When Louisa Olivas passed away the last week of July, her family had hoped to hold a mass and rosary at their home parish of Our Lady of Visitation in north Denver. The Catholic Archdiocese denied that request, as it has all others since closing the small church at the end of April. Instead, the burial process took place where Olivas grew up in the San Luis Valley and a rosary was held at nearby Holy Trinity Church in Westminster.
In what might seem like the last chapter for the bootstrap parish founded by the hardworking farmers and ranchers of Goat Hill, members of the church have not stopped fighting for their right to worship in the structure literally built with their own hands. Instead, church members are redoubling their efforts, researching all available legal and administrative avenues for a solution; literally calling on higher powers, to reopen their beloved church.
After the last mass was held on April 30th, hundreds of parishioners hand carried 1,200 signed petitions to the Archdiocese headquarters located in south Denver. They were led in their protest by former Denver Mayor and church member, Federico Peña. The hundreds of protesters were denied an audience with Archbishop Samuel Aquila and left the petitions with Church administrators.
In a previous church meeting where Archdiocese officials were invited but declined attendance, Peña pointed out that that land where the church was built was donated by families with the understanding that the property would be held in trust. “You have one big legal problem,” Peña was quoted by television partner Denver 7, “If the Archdiocese decides to ultimately close down the church, the family demands, not asks… that you follow the law under the trust and you return the land and the building and everything to the parishioners.”
Since the forced closure, church members have reformed their administrative council into a nonprofit board of directors. Known as the Goat Hill Catholic Society, the new board kicked off in July, led by Chairwoman, Sandra Garcia. Their efforts include the creation of a new website, planning next year’s church bazaar, and fighting what they see as an unfounded termination of masses. “There really is no such thing as closure because they never followed the appropriate process,” said Garcia. “There are no issued decrees at all.”
An Archdiocese administrator replied to Garcia’s request for documentation of Church decreed closure by referring to Archbishop Samuel Aquila’s letter to the church, “…it makes more sense to integrate a small mission community into nearby established parishes.” As well as, “I remain convinced that the members of OLV will be well served by incorporating into the programs, structure, and sacramental life of Holy Trinity Parish, or other parishes nearby where the faithful of OLV live.”
A major issue of contention between the parties is whether the church is a “church” at all or rather a “mission”. A mission under the Archdiocese has diminished rights. Garcia offers that 70 years of Archdiocese assessments is proof enough that Our Lady of Visitation was a separate parish with commensurate administrative rights. “For decades this was the single biggest expense for our church.”
Garcia contends the Archdiocese closed their church because of its growing property value and the perception that their working-class community would be easy to dismiss. In a May article written for the Denver Catholic e-newsletter, Denver Bishop, Jorge Rodriguez, rebuts these claims. “In making this decision, the goal was never to seize the savings of the mission, nor was it to sell the property. In fact, the idea was to leave it as a meeting place, to be used for special occasions or celebrations, for the annual bazaar, and other similar events.”
OLV parishioners don’t accept this explanation. “It’s heartbreaking what’s going on with our parishioners. We have likened ourselves to pilgrims wandering the desert.” said Garcia. “Why would the Church be in business of turning Catholics away?”
The Goat Hill Catholic Society is planning their next fundraiser for November 4th. Their website is
www.goathillcatholics.org. Parishioners have been redirected to Holy Trinity Church on 76th and Federal.
“The Archdiocese declined comment on this article.”