The last mass allowed by the Archdiocese at Our Lady of Visitation church will be followed up with a weekly rosary outside the church – a literal Hail Mary – in hopes their message of faith will be heard. For now, the parish is closed. Repeated attempts to open dialogue with the Denver Archdiocese barely got off the ground and a last minute settlement to allow the church to remain open with one mass a week ended in frustration.
After mass on the last Sunday in April, just two weeks after the Easter holiday, two buses of parishioners made the trip to the home of Archbishop Samuel Aquino to protest what they considered to be the culmination of an unfair process, stripping bootstrap Catholics of their right to worship in the church they built themselves.
In a press release, OLV Parish Council member Bernadette Velasquez said, “Sunday is the end of nothing. “It is only the next chapter in the proud history of the Latino community. We will not have our legacy erased by those who fail to acknowledge the contributions of faithful Latino Catholics who helped build this Archdiocese.”
A shortage of local priests was part of the rationale cited by the Archdiocese in closing the church, but Parish Council Member, Sandra Garcia questions that reasoning, “Canceling OLV’s single weekly mass will not help the priest shortage. Our Lady of Visitation is the only church on the Archbishop’s chopping block. There are more than 1,100 weekly masses in the Archdiocese and OLV has only one of them. We are not even one-tenth of 1 percent. We’ve identified retired priests who are willing to celebrate mass but the Archbishop has forbidden them”.
Garcia’s generation perseverates with the same determination that built the church in the first place, but were still only able to achieve “mission” status, falling short of the “church” designation important for being assigned a full time pastor.
Another reason given by the Denver Archdiocese for closing the church is the increased cost of operations. OLV Business Liaison, Maria Grubser, finds no merit in that argument, “Our church is financially stable and makes a yearly profit. It sits on the same land my grandfather donated nearly 70 years ago. He gave the land so that the Goat Hill Neighborhood could have a place to worship. He meant for it to be a church.”
Parish Council President Pierre Lopez added, “Our Church has leaks in the roof that need to be fixed right now, and these problems will only get worse if we don’t address them soon. The Community has enough money in its accounts, but we have not be able to access the money to make these repairs.”
Finance may figure prominently in the church closing for other reasons; the land housing the buildings increased in value substantially once the route of a new nearby light rail stop became known.
The diminutive size of OLV belies the political expertise and community connectedness of its members. Former Denver Mayor and Secretary of Energy and Transportation, Federico Peña, headlines the parish member list. Peña, along with wife, Cindy, a former General Manager of
Denver 7 television station, have helped to lead the movement to save the church. Cindy’s father has been a deacon for several of the seven decades of the church’s existence.
Federico Peña participated in discussions with the Archdiocese held last week. The community considered the discussion a step forward in trying to find a way for their parish to remain open. Recent interventions by Bishop Rodriguez representing the Archdiocese heartened community members but a settlement still couldn’t be achieved. “Since Archbishop Aquila has refused to meet with us during the last five months, we are now taking our case to Pope Frances in Rome,” Peña said. “We are also prepared to take legal action to have the land and facilities returned to the OLV parishioners since the original trust intentions of Benito Garcia, who donated the land decades ago, have been violated by the Archdiocese”.
Peña asked for community help to fight, “We encourage everyone to support Our Lady of Visitation by contributing to the “Goat Hill Catholic Society”, a non-profit the community created to support their efforts to continue worshiping in their Church. Checks can be sent to 3210 W. 65th Avenue, Denver CO 80221.”
The Archdiocese of Denver did not return repeated calls for comment on this story.