It’s hard to imagine just 150 years ago, Bishop Joseph Projectus Machebeuf traveled in his covered wagon establishing different mission churches in Colorado. Two other priests, Father J.J. Gibbons and Monsignor Joseph Bosetti, followed Bishop Machebeuf in spreading the faith to the hard to access mountain towns in Colorado.
Now with most Denver residents having multiple Catholic churches within a convenient five-mile radius, there is a renewed curiosity to see how the early Church in Colorado looked.
A New Initiative
TRECC (Trail of Early Colorado Catholicism), a group formed from young adults at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, will take several trips this summer to walk in the footsteps of these men and visit some of the churches they established. Father Ron Cattany, pastor at the Cathedral, will serve as a spiritual guide and history buff to the pilgrims.
“You had these priests who were outdoorsmen by necessity as pioneers to Colorado 150 years ago,” Cattany said “and now we have a new generation of 20 and 30-year-olds who love the outdoors, who love the Colorado mountains, and who love to hike that want to go and explore some of these areas that were critical to the establishment of the Church in Colorado.”
These three men not only touched the Church in Colorado, but each had a personal impact on Father Cattany.
“This was all God’s providence that I began to get a familiarity with each one of these priests,” he said.
When thinking of North American Mission churches, Wila Cather’s novel Death Comes for the Archbishop might come to mind, or mission churches in New Mexico. But Colorado was also mission territory for these priests traveling from Europe.
Originally from France, Bishop Machebeuf traveled to the West shortly after Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, the protagonist of Cather’s book.
Archbishop Lamy appointed Machebeuf as Vicar Apostolic to Colorado and Utah, after several other assignments in the West. During his 29 years serving the mission churches he traveled more than 250,000 miles on horseback, Father Cattany said.
TRECC is starting with Bishop Machebeuf, the first bishop of Colorado, but also with the bishop’s first mission, Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Georgetown, Father Cattany said. He will celebrate Mass at the church, then the group will hike in the Holy Cross area.
“After his death they referred to him as the apostle of Colorado,” Father Cattany said. “He gets here in 1860 and by 1866 he’s already established a mission up in Georgetown.”
Mount Machebeuf, located just east of Loveland Pass, is named after him and is the site of the second TRECC hike on August 3.
Farther southwest, Bishop Machebeuf appointed Father J.J. Gibbons to serve the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in 1880.
Father Cattany realized a personal connection when he discovered Father Gibbons established Presentation of Our Lady, the parish where Father Cattany grew up.
TRECC is saving a pilgrimage tracing Father Gibbons’ footsteps until a later date, since the Sangre de Cristo mountains are at least a four hour drive from Denver.
Most recent to shape the Church in Colorado is Monsignor Joseph Bosetti, arriving in 1911. Msgr. Bosetti built a camp for boys, Saint Malo’s in Allenspark. He was also a lover of the opera and started the Grand Opera Company, using its profits to fund Catholic Charities during the Great Depression, Father Cattany said.
“My fascination with Bosetti started years before I even knew that God was calling me to seminary,” Father Cattany said. He collected opera programs and recognized Msgr. Bosetti’s name.
Father Cattany started a Bosetti concert series at the Cathedral after being appointed pastor, a free-of-charge way for people to have access to the arts. These two priests have another connection: Msgr. Bosetti was pastor at the Cathedral Basilica all of his years in Colorado except one.
The third TRECC expedition on August 17 will focus on Msgr. Bosetti, with Mass at the St. Catherine of Sienna Chapel at St. Malo’s and a hike in the surrounding area.