Churches Reach Milestones, Still Need Help
Can you imagine a Leadville skyline without its two highest steeples? Think about it, they dominate some of Leadville’s most iconic pictures, posters and videos. Thankfully, when it comes to these holy spires breaking forth from the historic Annunciation and St. Joseph Churches, a group of dedicated faithful and community volunteers are making sure that these architectural beacons are forever part of the Leadville vista.
So, as the calendar enters into one of the holiest times of the year, Leadville Today brings readers an update about the ongoing renovation efforts at both of these historic buildings. While both structures recently marked significant milestones, there’s still work to be done, and ways for residents, second homeowners, and visitors to help.
Answered prayers. Hard work. Dedicated commitment. And so it goes at Leadville’s two Catholic churches: Annunciation and St. Joseph as renovation efforts move into year three. And while the religious focus is on the houses of worship, for local historic preservationists, it’s about two of the city’s most notable structures. If you’re a Baby Doe Tabor history buff, take note, because her funeral was held in one of these churches. If you’re a fan of the Titanic story, which includes Leadville’s Unsinkable Molly Brown, then you should know she was married in one of these churches. One of these churches was touted in the former Rocky Mountain News, as having hand-painted, floor-to-ceiling frescoes comparable to Italy’s Sistine Chapel!
But perhaps more importantly, these churches are the places where many Leadville couples exchanged their wedding vows. It’s where their children and grandchildren were baptized, received First Holy Communion and were confirmed. Graduating classes from Lake County High School from as far back as anyone can remember, have donned their caps and gowns to receive their annual blessings at the Baccalaureate Mass every spring. Just last week, the crowd-pleasing Our Lady of Guadalupe dancers marched from St. Joseph to Annunciation Church as part of their annual pilgrimage, celebrating the December 12 Feast Day. These churches are still very much part of the Leadville fabric, even if their pews may not be full every Sunday.
Historically, the dedicated faithful who built and tended to these churches also made sure that Leadville built its first hospital: St. Vincent. The Catholic community was also instrumental in establishing and supporting quality schools, as younger families moved into the area during many of Leadville’s boom-and-bust cycles. Do you know someone who went to St. Mary’s School?
For all these reasons and more, it was encouraging to witness the milestone event this past October, as Father Rafael Torres-Rico re-opened St. Joseph for services. Located on W. 2nd Street, the 118-year old church held a special Mass to commemorate the event, after more than 2 years of necessary repair work and historic renovations were completed.
It was a standing-room-only crowd on October 22 as the ceremonial incense floated through the house of worship, eventually masking the lingering scent of freshly stained and restored pews. That’s right, each and every pew has been removed, repaired, sanded, stained and re-installed – what a task! And while the pews’ kneelers are still undergoing their own re-upholstering process, most in the congregation didn’t seem to mind kneeling directly on the floor, especially because it’s newly carpeted
Another improvement that bowed heads may have noticed is the newly tiled center aisle, now inlaid with magnificent medallions along the way. Each circular, tiled inlay has a significant meaning, which was revealed in grand measure by Father Rafael, who was also joined by Leadville Deacon Tony Werckman and visiting Catholic Priests Fr. Leo Smith and Fr. Mike Kerrigan.
Church-goers were complimenting the new granite stonework that now encircles the altar. The area has been completely stripped down, patched and repaired, with lower portion of the walls re-designed with granite rocks donated from another parish in Oklahoma. During the re-opening Mass, Father Rafael made mention of the countless hours of labor, especially from Leadville’s Hispanic Catholics that went into the unique stonework, which blends in nicely with the older religious artifacts. In addition, two new stone angels were donated from a family in Colorado Springs “as a gesture of solidarity and love for Holy Mother Church.”
For any doubters concerning the preservation of the hand-painted frescoes which grace the inside of the church from floor to ceiling, all those works remain in tack. Several in attendance for the re-opening of St. Joseph, commented that many of the historic pieces seemed to have found new life against the church’s new shine.
