Vehr: The Flowering of Catholicism (1931-1967)
Under Urban J. Vehr, the diocese planted by Machebeuf and nourished by Matz and Tihen came into full flower. Vehr, a handsome and debonair prelate, transformed a poor diocese into a thriving one. Recognizing this, Pope Pius XII in 1941 made Vehr an archbishop and Denver an archdiocese, with primacy over the Diocese of Cheyenne and the newly created Diocese of Pueblo. At his 777 Pearl Street mansion, Vehr entertained mayors and governors, cardinals and a future pope. He transformed the old home used by bishops Matz and Tihen into the chancery office and converted the Schleier mansion at 1665 Grant Street into a home for Catholic Charities. He hired master architect Jacques Jules Benoit Benedict and, later, Benedict's assistant, John K. Monroe, to provide distinctive and consistent Renaissance revival design for many of the 404 new churches, schools, and archdiocesan structures built during his long reign. To administer this ecclesiastical empire, Vehr appointed an auxiliary bishop and a small army of monsignori.
While bringing style and prestige to the Denver archdiocese, Vehr never forgot the essentials. Trained as an educator, he made the training of priests and of every Catholic child his top priority. His dream was to endow every Colorado community with a thriving parish, complete with church and rectory, school and convent. Vehr, like Machebeuf and Matz, spent formative years in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Born there on May 30, 1891, he was the first of six children for Anthony and Catherine Hamann. He was born and raised in Price Hill, a neighborhood noted for its prosperous Germans and for being almost 100 percent Catholic. Urban J. Vehr was one of four future bishops who grew up within a few blocks of the Vehr family home at 209 State Street. His father, a mechanical engineer, sent his son to St. Gregory School and to Xavier, the Jesuit university in Cincinnati. After completing priestly studies at St. Mary of the West Seminary in Norwood, Ohio, Vehr was ordained on May 29, 1915, by Henry Moeller, the archbishop of Cincinnati. Father Vehr's first assignment was as assistant pastor at Holy Trinity parish in Middleton, Ohio. Six years later, in 1921, he became chaplain of the motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity at Mt. St. Joseph on the Ohio. In this convent on the outskirts of Cincinnati, the handsome young priest learned how to work congenially with nuns, a talent that would benefit the Diocese of Denver.
Father Vehr became assistant superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 1922, and, after earning a Master of Arts degree in education at the Catholic University of America, he was named superintendent. As superintendent between 1923 and 1926 of the first-rate Cincinnati schools, Vehr gained experience that enabled him to transform Colorado's Catholic schools into a better educational system.
Father Vehr's next position, as rector of St. Gregory Minor Seminary, likewise prepared him to manage and upgrade St. Thomas Seminary in Denver. In 1927, the young priest was elevated to monsignorial rank by Pope Pius XI. Following studies at the Collegio Angelico in Rome, Monsignor Vehr was consecrated a bishop in the Cathedral of St. Peter in Chains, Cincinnati, on June 10, 1931. Archbishop John J. McNicholas handed Vehr the bishop's crooksymbolizing the leadership he must give his flockand the bishop's mitera helmet symbolizing divine protection. After consecrating this promising native son, the Cincinnati archbishop continued to counsel the young bishop, whose first assignment was to the small and distant Diocese of Denver.
Denverites were delighted with this charming gentleman who had the deep voice of a trained orator. At forty, he was the youngest bishop in the United States. Some feared that Denver was just the first step of a career that would lead him to larger cities and higher ranks. Bishop Vehr, however, fell in love with Colorado and lived out his life in the Highest State.
His early days in Denver
Vehr arrived in Denver on July 16, 1931, at 7:25 A.M., in the private coach of the president of the Rock Island Railroad. Three hours later at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, he was installed as bishop of Denver by the archbishop of Santa Fe, Albert T. Daeger. Afterwards, the priests of the diocese staged a banquet for their new bishop at the Argonaut Hotel, where Monsignor O Ryan gave a brief talk on the history of the Denver diocese, and the clerics presented Vehr with a check for $1,000 and a brand new black Studebaker automobile.
Bishop Vehr soon broke in his car; he visited every parish in his diocese. While a staff priest did the driving, Vehr used his car as a mobile office for briefings on the affairs of the parish that would be the next stop. He found Colorado to be a vast, depression-haunted state of soup lines and dust storms. As was the case throughout America during the 1930s, roughly a third of the work force was unemployed. The bishop could scarcely tell which were more depressed, the mining towns turning into ghosts or the farming villages blowing away in black blizzards.
To cheer up his flock and his priests, the bishop logged 30,000 miles a year during his first decade in Denver. Vehr used his ample sense of humor to win over priests, with whom he shared the latest jokes and news. He made a habit of staying in each parish rectory, no matter how humble, to share the lives of his priests, leaving a thoughtful gift behind when he drove on. Struggling parishes often received checks from Bishop Vehr, and some of them followed his suggestion that they help themselves by starting credit unions. He aspired to be a builder but actually lost parishes during the depression decade, when the number fell from 111 in 1930 to eighty-seven in 1940.
Vehr wisely sought the advice of his predecessor, Bishop Tihen. The two carried on a congenial correspondence, with Bishop Vehr sending Tihen $500 now and then "as a little compensation from the Diocese of Denver" and inviting him to visit the Denver chancery where "your rooms are always ready."
Vehr settled into the bishop's home and chancery at 1536 Logan behind the cathedral. As the depression worsened, the bishop found himself besieged by beggars.
"We couldn't get our work done," Vehr recalled years later. "Someone was running to answer the door every few minutes." The bishop did not want to turn indigents away empty-handed but eventually decided to try to get something in return for his handouts. He began leaving a broom out on the front porch as a hint. "That worked for about one good sweeping," the bishop recalled. "Soon we noticed that before coming to the door the men would take a handkerchief out of their pocket, wrap it around their hand, and then complain of an injury which kept them from handling a broom."
Such inconveniences of combining a church office and a churchman's home ended for the new bishop in April 1932, when the John L. Dowers purchased the John Porter house at 777 Pearl Street from Porter's widow, Louise Coors Porter. The Dowers announced the gift with the explanation: "We feel we have a very fine bishop here and we want to see him comfortably housed for his great work."
This elegant home, a 1923 design by Denver architects Ernest and Lester Varian, was a large Jacobean place with formal gardens. The bishop moved his red easy chair into the living room and began lining the walls with his many books and art works, including nine Albrecht D rer prints. Another room he converted into a private chapel. The elegant formality of this domestic scene was frequently shattered by the bishop's two Boston bull terriers, Patsy and Queenie, barking invitations to play ball.
Three Sisters of the Most Precious Blood came from Dayton, Ohio, to care for the bishop and his house as well as to help with the food service at St. Thomas Seminary. Bishop Vehr rewarded his secretary, housekeeper, and cook by taking them for strolls through the Capitol Hill neighborhood or escorting them to the Denver Symphony or to Monsignor Bosetti's operas. To avoid scandal, he always took all three nuns.
After daily Mass in his private chapel, the bishop spent his mornings at the chancery office behind the cathedral. He brought to diocesan affairs some of the systematic Teutonic regimen he had learned in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Pastors were required to keep thorough records and send a complete copy each year to Vehr. These annual reports were then cataloged by seminarians at St. Thomas's and bound in heavy volumes for storage at the chancery. To avoid the conflicts over church property that had plagued bishops Machebeuf and Matz, Vehr had all of it, including parish properties, put in the ownership of "Urban J. Vehr, Bishop of Denver." In his 1931 episcopal bulletin on this matter, Vehr asked each pastor to send to the chancery copies of the titles, mortgages, deeds, abstracts, and full legal descriptions of all parish properties. On his annual confirmation visits to each parish, Vehr would make sure its affairs were in order.
Thanks in part to such systematic precautions, Vehr's reigneven though it was longer than that of any other Denver prelatewould be the smoothest. He took every precaution to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. When someone gave him stock in a dog-racing track, for example, Vehr reported: "I disposed of thos'se shares, as I do not care to be publicly identified in the event that their list of stockholders ever became public." Vehr's only "vice," apparently, was smoking Pall Mall cigarettes. He quickly dismissed any priest caught in a scandalous situation and pledged each new cleric to five years of total abstinence from alcohol. He required each to take an examination in the sacred sciences each year for five years following ordination. "Priests were told they only needed two black suitsone for summer and one for winter," Monsignor William Jones recollected in 1987, adding:
And if you were going to have a car, he recommended that it be small and black. He told priests that their clothes, their Roman collar, their cars were symbols, speaking for the clergy and the church. If you followed the rules, Bishop Vehr oftentimes rewarded priests with a black Borsalino hat which he sent from Rome with your initials in it.Bishop Vehr's strict treatment of his priests earned him their respect, according to Monsignor Thomas P. Barry, who reminisced in a 1986 interview:
Bishop Vehr was a German with an Irish sense of humor. He developed a folksy western American outlook that helped him get along with everybody. He never gave any priest a short deal. If he nailed you, it was your own fault. He had a complaint from some old bag that I wasn't taking care of my mission at Walden. Bishop Vehr gently but firmly rebuked me so I went back and built St. Ignatius Chapel out there.
