Part Two: Annunciation: Go Tell It On The Mountain
By Kathy Bedell, © Leadville Today
Sometimes it just comes down to blind faith. The simple belief that for no reason, and in spite of all evidence to the contrary, all things will work out for good in the end. For many, blind faith is the cornerstone. However, for Father Rafael Torres-Rico, the cornerstone he found at the cross-section of W. 2nd and Maple Streets at St. Joseph’s Church was literally crumbling at his feet. And the situation was no better at Leadville’s other Catholic church, Annunciation at E. 7th and Poplar Streets.
That was September 2015, and most parishioners are not likely to forget Fr. Rafael’s sermon describing his first nights in Leadville spent sleeping in the pews at St. Joseph’s. The rectory (the priest’s living quarters next door to the church) was simply uninhabitable until repairs were made. Of course, those initial concerns were immediately addressed by senior church members, but still, it was tough to hear how far off the narrow path things had gotten.
In this Part Two of Leadville Today’s Annunciation: Go Tell It On The Mountain, readers are invited along as the story of Holy Family Parish steps into the 21st century with the completion of major renovation and repairs at both historic churches. Since its pioneer beginnings in the mining camps of Fryer Hill, through the rise and fall of tithing which paralleled the same boom-and-bust cycle of the town’s primary industry, this group of faithful pressed on in blind faith. Read Part One: Annunciation: Go Tell It On The Mountain.
Throughout its nearly 160-year-old history from the very first Mass held in a Leadville blacksmith shop, perhaps one of the most significant shifts for this Catholic community came at the turn of the last century. During the 1980s, Lake County was experiencing a demographic change as the Climax Mine closed, initiating an exodus of Biblical proportions, particularly when it came to Leadville’s generational Catholics. The families who had got married in, had their kids baptized and confirmed in, and said their final farewell to loved ones in these churches, had picked up and moved out; they had to follow the jobs.
However, just 10 years later, as the labor demand necessary to run neighboring world-class ski resorts was growing, it brought with it a migration of workers mostly from Mexico and Central America. For many of these newcomers, Leadville not only offered affordable housing but a close-knit community where they could raise a family, something that aligned with the heart of their Hispanic culture.
Soon, a new community was created and along with it a growing segment of Latino parishioners who began to fill in the gaps of a disenfranchised congregation. Known the world over as some of the most devout Catholics, they not only helped replenish the church coffers through tithing, but they also brought their own rich, religious traditions, now listed among Leadville’s favorite annual events.
One such occasion is the Our Lady of Guadalupe (Patron Saint of Mexico) procession, held annually to commemorate her Feast Day on December 12. This yearly march delights both the faithful as well as curious onlookers, as a sea of bright red, beaded-and-bangled procession of dancers honors the Mother of Jesus in a beautiful display of dancing and drumming.
While the more established Leadville Catholic families could still be found among the pews, the beginning of seperate English and Spanish speaking services was established. Then on Feb. 18, 2013, Holy Family Parish was raised canonically to the status of being named a Center for Hispanic Ministry, a personal parish to minister to the Hispanic faithful for the Western Deanery. Eighteen months later, Fr. Rafael accepted his placement in Leadville by the Colorado Springs Dioceses. Would he be the shepherd who possessed the spiritual and cultural gifts necessary to bring together a bi-lingual, bi-cultural parish?
Unfortunately, for the well-educated pastor from Mexico, his list of priestly duties was almost immediately yoked to construction, snow removal, historic preservation, and the restoration of two of the oldest churches in Colorado. Fortunately, this is also where stories of great strength, and blind faith, begin.
In early 2016, Holy Family Parish was able to get a complete assessment of the Annunciation Church property which includes the church, social hall and parish office building. The engineer’s main concerns were the south wall of the parish hall, as well as the west walls of both the parish social hall and the Sacristy of Annunciation Church (the area behind the altar, unseen by most church-goers). This assessment added to the ongoing issues at St. Joseph’s Church which was undergoing its own repairs and restoration works, as reported HERE by Leadville Today.
However, in September 2018, Annunciation Church was officially closed for repairs; safety concerns had peaked with Fr. Rafael regularly updating parishioners, giving them tours after Mass of the sacristy. Since then extensive renovations and upgrades have been, until finally on December 8, 2019, Annunciation Church was finally re-opened with the following report of the work done.
