Saints in the making

Catholic schools celebrate All Saints’ Day in style

Aaron Lambert

At other schools, Nov. 1 was likely just another Friday for students. At Denver’s Catholic schools, however, it wasn’t just Friday – it was All Saints’ Day.

On this special feast day, Catholic schools invite their students and teachers to participate in the communion of saints by dressing up as their favorite saints. The occasion is usually marked by class parties, fun activities and even parades around the school.

During his Angelus address at the Vatican, Pope Francis said on All Saints’ Day that “the saints of all times, which we celebrate together today, are not simply symbols, distant human beings, unreachable. On the contrary, they are people who have lived with their feet on the ground. They have experienced the daily toil of existence with its successes and its failures, finding in the Lord the strength to always get up and continue the journey.”

More than just a fun day for students, All Saints’ Day is an opportunity to remind them that they, too, are capable of holiness, and is another way in which Catholic schools live up to their name.

Students at various Catholic schools dressed up as saints for All Saints’ Day. (Photo by Vladimir Mauricio-Perez)

At St. Rose of Lima in Denver, celebrating All Saints’ Day perfectly complements the goal of preparing its students not only academically, but also spiritually.

“We believe all students are called to sainthood, and as we prepare them academically for success in Catholic high schools and college, we also prepare them for heaven,” said Tomas Gallegos, principal at St. Rose of Lima. “It’s seeing themselves as saints, praying to the saints and using that for guidance on how they should live their lives.”

Teachers and staff are also encouraged to join in the fun. Gallegos was dressed as St. Francis of Assisi, a saint that’s had a particularly special impact on his life.

“I had the opportunity to visit Assisi and go see the chapel that [St. Francis] helped rebuild and see where he’s laid to rest,” Gallegos told the Denver Catholic. “He’s someone that I pray to in a very special way, but I also think it’s a good connection for our students who already innately have a love of animals to see somebody who really embodied that.”

At St. John the Baptist School in Longmont, the preschool classes had their own celebration complete with fun activities themed after particular saints. Students sprinkled roses over an image of St. Theresa at her station, searched for lost items at the St. Anthony station, and shot a toy bow and arrow at a target at the St. Kateri station — “target practice,” as some of the students said.

Criscelda Mortimore (left), a parent and volunteer at St. John the Baptist school in Longmont, assists a preschool student during the preschool class’ All Saints Day celebration. (Photo by Aaron Lambert)

Criscelda Mortimore, whose son Ambrose dressed up as St. Mark the Evangelist and is in his second year of preschool at St. John the Baptist, volunteered to help run one of the stations for the children. She likes the All Saints’ Day celebration not only because it’s fun for the kids, but also because it presents an important learning opportunity for students and parents alike.

“I really like how it opens up the opportunity for me to discuss things like [the saints],” Mortimore said. “Although I am one who considers myself to take Catholicism seriously, it can be hard to bring that stuff up in everyday activities.

“I probably would’ve never been able to discuss with him the idea of the symbol of St. Mark the Evangelist being a winged lion and that’s something that I actually learned myself too, were it not for our participation in All Saints’ Day.”

As part of their All Saints’ Day activities, students at Assumption Catholic School in Denver created a prayer chain with the names of deceased loved ones to tie with the celebration of All Souls’ Day the following day. (Photo by Rocio Madera)

More than just the practical application of learning about the saints, Catholic schools’ participation in All Saints’ Day activities also gives students the chance to find new role models in the saints in an interactive way.

“It’s a beautiful thing for kids to have these spiritual role models that they can look to for guidance, individuals who walked the earth and had professions and families, but also chose to devote their lives to Christ,” said Sarah Grey, principal at Assumption Catholic School in Denver. “Our kids are being exposed to so many people — celebrities, athletes, individuals that are maybe not the best role models for them, so it’s a beautiful thing for them to learn about individuals who have died for their faith that they can hopefully try to exemplify.”

Rocio Madera and Vladimir Mauricio-Perez contributed to this report.

COMING UP: Five Colorado places named after Catholic saints

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On Aug. 1, Colorado will have made it way over the hill at a ripe 144 years old. Better known as Colorado Day, the day commemorates the founding of our great Centennial State in 1876.

The Catholic Church has a rich history in Colorado, and believe it or not, various regions, geographic landmarks and places in the state are named after Catholic saints. The San Juan Mountain Range, the San Miguel River and the San Luis Valley are but a few examples.