Great Depression and Catholic Charities
In church pews on Sunday, Catholics were bombarded with pitches from the pulpit. Prompted by Bishop Vehr's episcopal bulletins, priests encouraged donations to the Denver Community Chest, to the American Red Cross, and to the World War II effort. Numerous Catholic charities were also promoted on specified Sundays. There was an annual collection for "the orphan homes of the diocese" and requests for "discarded furniture, clothing and materials of all kinds" for the Catholic Benefit Shop at 1335 Lawrence Street, which was operated by the DDCCW. "Every Catholic home in this city," Bishop Vehr urged, should have and fill a donation bag for this shop whose proceeds helped finance the Church's community centers.
Community centers overflowed with needy people during the depression decade. Monsignor John R. Mulroy, director of Catholic Charities, incorporated the Denver Diocesan Community Centers in 1933, hoping to bolster their shoestring financing. This reorganization helped to secure Denver Community Chest funding. By 1933, Catholic Charities had recruited many volunteers, including twenty physicians, eighteen attorneys, eight dentists, eight optometrists, and the services of the National Catholic Federation of Nurses. In 1933, the worst year of the Great Depression, the three Denver clinics assisted around 7,000 people. In 1933, Catholic Charities was designated as a distributor of federal relief funds, and Monsignor Mulroy was chosen as chair of the Denver Council of Relief Agencies, a body overseeing distribution of federal relief. Monsignor Mulroy received, in 1939, an assistant, Reverend Elmer Kolka, who ultimately helped establish the Blue Cross Health Plan in Colorado, served as chairman of the Denver Housing Authority, and replaced Monsignor Mulroy when he retired as director of Catholic Char-ities in 1955. Catholic Charities converted the Schleier mansion at 1665 Grant Street into its home base. The basement was made into a commissary from which to supply the hungry hordes who walked in the front door. Social worker Genevieve B. Short, then a fresh graduate of the University of Denver Social Work School, recalled in 1987 that she would interview walk-ins. After determining how many children and dependents they had, she would provide them with the allotted pounds of dried beans, cheese, flour, and whatever other foodstuffs had been donated. For clothing, indigents were sent to the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Whenever possible, the diocese cooperated with President Roosevelt's New Deal depression-relief programs. For example, Bishop Vehr asked parish priests to offer weekly services at the two dozen Civilian Conservation Corps camps established in Colorado to provide youths with work. The $30-a-month federal check to cooperating clergymen also served as relief for priests, whose salaries then ranged from $400 to $600 a year.
As the State of Colorado and the City of Denver balked at funding depression-relief programs, the burden fell on the federal government and private agencies such as Catholic Charities. Despite the shortage of revenues, Bishop Vehr supported an expanded charity program. "Charity and generosity of spirit," he said, "must be the guides of man's life because they can curb the damaging word and the hostile act."
A major depression-era accomplishment was the Mullen Home for Boys. Before his death on August 9, 1929, J.K. Mullen told his wife and daughters of his hope to build an industrial school for underprivileged lads. After his death, the John K. and Catherine S. Mullen Benevolent Corporation and a Mullen daughter, Mrs. John L. Dower, strove to follow the wishes of the great philanthropist. In 1931, they acquired the 900-acre Shirley Farms Dairy on South Lowell Boulevard. The Christian Brothers were recruited to establish the home, which first opened temporarily on the Regis College campus. Bishop Vehr blessed the new grounds at 3601 South Lowell Boulevard on April 14, 1932. By 1938, Mullen Home boasted a chapel, classrooms, dormitories, a gymnasium, cattle and poultry sheds, a tool house, a dairy house, and a greenhouse. Fifty boys lived at the Mullen Home, attending classes and helping the Christian Brothers produce annually around 500 tons of alfalfa and thousands of bushels of wheat, barley, oats, and corn, as well as operating the dairy. The Mullen Home accepted homeless teenagers and those from foster homes. The Mullen Benevolent Association constructed two new classroom buildings in 1950 and a $70,000 auditorium in 1952. The home began developing a championship athletic program. In 1966, the boarding school closed and was replaced by a foster home plan. Thus, what had begun as a training school for deprived lads during the depression evolved into one of Colorado's better prep schools.
The Church's counterattack on economic and social problems exacerbated by the depression led to good works on many fronts. Camp Santa Maria and Camp St. Malo continued to give youngsters summer experiences in the mountains, as well as exercise, wholesome food, and classes in catechism and crafts. The Catholic camp movement was furthered in 1938 when Martin Holland donated to the diocese the Bendemeer Lodge and Resort. This summer camp for underprivileged children of all creeds was operated until 1947 by the Catholic Daughters of America of the Court of St. Rita, who also opened Camp Mont Rita in Nederland in 1932. These two pioneer girls camps were closed in 1947, and the Catholic Daughters replaced them with Our Lady of the Rockies Camp at the old Wagon Wheel Ranch five miles west of Evergreen.
In the Northern Colorado city of Greeley, Father Bernard Froegel of St. Peter parish organized and supervised various mission stations for migrant laborers. Catholic Family Welfare, a bureau of Catholic Charities, maintained offices in Greeley, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo as well as five offices in the Denver area.
The Children's Department of Catholic Charities reported in 1934 that it was being overwhelmed by
an almost endless army of boys, young men, women and girls passing through Denver by auto, train and on foot in the quest of that elusive goalemployment. . . . [A] conservative estimate of over 1,500,000 boys and girls are stranded on the highways. . . . The Sisters conducting the five orphanages of the Diocese are supplying not only shelter, food and education but also reclaiming bodies and souls that had been broken by the Depression.The Sacred Heart Aid Society, oldest of diocesan charities, was reinvigorated by the support of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women. These ladies helped the society to continue offering a variety of services, ranging from telephone calls to flophouse rooms. The St. Vincent de Paul Society sprang into the "Catholic Action" recommended by one of its founders, Frederick Ozanam. The society sponsored a clothing program, institutional and hospital visitations, a Big Brothers program, a foster home, and juvenile court pro-bation services. The Denver society, with around 150 members in nineteen parishes during the 1930s, opened a salvage bureau at 1615 Larimer Street. With the help of the Knights of Columbus, the St. Vincent de Paul Society operated a Denver Shelter House that, in 1932, provided 23,332 free meals and 9,962 nights lodgings.
Denver's black community was another neglected population that attracted the attention of Catholic Charities. With Bishop Vehr's encouragement, St. Augustine's Colored Study Club was organized in the 1930s, with the idea that Denver's blacks would one day have their own parish.
The multifaceted programs of Catholic Charities during Vehr's years defy a complete survey. Monsignor John R. Mulroy, the director of Catholic Charities, concluded in his Annual Report for 1934 that "only the recording angel himself could give a complete account of the all but overwhelming volume of work carried on by the self-sacrificing workers of Catholic Charities."
The Second World War
Depression hardships and unemployment lingered until the United States entered World War II in 1941. With a humming wartime economy at home, Colorado Catholics began focusing on the suffering of wartorn countries abroad. Elmer Kolka supervised Colorado's War Relief Services for the National Catholic Welfare Conference. The Bishops War Emergency Fund and the St. Vincent de Paul Society helped by collecting canned goods and clothing to be sent overseas. Rationing, including that of meats, and the emphasis on a healthy military and domestic work force led to a change in dietary laws. In a 1942 episcopal bulletin, Vehr announced that "Pope Pius XII, for the duration of the war, dispensed priests, religious and the faithful . . . from the Lenten obligation of fasting and of abstinence on Fridays except the Fridays of Lent."
Doing their part to alleviate the shortage of nurses, Mercy, St. Anthony, and St. Joseph hospitals in Denver all expanded their nursing school programs. Catholic school children chipped in by buying war bonds and stamps, even after they reached the archdiocesan goal of $100,000 in the spring of 1942.
Father Mulroy, showing his characteristic concern for underdogs, sought to help the German prisoners of war in Colorado. An estimated 600 POWs at camps in Fraser, Gould, and Kremmling were visited weekly by Monsignor Thomas Barry, then pastor of St. Peter's in Kremmling. Monsignor Barry recalled years later: "Those Germans were very religious. They sang the Mass with me in Latin and at Christmas time they filled the air with their lovely German carols."
