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A small Church with a big heart
Photo courtesy: Our Lady of Visitation and La Voz photo by Daryl Padilla

By James Mejía

Goat Hill residents have been fighting for a grocery store in their food desert neighborhood for years; they have, in fact, been fighting for everything since their founding in the 1940s. In this section of unincorporated Adams County you will find trailer parks but no actual parks, a lot of people walking but few sidewalks.

As the rest of the metro area has developed around Goat Hill, home values in the neighborhood have increased more slowly. Developed by hard-working Latinos, the area has stayed true to its agricultural and ethnic roots. Goats, chickens, pigs and other small animals that once roamed the neighborhood gave the region its name. Goat Hill also featured ample agricultural crops to feed those commuting to the Savory Mushroom plant that used to be positioned further north up Federal on 100th Avenue. As with most historic Latino neighborhoods, the centerpiece of Goat Hill is a church built and maintained by residents.

In the 1940s, Goat Hill residents built the first church out of adobe. Seeing an opportunity when the Denver Tramway Company turned to rubber tire buses and began to dispose of unwanted box cars, Father Joseph Trudell received two boxcars which were retrofit to include a steeple bell in time for Christmas mass, 1949. The boxcar chapel was used until 1954 when a cinderblock church was constructed across the street in the style of the old mission churches.

The church is currently served with a weekly mass through a partnership with Father John Paul Leyba of Holy Trinity Catholic Church. Just because Our Lady of Visitation Catholic church has never been large enough for a full time priest doesn’t mean the community impact has also been small.

Dave Martinez lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico but he spent his formative years in Goat Hill as a Visitation parishioner. “We grew up there since I was an infant. My parents were some of the very first people who moved to Goat Hill from the Mushroom Plant up on north Federal Blvd. My Mother just passed away four years ago this month. She lived to be 101 years old. I played my guitar for mass there and I made my first communion and confirmation there.”

Denver’s Ricky Garcia has been a member of Visitation since the 1950s and continues as a sixth generation member to this day, “My siblings and I made our First Communion there. My dad played the guitar and sang at mass. My brother’s and I were alter boys. We not only served mass, we also served for baptisms, weddings, funerals and of course, First Communions. The community is tightknit. It’s like we are all family.” Garcia continued, “We’re known as ‘The Biggest Little Church In Colorado’. This Church and Community have been a pillar in my life.”

The church may be best known for its community volunteerism. Whether it is the Romero sisters, Denise and Janelle, decorating for Christmas or Ernie Martinez penning a parish history, the church has always thrived on member contribution. Church member efforts culminate in the annual church bazaar that has become a highlight of the summer Catholic church outdoor festival circuit. For years, the bazaar brings local celebrity volunteers including former Denver mayor Federico Peña. His father-in-law, Lloyd Quintana, is a deacon at the church. The bazaar is successful enough to hire LeRoy Lemos’ security company whose firm has also worked on events as large as Cinco de Mayo festival. The bazaar takes place the third weekend in July.

The church stays true to its Latino roots with fundraising and community building events like Cocinando con
Las Abuelas – Cooking With Our Grandmothers. For $40 a class or $120 for all four, budding chefs are tutored by women who have used family recipes for decades. Starting with homemade tortillas, the classes also cover traditional classics including red chili egg cakes known as torta de huevo, baked pudding popular during Lent known as panocha and capirotada, a favorite bread pudding dessert.

Parishoner Deb Colunga helps to organize the Abuelas cooking class. She has been a parishioner for 20 years and a two-year councilmember on the 10 person management board chaired by Pierre Lopez. Colunga is testimony to the volunteer spirit alive in the church, “We want to bring awareness toward the church, how long we’ve been open, how we’ve been able to affect the community.” Colunga’s grandfather helped build the original adobe church on Goat Hill and her pride as a lifelong church member is contagious, “Our bazaar is known throughout the state. We are self-sufficient, a small church with a big heart. It’s just one of a kind.”

As with many community churches, Our Lady of Visitation is much more than a place to hold mass. The church serves as a hub for the Adams County Welfare Department and the Salvation Army’s programs for seniors. Both programs find the church central to their outreach efforts, especially for
Spanish-speaking populations in the area.

These days the church is going through growing pains mirrored in shifting demographics around the metro area. As the church population ages, the parish is looking for younger members, building renovations and a new priest.

A long-term church community goal is the renovation and expansion of their chapel through a committee chaired by top Denver Public Schools attorney, Jerome DeHerrera. The Roybal Corporation represented by Mike and Ron Roybal has completed conceptual drawings for a new church that maintains the mission context and architecture. The Roybal Corporation has ample experience constructing institutional buildings including Lena Lovato Archuleta Elementary School in northeast Denver and Richard T. Castro Elementary in west Denver for Denver Public Schools and the Sun Valley Community Center for the City of Denver.

The Roybal Corporation will be working with Denver-based Ernest J. Martinez Construction Management company which has been involved in area construction projects since 1975. The collaborating firms will present plans to the church board and the Adams County Building Department.

The Visitation web site invites those interested in the church, “Whether you are a longtime member or a first-time visitor to our small “family” church, it is truly our pleasure to have you with us this morning… Your participation in mass and worship, fellowship, educational or service opportunities is encouraged and welcomed.” For more information about Our Lady of Visitation Catholic Church, please email:





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