by Br. Mark Schenk, OFMCap. | For nearly a century the Capuchins had been serving in the wide flat lands and prairies of Kansas when need summoned us to Colorado. A poor, inner-city parish in a high crime neighborhood of Denver was in need of a priest.
We responded, sending three friars west to establish the first permanent Capuchin presence in Denver in 1970. It was not long before our ministries spread throughout the city of Denver and beyond.
This year our province joyfully commemorates 50 years of Capuchin presence in Colorado. Pope Pius XI once said of the Capuchins, “When help was sorely needed, in places that were abandoned and where no one else would go, there you will find the Capuchins.”
Over the past 50 years, we have striven to be faithful to that identity, bearing the joy of the Gospel to the marginalized and forgotten. It was need that brought us westward and it was need that inspired our multitude of ministries to the poor, lost, sick, dying and imprisoned of Colorado.
When the many nameless faces of Denver's homeless sought shelter from the frigid weather in a local parish church, we responded, helping to establish what would eventually become Samaritan House. Today it is the largest Catholic homeless shelter in the state, serving thousands of people every year.
Sensing the desperate need to bring the healing balm of the Gospel to the imprisoned, we answered with joyful enthusiasm. Today we hear confessions, celebrate Mass and catechize in Denver's jails, prisons and detention centers, offering reconciliation and hope to many who had despaired of mercy.
In an era when the larger Catholic population had forsaken the Mass and the sacrament of reconciliation, the Capuchins moved south to Colorado Springs and, after the example of our founder, brought the Gospel right into the midst of the modern marketplace. We established the Catholic Center at the Citadel Mall in 2001, where we celebrate Mass twice a day and hear continuous confessions. The ministry has reconciled many to the Church who have been away for decades.
Today we continue the ministry of St. Francis of Assisi, bearing the Gospel to peoples and places that are neglected and forgotten. Whether it be in the poor parishes ministering to immigrant populations, in the hospitals and care centers where our friars kneel in prayer at deathbeds or on the city streets where we offer food and fraternal love to the downcast and destitute, we want to venture where no one else will go.
In the midst of the current coronavirus, more families and individuals are seeking emergency relief than we've witnessed in our lifetime. Our men in formation have responded to the need by working extra hours in soup kitchens, on the streets and helping at food pantries.
Our Capuchin food truck has delivered thousands of meals to the elderly, disabled and homeless. Our friar hospital chaplains have become more resolute with each passing day – regardless of risk. We are called to work alongside health care workers, responding to the emotional and spiritual needs of the sick, dying and spiritually troubled during this tumultuous time.
We continue to seek out the abandoned places where aid is sorely needed, working alongside the laity to bear the good news of the Gospel where the need is desperate and few are willing to go. As we commemorate 50 years in Colorado, be assured that you and your family are in our prayers.
A Chronology of Presence in Colorado:
▪ May 5, 1970 - Friars move into Annunciation Friary in Denver
▪ Nov 1970 - A friar begins ministry at St. Bernadette’s Parish, Lakewood
▪ Oct 1, 1971 - Friars begin ministry at Holy Cross Parish, Thornton
▪ May 1, 1973 - A friar is assigned chaplain at Francis Heights Senior Community
▪ April 12, 1977 - Erection of the Capuchin Province of Mid-America
▪ Feb 3, 1982 - Samaritan Shelter ministry begins
▪ 1982 - Ministry to migrant workers begins
▪ Nov 8, 1982 - Samaritan Shelter opens at 18th and Logan
▪ July 1, 1983 - Friars accept church and friary at St. Elizabeth's
▪ Aug 1, 1983 - Provincial Offices relocate to Denver
▪ May 15, 1986 - Friars begin ministry at Cure d'Ars , Denver
▪ Nov 20, 1986 - Blessing of Samaritan House
▪ Nov 17, 1988 - Ten Capuchin Poor Clares arrive in Denver
▪ May 17, 1993 - Friars move to current St. Francis Friary in Denver
▪ Aug 11, 1993 - Friars welcome pilgrims to World Youth Day
▪ April 7, 1997 - Charles Chaput installed Archbishop of Denver
▪ 1999 - Friars begin reconciliation ministry in NE Colorado
▪ May 3, 1999 - Blessing of Fraternidad San Antonio Friary
▪ Aug 10, 2001 - Friars establish Solanus Casey Friary, Colorado Springs
▪ Nov 23, 2001 - The Catholic Center at the Citadel Mall opens to the public
▪ May 2, 2005 - Erection of Fr. Ed Judy House in Sheridan
▪ Feb 12, 2007 - Blessing of the Provincial Archives, Denver
▪ July 10, 2008 - Friars establish O.L.A. Friary in Black Forest
▪ April 28, 2009 - Blessing of the Provincial Administration Building
▪ 2010 - Friars establish St. Anthony Friary, Denver
▪ Aug 1, 2011 - Founding of the Julia Greeley Guild
▪ 2013 - Friars establish new Solanus Casey Friary, Colorado Springs
▪ Aug 15, 2013 - Opening of Julia Greeley Home
▪ Oct 2018 - Food truck ministry begins in Denver
(This chronology was compiled by Fr. Blaine Burkey, province archivist, who admits it is far from complete)