During the war, Catholic Charities closed the Workingman's Club on Larimer Street and St. Anthony Neighborhood House. These two institutions providing food and shelter for unemployed young men were not so badly needed as the war brought either jobs or military service to many of their former customers. Catholic Charities shifted to supporting USO centers in various Colorado cities to provide entertainment and sociability for military personnel. Catholic women rallied to the effort to bolster the morale of servicemen in many ways, including free dinners at Denver's Knights of Columbus Hall at 1575 Grant Street.
When the war ended in 1945, churches throughout Colorado celebrated with a Holy Hour of Thanksgiving and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament as well as the prolonged, joyous ringing of church bells. Catholic Charities established a Displaced Persons Service to help European victims of the war find new homes in Colorado. Elmer Kolka, asssistant director of Catholic Charities, oversaw this effort, which by 1951 had resettled thousands of refugees. In subsequent years, the bureau turned its attention to helping immigrant workers, also. The annual Catholic Charities budget topped the $1-million mark in 1949, by which time the staff had grown to twenty-five. Newcomers included Reverend William J. Monahan, who had earned his Masters of social work degree at the Catholic University of America. After joining Catholic Charities in 1947, he promoted its increasing professionalization.
Denver becomes an archdiocese
War's end enabled Vehr finally to receive the papal pallium he had been given by Pope Pius XII on November 21, 1941. That year, the pope had recognized the flowering of the Denver diocese by making it the twenty-first archdiocese in the United States. The Most Reverend Archbishop Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, the apostolic delegate to the United States, installed Vehr as archbishop on January 6, 1942. The sound of a trumpet and the voices of Monsignor Bosetti's magnificent choir opened the installation cere-monies at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The Most Reverend John McNicholas, who had consecrated Vehr as a bishop in Cincinnati and advised him on diocesan affairs, gave the sermon. Afterward, Mayor Benjamin F. Stapleton and Governor Ralph L. Carr honored the new archbishop in a civil ceremony at the Denver Municipal Auditorium. Anyone missing the church or civil ceremonies could see them on the newsreel highlights at the Paramount Theater downtown.
Denver, which had previously been in the province of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, was now its own archdiocese. This new status, Archbishop Vehr pointed out, achieved "a civic advantage for Denver and another recognition of the growing importance of this region." Vehr's installation attracted the greatest gathering of bishops ever assembled in the Rocky Mountain West. Visiting dignitaries included Monsignor Giovanni B. Montini, then Vatican secretary of state for internal affairs, who would be elected pope on June 21, 1963. The future Pope Paul VI stayed in Vehr's home on Pearl Street and toured the Mile High City.
Simultaneously with the creation of the Denver archdiocese, the Vatican split Colorado in half by creating the Diocese of Pueblo. Sacred Heart Church in Pueblo became the cathedral seat for the first bishop, Joseph Clement Willging, installed by Archbishop Vehr on March 12, 1942. Willging guided that diocese until his death in 1959. His administration and early history of the Pueblo diocese are recaptured in Monsignor Patrick C. Stauter's book The Willging Years. The restructured Denver diocese included thirty-three counties in Northern Colorado with 87,907 Catholics, while the Pueblo diocese consisted of the thirty counties of Southern Colorado with a Catholic population of 78,373.
The new Metropolitan See of Denver included the Suffragan See of Cheyenne as well as that of Pueblo. The Diocese of Cheyenne, which had been created in 1887 as a part of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, was placed within the new Denver archdiocese in 1941. Patrick A. McGovern, the bishop of Cheyenne since 1912, remained in that post until his death in 1951.
Archbishop Vehr, after traveling 30,000 miles a year to cover all of his Colorado parishes, was delighted with the reorganization. The symbol of his new office, the pallium made from the wool of Vatican City sheep, finally arrived in Denver on April 17, 1946. Samuel Cardinal Stritch, the archbishop of Chicago, bestowed the pallium on Vehr in ceremonies at the cathedral in Denver. As the only archdiocese between Dubuque, Iowa, and San Francisco, Denver dominated a Rocky Mountain hinterland of some 200,000 Catholics. Between the depression of 1893 and the Great Depression of the 1930s, Coloradans had experienced relatively slow economic and population growth. Few anticipated that after World War II the state would undergo a boom comparable to that of the 1870s and 1880s. This postwar explosion was triggered by massive federal spending and the opening of many new federal jobs. Colorado's cool, dry, sunny climate and recreational outlets also made it a target for Americans on the move. Denver grew from a sleepy city of 322,412 in 1940 to a metropolis of over a million by the 1960s.
Many of these newcomers were young Catholic couples and soon parochial schools were overflowing. Archbishop Vehr began a campaign to raise $3.5 million to acquire school sites and build or add to schools. The archdiocese ambitiously acquired fifty sites, generally consisting of at least five acres. Vehr dreamed of building a complete parish plantchurch and rectory, school and conventwithin walking distance of everyone in the metropolitan area.
This grand dream grew ever more expensive as the number of Catholics in Colorado almost tripled during the Vehr era, climbing to 376,832 by 1967. The percentage of Catholics in the Denver metro area also climbed, from about 16 percent in 1941 to around 25 percent by 1970. To accommodate this tremendous growth, Archbishop Vehr, launched, in 1965, the Archdiocesan Development Program, renamed the Archbishop's Annual Campaign for Progress in 1971.
The building of schools and parishes
Archbishop Vehr, who had been trained as an educator and administrator, made Catholic education his priority, using the slogan: "Every Catholic Child in a Catholic School." He insisted that a school rather than a church be the first building in new parishes. Vehr wisely let public school planners decide where growth justified new schools. Taking advantage of the extensive research, personnel, surveys, and projections of the public schools, he purchased land near new public schools. This plan worked, as the Catholic population was geographically well integrated within the general population. It also enabled Catholic schools to take advantage of the public school policy of building schools close to public parks and libraries.
Under Vehr, the parish building process typically began with acquisition of all or part of a block. The first construction would be a school with a large gym-cafeteria-assembly hall that also served as a church. As the parish grew and gained financial resources, it could strive to construct a separate church building. At the crucial early stages of such campaigns, a $1,000 check would arrive along with a letter of encouragement signed; "With every good wish and blessing, I am faithfully yours in Christ, Urban J. Vehr, Archbishop of Denver."
Vehr took a keen interest in each parish's building plans. The archbishop, according to superintendent of schools Monsignor William H. Jones, had pastors use archdiocesan approved architects and discouraged the use of such cheap materials as cinderblock, wood, and stucco. Consequently, the schools of the Vehr era became brick and stone lessons in the use of sound and attractive architecture. The World War II baby boom filled classrooms as quickly as they could be built. By 1956, 20 percent of Denver's school population was in Catholic classrooms. Catholic grade and high schools were overflowing and had to turn away hundreds of applicants for lack of space.
To remedy the shortcoming, the archdiocese initiated a $3.5-million Denver High School fund campaign that led to construction of Machebeuf High School and additions to Annunciation, Cathedral, Holy Family, and St. Francis de Sales high schools. Some of this funding also went to Mullen, Regis, and St. Mary's Academy. Vehr's long-range plan, which would never materialize, called for construction of four new Catholic high schools in the four suburban quadrants of the metro area.
Archbishop Vehr's commitment to Catholic schools led to a tremendous improvement not only in the number but also in the quality of Catholic schools. In 1934, Vehr created the position of diocesan superintendent of schools. The first superintendent, Father William D. McCarthy, worked with Vehr to improve and standardize textbooks, courses, extracurricular activities, and the school calendar. Vehr's keen interest in education was reflected in the fact that he personally passed out diplomas to graduates not only at Loretto Heights College and Regis College but also at joint graduations for Denver high schools at the Denver Municipal Auditorium. He continued to travel to outlying areas of the state each year to award other high school diplomas.