“But the work is not completely done. There is still much to do,” the priest reminded parishioners. More specifically, the new stairway up to the choir loft needs to be buttoned-up, the kneelers need to be re-installed into the pews, as well as the confessionals which were removed from the back of the church during recent renovation projects. Many of the listed projects seem to be of short order and easily tackled by any local construction worker. For readers looking to give a little time during the Christmas season, if you’re so moved contact Office Manager Kathy Micklich at 719-486-1382 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. However, please note that the parish office will be closed December 22 – January 1 in observance of the Christmas/New Year’s Holidays.
Readers should keep in mind, that is just St. Joseph Church. Last month, Rev. Torres-Rico updated parishioners about ongoing issues at Annunciation Church, located at E. 7th and Poplar Streets. In fact, the parish’s Finance Council has now released more formal details about the urgent repairs needed to that building.
However, just this past year there has already been significant improvements made to Annunciation Church as well. Completed in 2017, was a remodel to the Sacristy (the room behind the altar).
The walls and ceilings were repaired, updated lighting was installed and new cabinets were constructed to hold all of the religious artifacts and vessels need to conduct Mass and other sacraments. Deacon Tony Wreckman reported that 90% of these materials and 100% of the labor was donated in order to not only bring the space up to its deserved, respectable status, but to meet emergency exit needs in the church as well. Unfortunately, these upgrades could now be in jeopardy as the seeping water issue has re-surfaced and the situation needs to be re-addressed immediately.
Other improvements at this historic location included the parish hall. A group of Knights of Columbus members from the Highlands Ranch Catholic Community joined forces with Leadville parishioners and volunteers to completely remodeled the kitchen, and replace the flooring. Keep in mind, these are roll-up-you-sleeves, get-it-done kind of efforts, with a majority of the materials and efforts donated, rather than driven by the grant-pen, which can often be restricted to religious groups. A donation to these efforts is something to consider during the end-of-the-year charitable giving season, whether you’re a Catholic or not!
While Leadville’s two Catholic churches have seen a decline in attendance, as well as the buildings’ infrastructure since the late 20th century, the last 2 years since Rev. Rico-Torres’s arrival have put new wind into their sails. After all, the young priest’s “lean-in” approach was going to determine if the two historic churches would even still be standing in another 10 years.
The Catholic community has deep roots in Leadville, dating back to its pioneer days. However, by the 1990s, church numbers had declined significantly, eventually seeing two separate parishes blended into one: Holy Family Parish. For years, America’s highest city had a large enough congregation to maintain two Catholic parishes: one for west-siders at St. Joseph, and the other for east-siders at Annunciation. But as the mining industry fluxuates, so do local populations, including worshippers. By 2015, it was “roll-up-your-sleeves” time if the churches were to remain standing, much less open.
And maybe, that’s when Leadville brings its best, when it’s pushed right to the edge of extinction.
When Rev. Torres-Rico first arrived as Leadville’s pastor two years ago, the condition of the Rectory (the house adjacent to St. Joseph, set aside for the priest to live in) was nearly uninhabitable, with reports of the priest having to sleep in the pews for several nights as there was no heat in the residence. Since that disturbing announcement, many Catholics have stepped up to help, and both the residence and historic churches have seen marked improvement.
“It’s not enough to feel proud (of the churches), you have to be responsible as well,” Father Raphael preached. “It is important for the faithful to have a place of worship for God.”
For those interested in making a contribution to the Holy Family Parish “Building Campaign” you may do so by sending a check to 609 Poplar Street, Leadville CO 80461. For more details about the overall plan and projects you and your group can assist with, please contact Father Rafael Torres-Rico directly at email@example.com. The Parish’s Office Manager is Kathy Micklich, she may be reached by phone at 719-486-1382 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also connect with the local parish on the Leadville Catholic Youth Facebook Page.
Worshippers should note that all the Christmas Masses & New Year’s services will be held at St. Joseph Church as follows:
- Christmas Eve: 4:30 p.m. in English and 6:30 p.m. in English
- Christmas Day 9 a.m. in English, 12 Noon in Spanish
- January 1 New Year’s Day 9 a.m. in English, 12 Noon in Spanish
This report was researched and written by Kathleen Bedell, © Leadville Today 2017. No portion may be reproduced without express written consent from The Great Pumpkin, LLC at email@example.com.