A home for our fathers: Prophet Elijah House officially opened for retired priests

Moira Cullings

Life is coming full circle for several retired priests in the Archdiocese of Denver.

“This is a coming home for our priests,” Deacon Mark Wolbach told a crowd of more than 50 people at the grand opening of the Prophet Elijah House on April 24.

“For many of our priests, they started here. This is where they discerned the priesthood,” he said. “This is where they formed their hearts to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

“It’s becoming that they come back here to the place where it all began.”

The Prophet Elijah House, a brand-new home for retired priests, is located on the campus of the St. John Paul II Center — the same area where many of these priests attended then-St. Thomas Seminary.

The house, which offers its residents a comfortable place to enjoy their retired years, “is a great blessing and something that the archdiocese has talked about for over 40 years,” Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila told the crowd during the opening ceremony.

“It’s already served as a blessing for those who are living here now,” he said. “It’s been a tremendous service to our priests in helping them and letting them know that we are with them.”

Now that the project has received its final inspections and obtained its certificate of occupancy, three priests have already relocated to the Prophet Elijah House, and more are expected to move in during the coming months.

The grand opening of the Prophet Elijah House retirement community for priests at the St. John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization took place on April 24. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Archdiocese of Denver)

Other priests currently in active ministry have added their name to the Prophet Elijah House registry and intend on moving in when they reach retirement.

Deacons Robert Rinne and Mark Wolbach minister full time to the priests living in the retirement home, and the Carmelite nuns who also live on campus clean each priest’s room once a week. The priests are also provided with one meal a day and opportunities for fellowship and spiritual growth.

Father Tom McCormick, who retired in 2007, moved in this past December, just after discovering he had bladder cancer. During the weeks that followed the diagnosis, he had multiple surgeries and needed extra care.

Being able to receive assistance from his fellow residents, particularly Father Roger Lascelle, was humbling.

“Since my surgery, he’s been one of the major helps for me as I needed physical or even caregiving assistance,” said Father McCormick.

And although living with additional comforts is “a little adjustment” for the priest, who served the archdiocese actively for 60 years, he is grateful for the chance to retire alongside his peers.

“I’m appreciative of the fact that they built the house and have given us the opportunity to be here,” he said.

Just two doors down from Father McCormick is Monsignor Raymond Jones, which is fitting for the priests, who were roommates in 1951 when they were students at St. Thomas Seminary.

Being able to continue living in fellowship even into retirement is a joy for Father McCormick.

“For me, a strong part of priesthood is fraternity,” he said. “I look forward to a greater fraternity when the place has been around a while and more people will come.

“The future of fraternity is here.”

Retired priests living in the Prophet Elijah House are provided with a weekly room-cleaning service by the Carmelite nuns, one meal a day and opportunities for fellowship and spiritual growth. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Archdiocese of Denver)

Several generous donors showed their support for archdiocesan priests with their contributions to the Prophet Elijah House, including families who sponsored priests’ suites, stained glass windows and the “Our Lady of the Memorare” chapel.

During the final opening remarks before Archbishop Aquila cut a ribbon outside the Prophet Elijah House, Deacon Steven Stemper, whose family was one of several donors in attendance, addressed the priests, including those who will enjoy the retirement home years down the road.

“You’ve served us wholeheartedly and unreservedly and exclusively,” said Deacon Stemper. “There is no one that we could be more grateful for than you — our priests.

“We hope and pray that all the residents here today and for the countless years to come will reside knowing of our gratefulness for their lives and their dedicated service.”

COMING UP: Five Hispanic-American saints perhaps you didn’t know

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The American continent has had its share of saints in the last five centuries. People will find St. Juan Diego, St. Rose of Lima or St. Martin de Porres among the saints who enjoy greater popular devotion. Yet September, named Hispanic Heritage Month, invites a deeper reflection on the lives of lesser-known saints who have deeply impacted different Latin-American countries through their Catholic faith and work, and whose example has the power to impact people anywhere around the world. Here are just a few perhaps you didn’t know.