Vehr likewise concerned himself with Catholic children in public schools. For them, he relied on the Catholic summer school program, correspondence courses, and weekend and after-school classes sponsored by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD). The Colorado efforts of the worldwide CCD program were directed by Monsignor Gregory Smith from their inception in the 1930s until the 1960s, when the program became a part of the Education Office. The Colorado CCD, according to Monsignor Smith, conducted as many as 161 summer school programs with over 14,000 students enrolled. It also sponsored two-day retreats each year for students in the Denver public schools. Monsignor Smith recalled in 1987:
We also had street preaching programs in the smaller towns. We'd get a loud speaker and play popular music on records to attract a crowd. Then Father Joseph Lilly, the scripture scholar at St. Thomas Seminary, would get up and introduce seminarian speakers. In small towns where they didn't have much to do on weekday summer nights, people would pile up to listen. We didn't make many converts, but we created some good will and got people to think about God.Archbishop Vehr also encouraged formation of Junior Newman Clubs to help bring religous education to youngsters in non-Catholic high schools and endorsed extracurricular activities, which tied youth to schools and parishes. To encourage young interests in farming and ranching, 4-H Club projects were promoted in parochial schools. The archbishop was especially keen on establishing scout troops and dens at the parish level. Over 2,000 Catholic Boy Scouts earned the Ad Altare Dei award, which they received in the cathedral from the archbishop. Vehr, who had been a scoutmaster himself, received scouting's highest award to volunteers in 1967, the Silver Antelope medal.
While trying to give Catholic school children a full and well-rounded education, Archbishop Vehr never lost sight of the major reason for Catholic schools. "Religion," he told the Rocky Mountain News in a March 25, 1945, interview, "is a science and must be taught by capable religious leaders. It is both an intellectual and moral direction which makes for character building of the highest type."
Catholic nuns were the "capable religious leaders" recruited in the archdiocesan campaign for parochial schools. In 1947, Archbishop Vehr raised the annual salary of teaching sisters from $350 to $400 a year. For this, nuns were also expected to teach summer school and attend the refresher courses for teachers. Both nuns and priests were encouraged to pursue graduate degrees in education and in their special fields.
Despite poor pay, Colorado attracted new nuns. Like many other greenhorns flocking to "Cool Colorful Colorado," the sisters appreciated the salubrious climate and the spectacular Rocky Mountain setting. The Benedictine sisters of Atchison, Kansas, a branch of the order founded by St. Benedict in A.D. 529, first sent sisters to Colorado in 1913. They began teaching at St. Mary School in Walsenburg, a coal mining town with many immigrant Catholic families whose children poured into St. Mary's, where enrollment peaked at 831 in 1922. Even though the parish could not afford to pay them a salary, the Benedictine sisters stayed. Sister Alcuin Seer described the classroom scene at St. Mary's for her colleague, Sister Alice Marie Hays, who recorded it in her book, A Song in the Pines:
There were 128 on roll, ages five through ten, but I never had more than 105 present at one time. Eighty-five sat in desks; the others on radiators, window sills and floor. Even when I tied the short pencils, which I managed to collect, around their necks, they would come from recess pencilless. I soon learned to understand "Me falta un l piz, no papel."Thanks to the heroic efforts of the nuns, St. Mary's won accreditation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools in 1924. These Benedictines also labored in the poor villages of the San Luis Valley. In Antonito, they accepted the invitation of a struggling public school board to staff the public school, starting in 1933. Nearby, in Capulin, state and local officials offered to pay the sisters $75 a month to staff that village's dilapidated, condemned schoolhouse. Sisters Placida, Eulalia, Alphonsa, Julitta, and Vita arrived in the dusty hamlet of Capulin and were shown to their conventa partially completed house of adobe. Undaunted, the sisters pinned up their long serge skirts and went to work. Monsignor Jones in The History of Catholic Education in the State of Colorado described the scene:
There was no stove for cooking, and the nearest water was two or three blocks away in the public well. In a diary kept by one of the original band, a sister noted that nothing bothered them as much as the size and number of flies and mosquitoes and other sundry animals that flew in the open windows and cracks in the wall.Eighty Benedictine nuns from Atchison formed an independent Colorado motherhouse in 1965, converting Mrs. Potter's Riding Academy in Colorado Springs into the Benet Hill Priory (or monastery, as it has been called since 1987). In 1988, sixty-one Benet Hill sisters served in Colorado schools, parishes, hospitals, and other ministries, including the Benet Hill and Benet Pines retreat centers.
Persecution by Adolph Hitler and the Nazis led a venerable German order of Benedictine sisters to establish a motherhouse in Boulder. The Benedictine nuns bought 150 acres of the 160-acre site of Sacred Heart of Mary parish. Mother Abbess Bendicta sent Mother Augustina and sisters Boniface and Rita to open the the Boulder convent on St. Joseph's Day, 1935.
These hard-working German women astonished their Boulder neighbors by repairing dilapidated facilities next to the church. They repaired roofs and cracked walls, fixed up sheds and barns, and converted the old, unused 1872 Sacred Heart of Mary Church to a tool shed. Five more "Lilies of the Field" soon arrived from Bavariasisters Angela, Brigitta, Gertrude, Maria, and Mechtildis. Each sister has a special task, be it milking the cows, making butter, tending pigs, minding the beehives, driving the tractor, or being a "cowgirl."
The Walburga Benedictines thrived in Boulder, building a new convent in 1952 and running a model farm and ranch in rhythm with the seasons and their chapel bells. By 1986, the St. Walburga Convent had become financially independent of the Eichstaett Abbey in Bavaria. Mother Abbess Franziska Kloos journeyed from Eichstaett to Boulder to grant the Americans their independence. She found that the number of American-born nuns equaled that of the German-born, yet these women maintained monastic traditions, adorning their convent with homemade tapestries and their library with manuscripts that they illuminated in the medieval manner.
Besides awarding independence to the American priory, Mother Franziska persuaded Pope John Paul II to raise its status to that of an abbey. St. Walburga's prioress, Mother Mary Thomas Beil, promised to keep sending "American nuns to Bavaria to expose them to the European monastic traditions" of the Eichstaett Abbey founded in 1035.
"It's very hard for Americans to comprehend something that old," Mother Mary Thomas observed. The late William E. Barrett, whom some consider to be Denver's most notable novelist to date, portrayed the life of German Benedictines in his best-selling novel, The Lilies of the Field, which also became a play and a movie. Mother Mary Thomas and her nineteen nuns opened a retreat house and convent at 6717 South Boulder Road, where they also continue to support themselves by raising cattle, chickens, horses, and llamas.
Dominican Sisters from Akron, Ohio, came into the archdiocese in 1963 to teach at Notre Dame Elementary School in Denver. Since then, these Dominicans have established a small convent in Lakewood at 8060 West Woodard Drive. Four Dominicans from the Akron motherhouse, founded in 1923, served the archdiocese in 1987 at St. Jude parish in Lakewood and at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish in Fort Collins. Still another branch of Dominicans, the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception, with a motherhouse in Great Bend, Kansas, came to the archdiocese in 1966 to staff Holy Trinity School in Westminster.
The Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity first came to Colorado in 1917 to staff the school of St. Elizabeth parish in Denver. In 1938, these Franciscan women opened Colorado's first novitiate after purchasing for $25,000 the former James B. Smith residence at 5200 Federal Boulevard. They converted it into a motherhouse for their new midwestern province. Mother Lidwina Jacobs and her flock rechristened the three-story house and twenty-acre grounds Marycrest. On August 18, 1938, Bishop Vehr blessed the new chapel in the old house that had been refitted as a convent school. Marycrest began, in 1949, offering credit courses for their own Franciscan sisters in conjunction with nearby Regis College. These classes proved popular and inspired Marycrest to construct a $100,000 three-story building with classrooms, as well as offices and a dormitory. Responding to the demand for Catholic education in the 1950s, the Franciscans transformed what had been a school for their novices into Marycrest High School in 1958. Beginning in 1962, Marycrest accepted girls for grades nine through twelve. By the 1970s, enrollment peaked the 200 mark as the school emerged as the female counterpart to nearby Regis High School. Marycrest, which crowns a spacious hilltop site, remained until its 1988 closure a tradition-minded all-girls school devoted to teaching religion and the liberal arts.
The Poor Sisters of St. Francis Seraph of Perpetual Adoration, who had founded St. Anthony Hospital in Denver in 1891, established a motherhouse at the hospital in 1932 when they formed a Western Province. On October 4, 1944, the order opened Mount St. Elizabeth Retreat in Morrison, in what had been the old Jesuit College of the Sacred Heart. Frank Kirchhof, a wealthy Catholic contractor and president of Denver's American National Bank, acquired the property, which had been reopened as the Hillcrest Inn after the Jesuits moved their college to Denver. Kirchhof donated the property, valued at about $50,000, to the Franciscan sisters to be used as a retirement home. In memory of his deceased wife, Elizabeth O Connor Kirchhof, it was renamed Mount St. Elizabeth and housed thirty to forty elderly under the care of the sisters.
