Soup kitchen saved, prayers answered at parish ministry in Aurora

Mark Haas

Sitting in her small office at the Friends of St. Andrew Hospitality Center in Aurora, Siobhan Latimer focuses her eyes on a small statue of Jesus and holds back tears as she talks about how this ministry of Queen of Peace Parish will get to stay in the building that they love.

“I was getting nervous,” said Latimer, the director of the soup kitchen. “And I thought ‘I am sorry I should have trusted you all along, but I am human, and I got nervous.’”

Friends of St. Andrew was started by Queen of Peace parishioners in 1986, but when the long-time owner of the building they rent on Dallas Street passed away in 2016, the new owners put the property up for sale. Queen of Peace couldn’t afford the asking price, so the parish community did their best to put their faith in God to provide a way for them to continue serving the less fortunate.

“A lot of praying,” said Latimer. “But it had gone on for a long enough time that we finally just said ‘It is in your hands, all we ask now is that your will be done. You know what ours is, but we accept your will — whatever is for this — and right after that, the guy bought it.”

The “guy” is a business owner in Aurora who has asked to remain anonymous, but he bought the building and told ‘Friends of St. Andrew’ that they will remain the tenants, providing an answer to their prayers.

“I said ‘Jesus, you heard us, you listened, you actually listened to us,’” Latimer said. “And all I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you.”

‘For I was hungry, and you gave me food’

Friends of St. Andrew is the only soup kitchen in Aurora, and every Monday to Friday a rotating group of 70 volunteers serve 100-150 hot meals to those in need.

“I love it down here, it is fulfilling to be here,” said Hannah Rottman, who has volunteered for 18 years. “I was a teacher for 27 years and I have always liked working with people and it seems like a lot of our hungry and homeless are forgotten.”

Volunteers prepare soup to serve to those in need at the Friends of St. Andrew soup kitchen in Aurora. Operated by Queen of Peace Parish, the kitchen was going to be sold by the previous owner and shut down, but anonymous buyer purchased the kitchen so it could stay in operation. (Photos by Mark Haas)

The center is actually about five miles from Queen of Peace, but its location just off of Colfax Avenue positions it to serve roughly 27,000 people a year. And Friends is more than just a soup kitchen; the service center also provides food baskets, toiletries, help with photo IDs, a free telephone, and the option for their guests to use the center for their mailing address.

“Every person has a different story,” says Rottman. “It is not all people that don’t want to work, it is people that do want to work. Maybe they lost their job because they were sick or something happened, but you try and help each individual the best you can.”

Faith through adversity

Father Felix Medina, the pastor at Queen of Peace, said despite the uncertainty there was never any talk of stopping the ministry.

“It was a time to really turn to the Lord and say, ‘Lord please do something,’” said Father Medina. “If we need to move, we move. If we need to go on the streets for a while, we will go on the streets, and we will be there serving the people, but tell us, tell us what you want.’”

As word about Friends’ situation begin to spread, multiple people reached out with offers to help, and thanks to the generosity of the anonymous new owner, Queen of Peace won’t have to find a new home.

“It was a great confirmation that the Lord knows what we desire, the Lord is attentive to our prayers, and the Lord always does what’s best for us,” said Father Medina. “Sometimes God wants us to change, and have a completely new direction for the ministry, but in this case, he said, ‘No, you are doing well, and I want you to stay.’”

Father Medina said throughout the process he would visit regularly with the volunteers, and that he was encouraged by how faithful they remained.

“The Lord tests his apostles,” said Father Medina. “I think all of scripture is about how we can be more reliant on God, and less reliant on ourselves. That was my prayer: ‘Lord you are testing us, because you love us and because you want us to rely more on you and be more focused on you, and we know that you will take care of us.’”