St. Toribio de Mogrovejo
1538-1606
Peru

Born in Valladolid, Spain, Toribio was a pious young man and an outstanding law student. As a professor, his great reputation reached the ears of King Philip II, who eventually nominated him for the vacant Archdiocese of Lima, Peru, even though Toribio was not even a priest. The Pope accepted the king’s request despite the future saint’s protests. So, before the formal announcement, he was ordained a priest, and a few months later, a bishop. He walked across his archdiocese evangelizing the natives and is said to have baptized nearly half a million people, including St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres. He learned the local dialects, produced a trilingual catechism, fought for the rights of the natives, and made evangelization a major theme of his episcopacy. Moreover, he worked devotedly for an archdiocesan reform after realizing that diocesan priests were involved in impurities and scandals. He predicted the date and hour of his death and is buried in the cathedral of Lima, Peru.

St. Mariana of Jesus Paredes
1618-1645
Ecuador

St. Mariana was born in Quito, modern-day Ecuador, and not only became the country’s first saint, but was also declared a national heroine by the Republic of Ecuador. As a little girl, Mariana showed a profound love for God and practiced long hours of prayer and mortification. She tried joining a religious order on two occasions, but various circumstances would not permit it. This led Mariana to realize that God was calling her to holiness in the world. She built a room next to her sister’s house and devoted herself to prayer and penance, living miraculously only off the Eucharist. She was known to possess the gifts of counsel and prophecy. In 1645, earthquakes and epidemics broke out in Quito, and she offered her life and sufferings for their end. They stopped after she made her offering. On the day of her death, a lily is said to have bloomed from the blood that was drawn out and poured in a flowerpot, earning her the title of “The Lily of Quito.”

St. Theresa of Los Andes
1900-1920
Chile

St. Theresa of Jesus of Los Andes was Chile’s first saint and the first Discalced Carmelite to be canonized outside of Europe. Born as Juana, the future saint was known to struggle with her temperament as a child. She was proud, selfish and stubborn. She became deeply attracted to God at the age six, and her extraordinary intelligence allowed her to understand the seriousness of receiving First Communion. Juana changed her life and became a completely different person by the age of 10, practicing mortification and deep prayer. At age 14, she decided to become a Discalced Carmelite and received the name of Theresa of Jesus. Deeply in love with Christ, the young and humble religious told her confessor that Jesus told her she would die soon, something she accepted with joy and faith. Shortly thereafter, Theresa contracted typhus and died at the age of 19. Although she was 6 months short of finishing her novitiate, she was able to profess vows “in danger of death.” Around 100,000 pilgrims visit her shrine in Los Andes annually.

St. Laura Montoya
1874-1949
Colombia

After Laura’s father died in war when she was only a child, she was forced to live with different family members in a state of poverty. This reality kept her from receiving formal education during her childhood. What no one expected is that one day she would become Colombia’s first saint. Her aunt enrolled her in a school at the age of 16, so she would become a teacher and make a living for herself. She learned quickly and became a great writer, educator and leader. She was a pious woman and wished to devote herself to the evangelization of the natives. As she prepared to write Pope Pius X for help, she received the pope’s new Encyclical Lacrymabili Statu, on the deplorable condition of Indians in America. Laura saw it as a confirmation from God and founded the Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart and St. Catherine of Siena, working for the evangelization of natives and fighting or their behalf to be seen as children of God.

St. Manuel Morales
1898-1926
Mexico

Manuel was a layman and one of many martyrs from Mexico’s Cristero War in the 1920s. He joined the seminary as a teen but had to abandon this dream in order to support his family financially. He became a baker, married and had three children. This change, however, did not prevent him from bearing witness to the faith publicly. He became the president of the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, which was being threatened by the administration of President Plutarco Elías Calles. Morales and two other leaders from the organization were taken prisoners as they discussed how to free a friend priest from imprisonment through legal means. They were beaten, tortured and then killed for not renouncing to their faith. Before the firing squad, the priest begged the soldiers to forgive Morales because he had a family. Morales responded, “I am dying for God, and God will take care of my children.” His last words were, “Long live Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe!”