudler, the peak of the triangular building soars 76 feet above the altar and features stained glass windows that were originally abstract but today depict the central mysteries of the Catholic faith.
After the Mass, the archbishop blessed five new works by artist Gerry Mulowayi, a Risen Christ parishioner, in the parish’s Holy Family Chapel. The colorful lithographs depict the Holy Family and four other saints.
Following the blessing, parishioners gathered in the parish center for refreshments and to view exhibits showing the parish’s history as well as images of a possible future sanctuary remodel.
“There’s no immediate [remodel] plan or project,” Monsignor McDaid told the Denver Catholic. “Just imaginings on the 50th anniversary to begin a discussion.”
A remodel was done in 2005, but additional improvements are needed to better serve the congregation, the pastor said. Looking to the future, he noted the parish’s demographics are changing as it welcomes immigrants hailing primarily from the Pacific Rim, Africa and Pakistan.
“I’m an immigrant myself,” noted Monsignor McDaid, whose Irish brogue and surname reveal his roots. “The newer immigrants are coming from a different demographic, which is reflected in the new artwork we have in the Holy Family Chapel. [The artist] and his family came to the United States … from the Congo.”
Mulowayi’s works reflect the ethnicities of the saints portrayed: Middle Eastern, Portuguese, French and Mexican.
“God is for everyone and the saints portrayed represent a cultural spectrum,” Mulowayi told the Denver Catholic.
Risen Christ’s congregation of 2,150-plus families is faith-filled and generous, the pastor said.
“The parishioners are not only inward looking, but they have been among the leaders of sharing their patrimony with other archdiocesan projects,” he said.
“Let us give thanks to God for all he has worked through this parish,” Monsignor McDaid told his congregation. “Ad majorem Dei gloriam—‘for the greater glory of God’ and for the salvation of souls. That’s what this is all about and what we participate in.”
Risen Christ Parish Trivia
- Archbishop Casey named the church Risen Christ Catholic Parish in Denver because his former cathedral in Lincoln, Neb., was also called Risen Christ.
- The design of the church was modeled after the work of Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (called “Le Corbusier”) a pioneer of modern architecture, specifically his Notre Dame du Haut chapel in France.
- Church artworks include stained glass windows in the “ski jump” spire, a life-size bronze of the Risen Christ by Lynn Kircher, one-of-kind Stations of the Cross and a bronze of the Holy Family by Brian Hanlon, a bronze relief of 30 saints, icons of the Holy Family and the Risen Christ by Father William McNichols, and a 6.5-ton, 12-foot tall marble statue of the Risen Christ by Mario Benassi.
- The five new lithographs by Gerry Mulowayi depict the Holy Family, St. Anne, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Anthony of Padua and Blessed Miguel Augustin Pro.
- The parish has had six pastors: founding pastor Father Joseph O’Malley, Msgr. William Jones, Msgr. Lawrence St. Peter, Msgr. Edward Hoffmann, Msgr. Kenneth Leone, and current pastor, Msgr. J. Anthony McDaid.