COMING UP: Fifty years of building Christ’s community together at Queen of Peace

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Fifty years of building Christ’s community together at Queen of Peace

Amidst capital campaign, Denver’s most diverse parish source of a ‘new Pentecost’

Roxanne King

Queen of Peace Parish in Aurora, while predominately middle to lower income, is the most diverse in the archdiocese and among the busiest.

It is a beacon of hope for immigrants, refugees, the poor, and for the average Catholic seeking the sacraments and/or deeper faith formation. This year the parish turns 50, but to continue its service to the congregation and to the wider Catholic and Aurora communities, the church needs to build a new $12.5 million parish center to replace its current outdated and unsafe facility. With $4.6 million pledged since November, a dramatic success given the parishioners income levels, they have nearly reached their $5 million capital campaign goal.

“This is a great accomplishment for this community, which is more than 50 percent immigrant,” said Father Felix Medina, pastor since 2013.  “From the moment I arrived, I have been aware of the urgent need to address the challenge of our great growth in parishioners and our lack of functional facilities to accommodate our many services and groups.”

More than 12,000 people walk through the parish’s doors every week and are served by some 100 different ministries and activities, ranging from Mass (6,000 people attend weekly) and religious education (1,200 students are in religious education); to social ministry, including Aurora’s only soup kitchen, and a St. Vincent de Paul Society, to pro-life apostolates that offer material and spiritual aid to needy mothers, to faith-building charisms and community-building cultural groups.

“The motto for our campaign, Building Christ’s community together, summarizes what our parish has done for thousands of people during these last five decades,” Father Medina said. “The beauty of the Catholic Church, which is for people of every language and color, is manifested here at Queen of Peace.”

In a letter of support for the parish’s building plans, auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez, concurred.

“Queen of Peace is the parish with the most diversity of nations and people in the archdiocese,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “God has given to you the responsibility and blessing of welcoming and serving immigrants from all over the world … who are seeking the comfort of God in a new and unknown place.”

“This parish has always welcomed people from outside,” Father Medina explained, noting that initially Queen of Peace served people from across the United States located at three military facilities active in Aurora, just one of which remains.

Aurora, CO – Pastor Father Felix Medina seeks to build a new parish center to bring Denver’s most diverse Catholic church together. (photo by Andrew Wright)

In recent decades, ethnic diversity in the city has swelled, making Aurora a “minority-majority city,” meaning the total population of minority groups is larger than the white, non-Hispanic or Latino groups, according to the city’s 2016 demographic report. In Aurora Public Schools, 130 countries and 166 languages are represented among the student population.

“The new parish center will bring together people from more than 100 nations,” Father Medina said, referring to his congregation’s diversity.

Established on June 12,1968 by Archbishop James Casey, on Sept. 4 that year, Father Frank McCullough, OMI, oversaw a groundbreaking for the first parish structure, which included a 40-seat chapel, rectory and offices. In 1970, a second facility was built, which included a chapel, a gym, meeting rooms and a kitchen. Five years later, as the parish expanded, a 1,200-seat church was built.

In 1987, the Oblates of Mary left and the Denver Archdiocese appointed the first diocesan pastor of the parish, Father Bill Breslin. That same year, Queen of Peace opened a day hospitality center for the homeless at a nearby location. In 1999, Archbishop Charles Chaput dedicated a new church building.

Vince and Dini Zagarella have worshiped at Queen of Peace since 1969, when the parish, consisting of a handful of families, held Mass at the local Seventh Day Adventist Church.

“Their services were on Saturday and ours were on Sunday,” Vince Zagarella recalled with a chuckle.

“We’ve grown from an intimate, fairly affluent parish to a parish of many, many nationalities that is no longer affluent,” added Dini Zagarella.

Transplants from New York, the Zagarellas relish their parish’s diversity. Their three children, who are now grown with families of their own, made their sacraments at Queen of Peace.

“It’s our home,” Dini Zagarella said.

The couple has held various leadership positions in the parish and currently serve as honorary chairs of the capital campaign

“It’s great that we’ve reached almost $5 million, but we need a lot more than that,” Dini Zagarella said. “We just keep praying God will help us.”