This Morrison retirement home closed in 1954 when the order moved St. Elizabeth's to the old Oakes Home property in Denver. The sisters purchased this site from the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado in 1943 for $67,500. The Oakes Home had been a tuberculosis sanatorium operated by the Episcopal Church at West 32nd Avenue and Eliot Street. Founded in 1894 by the Reverend Frederick W. Oakes, the property came to include architecturally exquisite buildings, most notably the charming Chapel of Our Merciful Savior. Fine landscaping also enhanced the ample grounds, which stretched from 32nd to 33rd streets and extended eastward a block and a half from Eliot Street.
Following Oake's death in 1934, the home closed, having treated at least 20,000 patients during the previous forty years. The Poor Sisters of St. Francis converted this landmark into a motherhouse. The chapel, an 1897 jewel by Denver architect Frederick J. Sterner, was renamed Christ the King Chapel. The Franciscans converted the historic tuberculosis sanatorium into their Western Province motherhouse in 1943. Between 1943 and 1954, the complex was called St. Joseph Convent.
In 1954, the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration moved their motherhouse from the Oakes Home-St. Joseph Convent in Denver to Colorado Springs. The fast growing convent and motherhouse had been given a 1,200-acre property, the former Woodmen of America Sanatorium, in 1954, by Mrs. Blevins Davis, the widow of a prosperous oil man. Since that time, the order has been based in Colorado Springs.
Meanwhile, back in Denver, the sisters converted the old convent complex into St. Elizabeth's retirement home. Despite protest, the sisters demolished much of the older complex in 1974, in order to build more functional modern housing for their elderly patients. In 1988, they completed a fourteen-story high-rise addition of 144 apartments. St. Elizabeth Gardens, as the home was renamed in 1987, endeavors to provide spiritual and physical care for approximately 300 senior citizens. Another group of Franciscan nuns, the Congregation of the Third Order of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate from Joliet, Illinois, came to Colorado in 1966, when they opened St. John the Evangelist School in Loveland.
The Sisters of the Most Precious Blood were founded by Mother Maria Anna Brunner in Castle Loewenberg, Switzerland, in 1834. They came to the United States in 1844, establishing a motherhouse in Ohio. While the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of Dayton came to Colorado in 1931 to manage Archbishop Vehr's household and work at St. Thomas Seminary, the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of O Fallon, Missouri, first came to Colorado in 1927 as teachers. They took charge of St. Charles School in Stratton when the Presentation sisters withdrew in 1927. In 1930, these nuns from Missouri adopted St. Louis parish school in Louisville, which had been opened in 1905 by Benedictines who had been followed by Franciscans. Three Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of Dayton, Ohio, opened Curé d'Ars School in Denver in 1954. The Sisters of the Most Precious Blood left St. Thomas Seminary in 1987, but about twenty remained in the archdiocese, serving in teaching, health care, the Hispanic ministry, and parish work.
Sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ from Wichita, Kansas, moved into the Denver archdiocese in 1946, when they opened Sacred Heart School in Roggen. Sacred Heart parish, which had dedicated a new church two years earlier, gave sisters Mary Lillian and Anita the old frame church built in 1920. The two nuns partitioned the old church so that Sister Mary Lillian could teach grades one to four in one half while her coworker handled grades five to eight in the other.
Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters, an order founded in 1922 in Chicago by the Reverend John J. Sigstein, found a sponsor in Archbishop John Francis Noll of Fort Wayne, Indiana. The archbishop gave the Congregation of Our Lady of Victory the Our Sunday Visitor estate outside Huntington, Indiana, as a motherhouse. Subsequently, the nuns frequently called themselves the Victory Noll sisters. They came into the Denver archdiocese in 1944 at the invitation of Archbishop Vehr. The Victory Noll sisters, whose special mission is working with Hispanics, opened a youth center in 1948, in an old house on the corner of 22nd Street and Tremont Place in downtown Denver. They also started other catechetical centers in Greeley, at St. Augustine parish (1945) in Brighton, and at St. Mary parish (1952) in Montrose. This order was very active in teaching CCD summer school programs. In 1985, the Victory Noll sisters opened a small novitiate at 3311 Tejon Street in northwest Denver. Discalced (Latin for shoeless) Carmelites established the Carmel of the Holy Spirit at 6138 South Gallup Street in Littleton in 1947. This branch of the cloistered order, which was founded by St. Theresa of Avila in 1562, moved into the country home and estate of Denver architect Jacques Benedict, who had been the favored architect of Archbishop Vehr. Benedict, a noted character and bon vivant who converted to Catholicism late in life, sold his elegant home one year before his death.
Four Carmelite nuns from the Carmel of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Grand Rapids, Michigan, opened the Denver Carmel at the invitation of Archbishop Vehr as the forty-eighth Carmelite convent in the United States. By 1956, the cloister had grown to fifteen nuns when Archbishop Vehr blessed a $118,000 addition. At the dedication ceremony, hundreds of visitors inspected the cloister's seven-by-eleven foot cells furnished only with a straw mattress, a wooden stool, and a wash basin. "The whole reason for the Carmel, its prayer and its penance, its silence and its enclosure," Archbishop Vehr explained at the dedication, "is to allow the Carmelite nun to devote her entire energies to the worship, the contemplation, and the love of God." A new chapel and another wing with room for twenty-one sisters was added in 1963. The sixteen-acre site on Ketring Lake includes a small cemetery where Mother Theresa Ruoffthe founding prioressand three other Carmelites are buried. In a 1987 interview, Mother Judith, the prioress, said, "Tell people that our sisters welcome messages and will pray for peoples intentions."
The Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, founded in Paris in 1633 by St. Vincent and St. Louise de Marillac came to the United States in 1854 to establish a motherhouse in Maryland. Daughters of Charity first came to the Denver archdiocese in 1959 from their Los Gatos Hills, California, motherhouse to staff the new Most Precious Blood parish school. The order, until 1964, wore a distinctive starched white sunbonnet habit with a "windmill" or "flying geese" coronet modeled after those of seventeenth-century peasant women in Normandy.
The Daughters of Charity withdrew from Most Precious Blood School in 1986, moving their operations to Immaculate Conception parish in Lafayette. "There are three of us left in Colorado," Sister Mary Elizabeth Reed said in 1987. "Here in Lafayette our work is the work St. Vincent envisioned. We visit the poor in their homes, bringing the Eucharist, praying with them, and taking them wherever they want to go. In 1976, we opened Lafayette's Carmen Center to provide food and clothing for the poor."
Only God, it has been said, knows how many orders of nuns there are. Over thirty different sisterhoods have worked in Colorado since the 1860s. As the nuns have concentrated on good works rather than on gaining recognition for themselves or their orders, entire orders as well as hundreds of individual sisters have escaped attention. Among the less well-known orders are the Sisters of St. Joseph of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, who came to Colorado in 1926 to staff St. Joseph Polish Catholic School in Denver. Servite sisters, who are also known as the Servants of Mary, came from Omaha, Nebraska, to Welby, a northeastern suburb of Denver, in 1920, to open the grade and high school of St. Mary of the Assumption parish. The Servite sisters closed this high school in 1950 to concentrate on the new Mount Carmel High School in Denver, which they ran until its 1968 closing.
Declining numbers of vocations have forced some sisterhoods to withdraw from Colorado. The Sisters of the Holy Cross from South Bend, Indiana, for instance, opened a novitiate at Blessed Sacrament parish in Denver in 1977, only to close it six years later.
Archbishop Vehr presided over a golden age for Catholic nuns and parochial schools. Religious vocations flourished, and Vehr introduced to the archdiocese a dozen new sisterhoods, and several hundred new nuns. Nuns in traditional garb and their uniformed pupils filled burgeoning schools that earned reputations for good teaching, good manners, good sports, and good discipline. Parish plants typically consisted of an impressive, traditional-style church, a rectory with a pastor and several assistant pastors, and a convent filled with teaching sisters. "Those were the days," recalled one Sister of Loretto, "of the proud and possessive pastor who could defy the superintendent of schools and declare St. Patrick's Day a holiday for everyone!"
To promote an esprit de corps among all the different orders, Archbishop Vehr staged two parties a year for the sisters. Practically all 400 nuns from all the orders-except the cloistered Carmelites and Walburga Benedictinesattended the archbishop's Labor Day party at Loretto Heights College and Christmas party at St. Thomas Seminary. Sister Rosemary Keegan, SL, recalled these galas with glee some thirty years later:
After the party luncheon came the bingo game and some wonderful entertainment of songs and silliness by fathers Bernard Giblin, OFM and Fabian Joyce, OFM, along with Monsignor Richard Heister. Then the archbishop handed out dollar bills with the admonition that no superior could take it awayeach sister had to spend it herself. After the fun and games, there was a new, current movieat a time when sisters were not allowed to go to theaters.Introductions at these festivities led to committees and cooperation between the orders, to shared retreats and shared strategies on how to improve parochial schools. These two annual parties were a well-deserved treat for the sisters, whose work did not end when the school year closed in June.