Of all Leadville’s churches, Annunciation seems to be the most cathedral-esc. From the moment you enter its front doors off Poplar Street, the eye is drawn up, initially to the altar and then to the giant crucifix above it. Once inside the heart of the building the 50-foot walls, dressed in stained glass and Stations of the Cross, the magnificent space of the place reveals itself. So, it was hard to fathom that most of the recent painting, staining and detail work was done by one man. It’s significant and truly inspiring. Here are the details of that work, as reported by Fr. Rafael.
- All of the interior walls of the church have been repainted white with gold trim. This work was carefully carried out, respecting the original paintings on display at the crown of the building, which highlights various scenes from The Bible as well as Catholic Saints.
- All of the wooden ceiling posts and pillars – the original timbers of the historic building which completed construction in 1879 – were stained, bringing back their original luster. Then the gold trim paint was retouched on each one. What a display!
- All of the yellow color in the altar area was replaced by white and red millenary color.
“All this was possible thanks to the many volunteers from Leadville, Colorado Springs, Denver, Frisco, and Silverthorne. We all worked together, working for the Glory of God. It was an extraordinary experience that brought back the beauty of the sanctuary in an amazing way,” stated Fr. Rafael in a letter to Leadville Today.
When you consider all of the sitting, standing, and kneeling that goes on in a Catholic Church, it’s nice to have an honorable place where all that activity can be conducted. From the beginning, Annunciation’s aisles of seating have done just that. The original pews were hand-carved with honor by Patrick F. Martin of the Leadville Martins, parish members for generations (Ref. Book: 100 Years of Faith). A sheer labor of love, the slope of each armrest is beautifully topped off by a pinecone-inspired finial. They were built to last a lifetime, but after 140 years of hand-grasping, some tender love and care were in order.
In fact, each and every pew in Annunciation Church has been removed, repaired, restored and replaced. And it shows. Every single pew has at least 5 hours of intense work put into its 140-year-old frame. A special technique provided by Elbert & Elisa Roberson was used in preserving the original woodwork. That’s 18 rows of 3 sections. It’s impressive math for a project that did not rely on grants or monies from either city or county coffers.
In addition, the pew’s old metal plates which have their roots in the old “pew-rent” system, assuring parishioners their choice of seat, also got smoothed out a bit during the church’s recent renovation work (2018-19). But long-timers take note, the names of the early contributors have NOT been erased. According to Parish Office Manager Kathy Micklich, “The plates are the same they were just polished. However, the cards that were inside were paper so those were replaced by the new metal ones.”
While their faithful heads are bowed in prayer, parishioners will also see some noticeable improvements, including:
- A new subfloor was installed in the sacristy, which involved tearing out old carpet and replacing it with new carpet once the new floor was installed.
- New carpet has been installed in the main portion of the church at Annunciation from top (choir loft) to bottom from the entryway to the altar. It’s black with a fleck of gray, which will certainly camouflage the blemishes of a winter laden congregation.
- The main aisle of the church has new black tile with gray flecks, framing the three new impressive pieces of art which were revealed in grand ceremony at the December 8 re-opening of Annunciation Church. These intricately designed medallions each have a special Latin saying with unique symbols as described by Fr. Rafael.
- Medallion #1 reads: Gratis Agimus Voluntaris (We Volunteer Freely); Iesous Christos Theos Tios Soter (Jesus Christ, Son of God)
- Medallion #2 reads: Rosa Mystica (Mystical Rose, an honor to the Virgin Mary); Ora Pro Nobis (Pray for us)
- Medallion #3 reads: Tu Es Sacerdos (You’re a Priest); In Aetnum (For eternity, forever,)
Visit and Give
“Our work is not over we need to fix the confessional area, decorate the choir area, design the interior of the sacristy, and fix the basement where the heating system is,” said the Leadville Priest. “I ask and encourage all of you to pay a visit to Annunciation Church to see for yourselves the beauty that goes way beyond what is expressed here.” All are welcome to join the church’s Christmas Eve (Tuesday) services on Dec. 24 are at 4:30 and 6 p.m. in English. On Dec. 25 Christmas Day services will be at 9 a.m. in English and 12 Noon in Spanish.
“Please support these projects with your prayer, and respect for all the work the volunteers have done in communion with me, as their Pastor,” said Fr. Rafael. “Please consider a kind donation for these and the many other projects that need to be done, for we are One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” For those interested in making a tax-deductible donation you may do so by sending a check to Holy Family Parish, 609 Poplar Street, Leadville CO 80461. You may reach Father Rafael Torres-Rico by contacting the Parish’s Office Manager Kathy Micklich at 719-486-1382 or by email at email@example.com. You may also connect via the Holy Family Parish website, where an online giving option is available.