The parish determined its center was no longer adequate back in 2005, but an economic downturn and other setbacks forced the congregation to put their hopes for a new parish center on hold. Given the deplorable condition of the current parish center, waiting is no longer an option.

“It is falling apart,” Father Medina said. “There are leaks in the rooms, leaks in the foundation, mold, asbestos, out of code wooden floors. The shingles are falling apart. The old building needs to be torn down and a new one built over it.”

“Eventually, our parish center will be condemned,” Vince Zagarella said. “It’s beyond repair and embarrassing. We had to put good money into stopping the leaks before we even started the capital campaign.”

To cover the total building project cost, the parish plans to augment capital campaign proceeds with savings and building fund monies, a grant, a loan, the possible sale of a property,

and by fundraising among outside sources, such as former parishioners.

“We need outside funds,” Vince Zagarella said.

Aurora, CO – parishioners and the community of Queen of Peace parish (photo by Andrew Wright)

The parish hopes that out of gratitude for its generous service to former parishioners and to the wider community, people may be willing to help the congregation reach their goal as they approach their 50th anniversary. A new parish center is essential to continue the new evangelization at Queen of Peace, the pastor said.

“It will make possible the continued teaching and integrating of so many into our society and into the Church,” Father Medina said, “helping them to be good Catholic citizens of our society—responsible and equipped for the challenges of living their faith in the world today.”

Father Medina, a native Spaniard who received his call to the priesthood through the words of St. John Paul II while attending Denver’s 1993 World Youth Day and providentially was sent to serve here, likened the ministry of his parish to a “new Pentecost.”

“There is one Spirit [here], the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Christ,” he said. “It is the only Spirit that can unify us in a new Pentecost. People were from every country at Pentecost [in the Acts of the Apostles] and yet they heard the apostles speak to them in their own language. We make that present again here on a daily basis. Each of us is from a different corner of the world, but we belong to the same Body of Christ.”

The parish’s anniversary events will highlight the many cultures represented among the congregation by featuring their different foods and music. A Marian pilgrimage in November will honor the parish’s patroness.

“We will have concerts and activities throughout the year,” Father Medina said.

Bishop Rodriguez will celebrate a bilingual Mass with former parishioners who are now priests on June 2 to kick off the anniversary. Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila will celebrate the anniversary Mass on Aug. 12. Founding parishioners are especially invited to join the current members at the anniversary events and liturgies.

“I … congratulate you on the Christian work of integration, hospitality and evangelization that you do for brothers and sisters from so many different countries, with different languages and cultures,” Archbishop Aquila said in a letter to the parish. “What you are about to undertake is the result of vision, good planning and courage. Your parish is a great witness to the people of Aurora, and thanks to your building efforts, it will serve many more people in the years to come.

“My prayers are with you as you begin this great journey of faith.”

 

QUEEN OF PEACE FAST FACTS

— Sacraments: 6,000 people attend Mass every weekend; 2,000 adults attend faith formation annually; 600 baptisms, 400 First Communions and 350-plus confirmations are conferred annually; 1,200 students attend Religious Education and more than 100 teens participate in youth groups annually; 80 couples a year are prepared for marriage.

— Social Ministry: the soup kitchen, the only one in Aurora, serves 30,000 people a year; Annually, 1,200 mothers and fathers attend parenting classes and 250 people attend English as a Second Language classes; the St. Vincent de Paul Society serves 50 needy families weekly.

— Pro-life: Gabriel House serves more than 300 people and distributes more than 7,000 diapers a month.

— Charisms and Cultural Groups: the parish offers Focolare and the Neocatechumenal Way, violin and matachines classes, an African Catholic society, a Filipino society, and more.

 

QUEEN OF PEACE

To find out more or to donate

Call: 303-364-1056

Online: www.queenofpeace.net