Sister Alicia V. Cuarón Education Fund honors CSJD’s Family Services program

Denver Catholic Staff

In April 2018, Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA) and Boston College’s Center for Social Innovation identified Centro San Juan Diego as one of 64 “innovative and solutions-oriented ministries globally that are accompanying and aiding refugees and migrants.” For the Archdiocese of Denver, it is an honor for Centro to be recognized by such a prestigious donor organization on a global level for its programs that integrate Hispanics into society in the United States.

From 1990 to 2010, the Hispanic population in Colorado jumped from 13 percent to 21 percent and continues to grow. Responding to the influx of Hispanic immigrants in Denver and throughout northern Colorado, representatives from the Hispanic Office of the Archdiocese of Denver met in early 2003 with parish and community leaders to discuss the pastoral and social needs in the Hispanic community.  There were multiple needs identified, including spiritual and educational.

This year, Centro will witness a two-fold blessing. 2018 marks the 15th anniversary of Centro’s highly-applauded continuum of services to Hispanics, and coinciding with that, Centro is announcing the formation of the Sister Alicia V. Cuarón Education Fund. The fund is being established to honor the legacy of Sister Alicia V. Cuarón, founder of Centro San Juan Diego’s Family Services program, formerly known as Bienestar Family Services. Visualizing, implementing, developing and institutionalizing efforts to help immigrants transition into mainstream society has always been at the center of Sister Alicia’s mission.

In 1992, after a successful education and business career, Sister Alicia was called to religious life and entered the Sisters of Saint Francis of Penance and Christian Charity at Marycrest. She was one of the first Latinas in Colorado and in her family to earn a doctorate. Based on her upbringing as a first generation Mexican-American, Sister Alicia has focused on empowerment of immigrants and other Spanish-speaking individuals through leadership development, education and community services. Sister Alicia, whose parents migrated from Mexico in the 1920s, witnessed firsthand the struggles immigrants endure, especially regarding education.  “Nothing,” she says, “is more important than an education and knowing, with pride, your history, culture and heritage.”

Centro is Colorado’s leading resource center for education within the Hispanic community. Today, nearly 1.1 million Hispanics live in Colorado. More than 66 percent of Catholics within the Archdiocese of Denver are Hispanic, with 33 percent of all parishes celebrating Mass in Spanish. An example of how Centro is leading the way toward growing opportunities for the work force and successful integration is the existing online bachelor’s and master’s degree program offered through an international collaboration with a Mexican university, Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla (UPAEP). Centro’s adult education courses currently serve nearly 5,000 Hispanics annually.

Through their participation in various programs, former students have reached unimaginable heights in their careers, and Hispanic families have become communities of faith, hope and love through their involvement in educational and leadership classes. Given this astounding potential, the introduction of the Sister Alicia V. Cuarón Education Fund is most opportune. For as Sister Alicia recently asserted, “You will never realize the ripple effect of your gift.  When you help one person, you also help their family and their relatives; you ultimately improve the whole of American society.  For certain, the benefits of an education stay with you for life.”

Juan Carlos Reyes, Director of Centro, reaffirms Sister Alicia’s sentiments by stating, “It is my desire to help Centro move forward, to continue its great legacy thus far and to make sure Centro continues to be a place of hope and opportunity.  My personal goal is to build upon the foundation of success and accomplishments that was laid by Sister Alicia.”

As a former student, Reyes can attest to the difference Centro can make in the future of the Hispanic community in Colorado.

“Centro’s mission and work would not be possible without the support of generous donors who recognize that not only the Church, but all of us should invest in the Hispanic community,” he said.

Looking ahead, Centro remains committed to enriching many more lives. “Centro San Juan Diego has become an outstanding educational center in our country,” Sister Alicia said. “The dream would be to replicate the Centro model for other dioceses in the United States to improve more lives.”

As Director of Centro, one of Reyes’ goals is to extend the reach of services to where they are needed most, including the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains, “I am excited to continue this momentum and work with you to build a strong community where Hispanics can enjoy full participation.”

To donate to the Sister Alicia V. Cuarón Education Fund, visit centrosanjuandiego.org/donate or call 303-867-0614.

COMING UP: Local artists choose life in pro-life art show

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For someone who’s always been in love with art, it’s not surprising that Brett Lempe first encountered God through beauty. Lempe, a 25-year-old Colorado native, used his talent for art and new-found love of God to create a specifically pro-life art show after a planned show was cancelled because of Lempe’s pro-life views.

Lempe was “dried out with earthly things,” he said. “I was desperately craving God.”

Three years ago, while living in St. Louis, Mo., Lempe google searched for a church to visit and ended up at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.

“I was captivated by the beauty of the 40 million mosaic tiles,” he said.

Lempe is not exaggerating. This Cathedral is home to 41.5 million tiles that make up different mosaics around the sanctuary. Witnessing the beauty of this church is what sparked his conversion, he said, and was his first major attraction towards Catholicism.

Lempe continued on to become Catholic, then quit his job several months after joining the Church to dedicate himself completely to art. Most of his work post-conversion is religious art.

Lempe planned to display a non-religious body of artwork at a venue for a month when his contact at the venue saw some of Lempe’s pro-life posts on Facebook. Although none of the artwork Lempe planned to display was explicitly pro-life or religious, the venue cancelled the show.

“I was a little bit shocked at first,” he said. “Something like me being against abortion or being pro-life would get a whole art show cancelled.”

Lempe decided to counter with his own art show, one that would be explicitly pro-life.

On Sept. 7, seven Catholic artists displayed work that gave life at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Denver.

“Catholicism lends itself to being life-giving,” Lempe said.

The show included a variety of work from traditional sacred art, icons, landscapes, to even dresses.

Students for Life co-hosted the event, and 10 percent of proceeds benefited the cause. Lauren Castillo, Development director and faith-based program director at Students for Life America gave the keynote presentation.

Castillo spoke about the need to be the one pro-life person in each circle of influence, with coworkers, neighbors, family, or friends. The reality of how many post-abortive women are already in our circles is big, she said.

“Your friend circle will get smaller,” Castillo said. “If one life is saved, it’s worth it.”

Pro-Life Across Mediums

Brett Lempe’s Luke 1:35

“This painting is the first half at an attempt of displaying the intensity and mystical elements of Luke 1:35,” Lempe said. “This work is influenced somewhat by Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ painting as I try to capture the moment when the “New Adam” is conceived by Our Blessed Mother.”

Claire Woodbury’s icon of Christ Pantokrator

“I was having a difficult time making that icon,” she said. “I was thinking it would become a disaster.”

She felt Jesus saying to her, “This is your way of comforting me. Is that not important?”

“Icons are very important to me,” she said. “I guess they’re important to Him too.”

Katherine Muser’s “Goodnight Kisses”

“Kids naturally recognize the beauty of a baby and they just cherish it,” Muser said of her drawing of her and her sister as children.

Brie Shulze’s Annunciation

“There is so much to unpack in the Annunciation,” Schulze said. “I wanted to unpack that life-giving yes that our Blessed Mother made on behalf of all humanity.”

“Her yes to uncertainty, to sacrifice, to isolation, to public shame and to every other suffering that she would endure is what allowed us to inherit eternal life.”

“Her fiat was not made in full knowledge of all that would happen, but in love and total surrender to the will of God.”

All photos by Makena Clawson