Many teaching nuns sat on the other side of the teacher's desk during the summer, pursuing refresher courses and degree programs at various colleges and universities. Dozens of others prepared for new and more difficult teaching assignmentssummer school sessions in rural areas lacking Catholic schools.
Nuns also played a starring role in bringing the federal Head Start program to Colorado. Head Start, one of the most successful War on Poverty programs initiated under President Lyndon B. Johnson, began its nationwide efforts in 1965. It was the first federal comprehensive preschool education program. Although open to all children, Head Start was most interested in giving children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds a head start on their education. Mayor Thomas G. Currigan and War on Poverty director Corky Gonzales wanted a Head Start program for Denver. Monsignor William Jones, superintendent of schools of the Archdiocese of Denver, helped steer some of the first local programs into core city Catholic schools. Sister Rosemary Keegan, SL, a Denver nun specializing in early childhood education, did much of the groundwork to get the program rolling by the end of 1965.
Ladybird Johnson, wife of the president, came to Denver on September 11, 1965, to help launch the program. Three youngsters from Annunciation parish program, coached by Sister Keegan, presented the first lady with a bouquet of flowers and a St. Christopher medal blessed by their assistant pastor, C.B. Woodrich.
Ultimately, All Saints, Annunciation, Cathedral, Guardian Angels, Holy Rosary, Presentation, St. Anthony, St. Cajetan, St. Elizabeth, St. Joseph Redemptorist, and St. Patrick parish schools housed Head Start programs, as did many public schools. Head Start introduced children to reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as to museums, music, dance, recreation, and other enrichments.
St. Thomas seminary
Tremendous growth characterized the Vehr years, with the creation of forty-three new parishes and expansion of many existing ones. The archbishop hoped to staff these parishes with St. Thomas Seminary graduates, a strategy that put a severe strain on the seminary, as the archbishop explained in a March 23, 1953, letter to his priests and people: "St. Thomas Seminary, where our priests are trained, is taxed beyond capacity. We have facilities for 140 students, but are forced to house 220. . . . The seminary is forced to turn away students each year owing to a lack of space." In this letter, Archbishop Vehr announced a campaign to expand the seminary and asked each of the 161 parishes to do its fair share. By June, $3,658,116 had been pledged to the Seminary Campaign, of which $2.6 million was actually collected during the next two years.
The seminary had flourished during the 1940s, reaching an enrollment of 200 students by 1950. Yet the only new building of the 1940s had been a small stone and wood canopy to shelter the old St. Mary Church bell. Initially hung at St. Mary in 1865, this bell was installed in Holy Ghost Church in 1905. When replaced at Holy Ghost by an electric carrillon in 1942, the bell had been brought to St. Thomas Seminary and kept in storage until the World War II armistice, when seminarians hastily built the canopy one morning in order to ring the bell while President Harry S. Truman read the peace proclamation.
In 1947, this bell was moved into the memorial bell tower completed on the northeast corner of the grounds and dedicated to alumni who had served in World War II. The belfry, built of Boulder flagstone and Del Norte lava stone, is now illuminated and houses the bell, which is inscribed, "Cast by J.G. Stuckstede and Bro. St. Louis Mo 1865. SANCTA MARIA/SINE LABE ORIGINALIA CONCEPTA/ORA PRO NOBIS," and bears the names of donors John Felter and Amelia Guiraud. This one-ton bell is thought to be the city's oldest. Celebrated as "Old Faithful" or "Vox Dei," it still graces the seminary campus.
In 1950, St. Thomas's built an $80,000, two-story, red brick convent to house ten Sisters of the Most Precious Blood, who served the seminary. Architect John K. Monroe designed the convent with rooms for sixteen sisters, in harmony with Benedict's master plan for the seminary. In 1986, the Precious Blood nuns were replaced by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Mexico (Hermanas Josefinas de M xico), who care for the Vincentian fathers and their seminarians.
Ground was broken for the seminary rec-reation center on Alumni Day, October 12, 1950. The lower level, completed in 1951 and named Bonfils Hall in honor of May Bonfils Stanton, contained a kitchenette, large meeting hall, and a stairway up to the gymnasium-auditorium. This $110,000 project designed by John F. Connell, a Denver architect, was finished in 1953.
Thanks to the 1953 Fair Share campaign, St. Thomas's opened, in 1956, a major new facility, which has been variously called the Theology Building, the St. Pius X Wing, and the Classroom Wing. The dedication cere-mony for this three-story addition drew 4,000 people to the seminary grounds on June 10, 1956. They came for a dual celebrationthe 25th anniversary of Vehr's installation as bishop of Denver and the dedication of the St. Pius X Theology Building. James Francis Cardinal McIntyre, archbishop of Los Angeles, presided over the ceremonies, which attracted thirty-nine prelates.
Cardinal McIntyre blessed the $1.5 million Theology Building, which contained eighty-nine student rooms, eight classrooms, twelve faculty suites, guest rooms, lounges, and a chapel with five altars for instruction classes in liturgy. The new buildings were designed by John K. Monroe, long-time assistant and protégé of Jacques Benedict. They complimented Benedict's chapel and tower, creating a spacious campus of Renaissance and Romanesque revival buildings. The library wing, completed in 1956 and designed by Monroe to match the rest of the campus, now houses nearly 150,000 volumes. It is one of the largest Catholic theological libraries in the country and is open to the community at large. The C. Blake Heister Periodical Room, completed in 1973 and named for a prominent Denver layman killed while climbing Long's Peak, contains a wealth of religious magazines and newspapers.
By 1965, enrollment at St. Thomas's reached its all-time peak, 274 seminarians. To promote vocations, Archbishop Vehr helped to establish the Serra Club, a lay organization to encourage and financially support religious vocations. "The priesthood," Vehr declared, "is the greatest fraternity in the world . . . the greatest gift God can bestow."
Theatine fathers established a second Catholic seminary in Denver in 1955. The Theatines, an order founded in Italy in 1524 by St. Cajetan, first came to the United States in 1906. They worked among Hispanic peoples and had established a novitiate in 1934 in the Southern Colorado town of Antonito. In 1951, the order purchased seven acres at East Mississippi Avenue and South Birch Street within walking distance of St. Thomas Seminary. There, the Theatines built St. Andrew Seminary for about $170,000, naming it for a Sicilian saint who forsook his law practice after he found that the profession led him to utter falsehoods in court.
Archbishop Vehr, on May 18, 1955, blessed this seminary, which has become the North American headquarters for the Theatine fathers. To accommodate growth, a high school preparatory seminary was built a few years later next to the original three-story, Spanish colonial revival seminary building. The Theatines, in 1986, celebrated the canonization of a seventeenth-century Theatine, Joseph Cardinal Tomasi. Reverend Mark Matson of St. Andrew's led an eighty-seven-member U.S. Theatine delegation that presented Pope John Paul II with a pair of K-2 skis engraved with his name, a ski pass to Aspen and Vail, a red Coors ski sweater, and two cases of Coors beer.
Msgr. Joseph Bosetti
In guiding the Denver archdiocese through its golden age, Archbishop Vehr established the deanery system to provide leadership for outlying regions. He relied on the senior priests selected as deans as well as on two dozen monsignors. If Vehr's use of the monsignori strengthened church administration, it created some hard feelings. "When Archbishop Vehr made me a monsignor," reported Monsignor Thomas Barry, "he told me, Every time I give one of you priests the purple, I make the others blue ."
One of the most gifted of Archbishop Vehr's monsignors was an Italian priest who would not only develop a marvelous choir but also give Coloradans grand opera. Joseph Julius Bosetti was born in Milan on New Year's Day, 1886. Educated in Italy and in Switzerland, he became an avid skier and mountaineer as well as an enthusiastic student of both theology and the fine arts. An Alpine guide at the age of twenty, he was said to have once scaled the 14,780-foot Matterhorn in twenty-one hours.
After his ordination, Father Bosetti taught philosophy for three years at the Bethlehem Institute in Switzerland. Then, in 1911, he agreed to missionary work in the distant, mountainous, and semicivilized realm of Colorado. Bishop Matz first assigned him to organize a parish for the many Italian families in Welby, a small community of Italian farmers just north of Denver in Adams County. Bosetti bicycled around the area, enrolling parishioners and pleading for donations to establish Assumption parish.