In honor of Colorado Day, here are five places within “Colorful Colorado” that take their namesake from a Catholic saint. You probably already know a couple of them, but the other three are real “diamonds in the rough” that are worth making the trek; in fact, two of them were built and founded before Colorado was even Colorado.

Mother Cabrini Shrine, Golden, CO

 

One of Colorado’s most popular pilgrimage sites, it’s hard not to be enamored by Mother Cabrini Shrine. Originally founded as a girls’ summer camp by St. Frances Cabrini in 1910, the shrine overlooks the I-70 corridor heading into the mountains and is as charming as it is relaxing. In addition to the praying in the chapel, visitors can stay in the old Stone House that was built in 1914 or one of the various retreat houses that have been added over the years. Aside from being a wonderful space to pray, Mother Cabrini Shrine doubles as a sort of natural Stairmaster to get those steps in with the 373-step staircase leading up to the shrine, affectionately known as the Stairway of Prayer.

St. Catherine of Siena Chapel, Allenspark, CO

Photo by Andrew Wright

Better known as the Chapel on the Rock, this functioning Catholic chapel is perhaps one of Colorado’s most iconic landmarks. As the story goes, in the early 20th century, a man by the name of William McPhee owned the land where the chapel stands, known as Camp St. Malo. McPhee was a parishioner of the Cathedral in Denver, and he often allowed the parish to take kids hiking and camping on his property. During one of those trips, several campers saw a meteorite or shooting star that had appeared to hit the earth. They went looking for it and came upon the Rock that now stands as the foundation of St. Catherine of Siena Chapel. Completed in 1936, the chapel’s official namesake is fitting, as both it and St. Catherine of Siena share a common thread of mystical experiences facilitated by the Lord. It has had many visitors over the years, but perhaps none so famous as St. John Paul II who, ever the outdoorsman, just had to make a stop while in Denver for World Youth Day in 1993.

Abbey of St. Walburga, Virginia Dale, CO

 

Photo courtesy of the Abbey of St. Walburga

Located in the picturesque Virginia Dale, a small community just south of the Wyoming border, the Abbey of St. Walburga is a place where the voice of the Lord lives in the mountains, plains and rivers surrounding it. Named for the patroness of the Benedictine nuns, the abbey was founded in 1935 when three sisters from the Abbey of St. Walburg in Eichstätt, Bavaria were sent to a remote farm in what was Boulder. There, they built a strong foundation for the future of the abbey through hard work, poverty and an immovable trust in God’s providence. Today, the Benedictine nuns of Walburga humbly carry out the good works of the Benedictine order and carry on the legacy started nearly a millennium ago in 1035, when the original Walburg abbey in Eichstätt was founded.

San Luis, CO

Photo by Jeremy Elliot

Moving into the southern most regions of the State of Colorado, the Catholic roots of the region become much more evident. The oldest town in Colorado, San Luis, was founded in 1851 on the Feast of St. Louis, and predates the official founding of Colorado as a state by 25 years. The town is located along the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, which translates to “Blood of Christ.” One of the main attractions of the small town of just over 600 is a shrine at the town’s local Catholic parish. The Shrine of the Stations of the Cross was built by the parishioners of Sangre de Cristo Parish and the beautiful stations were designed and sculpted by native San Luis sculptor Huberto Maesta.

Capilla de Viejo San Acacio, Costilla County, CO

Photo from Wikicommons

Just to the west of the town of San Luis lies one of Colorado’s oldest gems. The Chapel of Old St. Acacius, or Capilla de Viejo San Acacio as it’s known to the locals, is the oldest non-Native American religious site in Colorado that’s still active today. While the building of the church cannot be dated precisely, it was likely completed sometime in the 1860s. The namesake of the church comes from St. Acacius of Byzantium, a third century martyr. Near the church is the small village of San Acacio, which a local tradition holds got its name after one of the earliest San Luis Valley settlements, originally called Culebra Abajo, was attacked by a band of Ute in 1853. As the Ute attackers approached, the villagers asked for the intercession of St Acacius, a popular saint among their people. The Ute suddenly halted and fled before they reached the town, scared off by a vision of well-armed warriors defending it. In gratitude for this salvation, the village was renamed San Acacio, and the villagers built a mission church in honor of the saint.