Bishop Matz appointed Bosetti assistant pastor at the cathedral after its completion in 1912. The majestic cathedral needed more than a few feeble voices, lost in the grand Gothic interior and Matz urged Bosetti to organize a large, male choir trained in classical music.
For his prized cathedral choir, Bosetti began writing his own music and Masses, collaborating with McMenamin on an original operetta, "Bethlehem." After the operetta's success, the two priests formed the Denver Grand Opera Company. Bosetti served as the director and McMenamin as the business manager. Bosetti staged his first opera, an $800 production of Cavalleria Rusticana, in 1915, at the old Broadway Theater. When this and other operas proved to be popular, the Denver Grand Opera Company began, in 1933, to stage more lavish productions at the Denver Municipal Auditorium. Proceeds were donated to Catholic Charities, giving patrons philanthropic as well as cultural motivation.
Maestro Bosetti imported star leads from New York and built his eras around them, using the best local talent he could find. His 1935 production of La Traviata featured two young Coloradans, Frank Dinhaupt and Jean Dickerson. Dinhaupt later became the New York Metropolitan Opera star Francesco Valentino, while Dickerson rose to celebrity status as radio's "Nightingale of the Airwaves." La Traviata would also be Bosetti's final production; in 1951, the opera company folded when his health failed.
The Denver Grand Opera Company shows became legendary annual galas, as Monsignor Gregory Smith recollected decades later:
Bosetti introduced the first successful opera in Colorado. Blocks of tickets went to each parish to sell. One way or another we filled that auditorium night after night. It was great sociability. Some of us went to the same opera six nights a week. Even if Denverites weren't ready for opera, they got it.Monsignor Bosetti, a cultivated man who taught several foreign languages at Cathe-dral High School, became a prized figure in the local arts community and in Denver society. To honor his cultural contributions, the Italian government awarded him the Knight Commander of the Crown of Italy in 1938 and, in 1949, the Star of Italian Solidarity. This accomplished priest was likewise prized by the Diocese of Denver. Bishop Matz appointed him chancellor in 1917, and Bishop Tihen vested him as a monsignor in 1927; Bishop Vehr appointed him vicar general, a post Bosetti held until his death. Camp St. Malo was another of Bosetti's legacies. This archdiocesan camp and conference center owes its existence to Bosetti's love of mountaineering. To reward his cathedral choir and altar boys, he took them camping at the mountain property of Cathedral parishioner William McPhee. Bosetti subsequently persuaded McPhee, a wealthy lumber baron, to donate the site as a Catholic camp and to erect St. William's Lodge in memory of his late son, William McPhee, Jr. Bosetti later induced the Malo family to fund what became Camp St. Malo. Beautifully located on the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park near the base of Long's Peak, Camp St. Malo became a summer haven for young boys from throughout the archdioceseand a favorite retreat for local and visiting clergy.
Monsignor Bosetti's work with boys as a choir and camp director, as well as a teacher, produced another major dividend for the archdiocese. "Bosetti loved working with boys and they idolized him," reported Monsignor Gregory Smith. "He fostered more vocations to the priesthood than anyone in the diocese. He made Camp St. Malo a breeding place for vocations."
Bosetti delighted in leading his boys into the outdoors. He treated many of them to ski expeditions, a sport he helped to promote in Colorado. Soon after his arrival in 1911,he took up skiing, to the astonishment of many Coloradans who had never dreamed of such a thing at that time. "Most people," Bosetti noted, "thought we were crazy to come down mountains on sticks."
To celebrate his twenty-fifth anniversary as a priest, Bosetti led a hiking party up the Mount of the Holy Cross for a Mass on the summit. For his thirty-fifth anniversary, he orchestrated a similar hike up Twin Sisters Peak for an outdoor Mass. Bosetti's active life came to an end on January 22, 1954, at Denver's St. Joseph Hospital.
One of Bosetti's former choirboys, Colorado Governor Stephen L.R. McNichols, remembered him fondly in a 1987 interview:
Monsignor Bosetti was a tremendous guy, a well-educated, cultivated old world gentleman. He cracked down on cigarettes and messing around with girls, offenses for which you could be kicked out of the choir. I was in his choir for eight or nine years and we sang both at the cathedral and in his annual opera at the Municipal Auditorium. He taught us to sing, and, at Camp St. Malo, he taught us to ski, to swim, and to look for the stars.
Msgr. Hubert Newell
Another gifted administrator of the Vehr era was Hubert Michael Newell. Throughout his long career, Newell probably did as much as anyone to improve Catholic education in Colorado. Born in Denver on February 16, 1904, Hubert grew up in an Irish clan blessed with vocations. His identical twin Raymond became a parish priest, and another brother, John, became a Jesuit priest. Hubert's sister, Nora, married and produced three sons who became parish priests in the archdiocese of DenverMonsignor William H. Jones, Father Raymond Jones, and Father Charles T. Jones.
Hubert Newell graduated from Annunciation Grade School, Sacred Heart High School, Regis College, and St. Thomas Seminary. After completing a master's degree in education at the Catholic University of America in 1937, Father Newell was appointed the second diocesan director of education by Bishop Vehr. In that post, Newell sought to standardize and upgrade Catholic schools, which varied frighteningly in quality, in courses offered, and in facilities. In his first year, Newell redesigned high school religious education as a four-year program consisting of five forty-five-minute periods each week devoted to doctrine, liturgy, Bible study, and church history. Superintendent Newell worked to establish harmonious relations with the public schools and with government officials and agencies. This led to such valuable contributions to Catholic schools as that of the Denver Visiting Nurse Association, which initiated regular sight, hearing, weight, and height checks, as well as immunization shots.
In collaboration with Bishop Vehr, who had established a Catholic Parent Teachers Association while superintending schools in Cincinnati, Father Newell started a PTA group for Denver in 1939. The DDCCW, which had been formed in 1926, played a major role in implementing the PTA program. The PTA helped school children to purchase textbooks, first communion outfits, athletic equipment, musical instruments, and play-ground apparatus. The PTA bolstered schools with everything from assistance in the cafeteria lunch lines to annual educational institutes. In 1941, Father Newell was honored for establishing a PTA program that the National Council of Catholic Women recommended as a national model. By September 24, 1947, when Newell was consecrated coadjutor bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming, the PTA boasted more than 7,000 members in forty-two Catholic schools throughout Colorado.
In Wyoming, Bishop Newell assisted Patrick A. McGovern, who had been bishop of Cheyenne since 1912. Upon McGovern's death in 1951, Bishop Newell succeeded him until his retirement in 1978. "I had a wonderful, happy, and blessed time in Wyoming," he recalled in an interview shortly before his death at St. Joseph Hospital in Denver on September 8, 1987. His sister Nora died the same day in the same hospital.
Under Hubert Newell and his successors, Catholic schools kept expanding to accommodate the World War II baby boom. St. Mary's Academy, the oldest private school, moved to a spacious new home constructed on what had been the Hickerson estate at 4545 South University Boulevard in the affluent Denver suburb of Cherry Hills Village. After purchasing the estate for around $220,000, the Sisters of Loretto converted the Hickerson mansion into twelve classrooms, a chapel, and a convent for eighteen sisters.
St. Mary's Academy constructed a one-story, red brick classroom building in 1953, next to the old mansion, which was converted to a convent. The old St. Mary's at 1370 Pennsylvania Street in Capitol Hill was sold and has subsequently been renovated as a deluxe office building. In recent decades, St. Mary's added a new high school buildingBonfils Halland the Bishop Evans Sports Center. On their Cherry Hills campus, the Sisters of Loretto operate coeducational elementary and middle schools, as well as the high school for young ladies, which continues to be one of Colorado's premier prep schools.
During the late 1940s and the 1950s, parish schools were built at a terrific rate, particularly in the rapidly growing suburbs of Denver. Archbishop Vehr took a lively interest in the construction of each new school. As with new churches, he insisted on good architecture and good materials. Jacques Benedict continued to be the architect of record for many archdiocesan buildings, but his assistant, John K. Monroe, increasingly did more of the work. Monroe, like Benedict and Vehr, fancied a Mediterranean Romanesque style with red tile roofs, square bell towers, classical motifs in terra cotta trim, and Romanesque portals. Some of the loveliest parish structures in the archdioceseGood Shepherd, Holy Ghost, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Vincent de Paul, Christ the King, and a now-demolished chapel in Evergreenwere built during the two decades. Schools, convents, and rectories, as well as churches, reflected a design consciousness that produced inspiring buildings.
In 1931, shortly after his installation as the fourth bishop of Denver, Vehr received glum news from Regis College. The Jesuit school, which had been struggling for funds and students during the Great Depression, informed him that without financial assistance it would be forced to close in 1932. With Monsignor McMenamin, the bishop came to the rescue by initiating a five year, $125,000 campaign, christened "Save RegisRegis Shall Not Close."
Bishop Vehr made the first donation, followed by forty-six priests and innumerable lay people, Catholic and non-Catholic. Thanks to this campaign and to the willingness of the Jesuit faculty to work for little or no salary, Regis survived.
Not until 1945, however, did the college retire its $300,000 debt and begin to expand facilities for the first time since the 1923 construction of Carroll Hall. World War II veterans returning to college with the help of federal funding and loans began swamping American colleges. By 1948, enrollment at Regis soared beyond the 500 mark. By scrounging around, Regis acquired a small fortune in federal government surplus, including chairs, desks, file cabinets, and even surplus army barracks from Fort Logan, which were converted into classrooms and offices. In 1949, Archbishop Vehr dedicated the new, 500-seat St. John Francis Regis Chapel. The old chapel was remodeled as an addition to the rapidly expanding library.
Regis completed, in 1951, a $250,000 classroom building, Loyola Hall, which also became the main adminstrative offices and the language laboratory. During the 1950s, Regis began offering classes at Lowry Air Force Base and at an extended campus in downtown Denver. Under the presidency (1953-1968) of Father Richard F. Ryan, SJ, Regis College finally enjoyed prosperity. High school enrollment passed the 500 mark, while the college climbed to over 1,000. Full accreditation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools finally came in 1952.
The campus erupted with new buildings: a 1957 dormitory named O Connell Hall; a 1960 fieldhouse containing classrooms, offices, lecture halls, and a swimming pool as well as a gym; a 1963 student center; a 1964 dormitory called DeSmet Hall; Dayton Memorial Library and a science building in 1966. To make room for all these new developments, Jesuits in the on-campus cemetery were moved to a plot at Mt. Olivet Cemetery. In 1968, Regis began admitting female students. Traditionalists were further mortified when the Jesuits, responding to student suggestions, lightened the college's stiff requirements for course work in Latin, theology, and philosophy.
The McNichols family
Regis College produced some distinguished graduates, including the first Catholic governor of Colorado, Stephen L.R. McNichols. In office, McNichols proved to be exceptionally active and socially conscious. More than any other governor, he promoted health, education, and welfare. He created the Department of Institutions to handle health care and prisons and the Department of Resources to manage water, wildlife, and mineral resources. Furthermore, he left the state with a restructured financial system and a budget surplus. A long list of accomplishments during the McNichols administration includes establishment of the State Parks and Recreation Department, a modernized highway department, and Colorado's green and white license plate with its mountainous horizon, which McNichols himself drew.
Like many others, the McNichols clan had come to Colorado as miners. "Grandfather McNichols left Ireland after the potato famine," Governor McNichols recalled in 1987:
He settled in Iowa and as soon as his boys were old enough to pick up a shovel he sent em to Colorado to make some money in the mines. My dad, William H. McNichols, Sr., came to Aspen that way, liked Colorado and stayed. He was clerk and recorder up there and grand exalted ruler of the Elks. When Aspen faded he moved around 1910 down to Denver where he found work digging sewers.W.H. McNichols, Sr., soon graduated from sewer digging to politics, serving as secretary of the state senate, secretary to the state land board, deputy Denver city auditor, and Denver city auditor, a post he held from 1933 until 1955. "Dad was known as the watchdog of the city," according to his son Stephen. "He knew that city charter like he knew the Hail Mary. And he said his rosary every morning and always carried it with him." The elder McNichols, who had only a seventh-grade education, insisted upon Catholic schools for his four children. Stephen, the youngest, graduated from Regis College and from the Catholic University of America Law School. After working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in a private Denver law firm, and as a federal attorney, Steve was elected state senator in 1948, lieutenant governor in 1954, and governor in 1957. Of his six years as governor, McNichols said in 1987:
Many people, especially Catholics, told me a Catholic could never be elected to statewide office in Colorado. So did my predecessor, Governor "Big Ed" Johnson. Critics said I would favor Catholic schools and neglect public schools. Well, I did more for public schools than any governor in fifty years. Our School Foundation Act redistributed funds to poorer rural schools. We consolidated about 900 school districts into 127 much stronger ones. We abolished those phony school districts set up by railroads and other big corporations to save them from having to pay significant taxes for a real district. These businesses reap the profitswell-trained studentsfrom the educational system and ought to help pay for education.Governor McNichols engaged as his secretary his older brother, William H. McNichols, Jr. After this taste of politics and government, Bill jumped into Denver politics, serving as manager of public works and deputy mayor, and then as mayor of Denver (1968-1982). Like his brother the governor, Mayor Bill (as he preferred to be called) presided over a golden age, marked by economic prosperity and governmental concern for the underprivileged, most notably in the form of public health, education, and welfare programs.
Whereas Governor McNichols maintained a cordial working relationship with Archbishop Vehr, Mayor McNichols established a similar relationship with Vehr's successor, Archbishop James V. Casey. After retiring from public office, both brothers remained active in the Church. Mayor Bill took a special interest in the Little Sisters of the Poor, cohosting their 1986 drive to raise $50,000 for improvements at the Mullen Home for the Aged. Mayor Bill chaired Archbishop Casey's Golf Tournament for Catholic Youth. Governor McNichols served as the chair of the 1987 Archdiocesan Centennial celebration. While exemplifying the growing role of the laity in archdiocesan affairs, the McNichols family has also facilitated a larger role for the church in providing community services to all Coloradans.
The Denver Catholic Register
Monsignor Matthew Smith continued to make the Catholic Register the most spectacular, nationally noted accomplishment of the Archdiocese of Denver. Light shone all night long at the large Register plant on Bannock Street, where editor Smith often labored nocturnally, triple-checking copy and writing his Registorials. By the 1950s, the Denver staff had grown to thirty, and the Register system produced thirty-two editions for dioceses around the country. Total circulation was more than 800,000.
Some other dioceses followed the pattern established in Denver in 1939, when the Register began being distributed free to every registered parish family. Parishes conducted an annual free-will collection to help pay for this policy. Editor Smith and Archbishop Vehr used the newspaper to promote St. Thomas Seminary, construction of new parishes and other archdiocesan goals.
The National Catholic Press Association honored Smith in 1953, noting that his "prophetic vision, pioneer energy and devotion to Church and country have created the largest Catholic newspaper system in the country."
"Matt carried the cross of poor health all his life," according to his brother Gregory. "His living habits were irregular, although he did swim practically every day at the Denver Athletic Club." Monsignor Smith continued to live in his apartment at St. Rose Residence, where his workaholic nature began to strain his health. In the spring of 1960, he went into St. Anthony Hospital, where death came on June 15, 1960. "Matt worked closely with the chancery all his life," recalled his brother. "Unlike some Catholic journalists, he did not regard himself as a divinely appointed scourge for bishops."
Bishop David Maloney
Although Archbishop Vehr's health began slipping in the 1960s, his able assistants and systematic administration kept the church on a steady course. The key man was David Monas Maloney, whom Pope John XXIII appointed the first auxiliary bishop of Denver on November 9, 1960. Bishop Maloney came from a prominent Catholic family. His father, James Maloney, was a civil engineer who came to Colorado as construction engineer for Cheesman Dam. After the 1905 completion of this dam, now a National Civil Engineering Landmark, Maloney stayed on with the Denver Water Department as chief engineer and later became chief engineer of the Colorado Highway Department. James and his wife Margaret raised their six children in Littleton, where he served several terms as mayor.
Their son David graduated at the head of his class from Littleton High School. Unlike his brothers who all became engineers, David entered St. Thomas Seminary. His studies also took him to Rome, where he earned a doctorate in canon law and was ordained on December 8, 1936. In 1943, after several years of parish work, Archbishop Vehr asked Father Maloney to become full-time secretary and assistant chancellor. After Monsignor Bosetti's death, Maloney became chancellor in 1954 and was consecrated a bishop on January 4, 1961.
As auxiliary bishop of Denver, Maloney represented Archbishop Vehr at the Vatican II Council, helping to draft precedent-setting statements on the nature of the Church. Returning to Denver, Bishop Maloney shouldered more and more assignments for the aging archbishop. Although drastic changes were in the wind, Maloney worked closely with Vehr to provide smooth, traditional leadership. After Archbishop Vehr retired in 1967, and James V. Casey was appointed the fifth bishop of Denver, Bishop Maloney was appointed bishop of Wichita, Kansas, a post he held until his retirement in 1982.