DENVER — Members of a local Catholic parish, who appealed the decision to shutter Our Lady of Visitation church all the way to the Vatican, are celebrating a decree that their church be made accessible for at least two masses a year.
“It means a lot to us,” said parishioner Sandi Garcia. “Because all of this time, we’ve been told … that we could no longer have any Masses at our church.”
Our Lady of Visitation was organized 70 years ago when Benito Garcia donated the first parcel of land to the Archdiocese.
Parishioners placed a trolley car on the property and services were held in the trolley, until a cinder block replacement was built in 1954.
“We built this church and put our hearts into this church,” Garcia said. “We have maintained it and lovingly supported it, and it in turn has lovingly supported us... We’ve baptized our babies there. We’ve buried our dead there and celebrated anniversaries there. I get goosebumps thinking about it.”
The Archdiocese said Our Lady of Visitation, at 2531 W. 65th Place, is a satellite parish of the larger Holy Trinity Church at 76th Avenue and Federal Avenue.
On April 5, 2017, Archdiocesan Executive Director of Communications Karna Smith told Denver7 that Holy Trinity’s pastor decided to close Our Lady of Visitation because he had his hands full ministering to parishioners at the larger parish.
Feisty parishioners fought to keep OLV open and appealed to the Vatican once the church was shuttered.
“After 11 months, the Congregation for the Clergy decreed that Archbishop (Samuel) Aquila violated church law in eliminating all Masses at OLV,” Garcia wrote in a news release.
Current Archdiocesan public relations director, Mark Haas, took issue with that interpretation.
“We don’t like being called a liar,” he said. “The Vatican says they upheld the Archbishop’s decision.”
He said they did follow church law.
"The Vatican said (OLV) is a subsidiary church of Holy Trinity, meaning they are within the boundaries of Holy Trinity parish," he said.
Garcia said the decree mandates that one of the Masses be celebrated on the feast day of the patron saint, and that the other be celebrated on the anniversary of the church’s dedication.
“We know from historical documents, and from the Catholic Register, that the first Mass at our little church was on Christmas Eve, 1949,” she said. “So we want to have a Mass in our church on Christmas Eve.”
Haas said that’s not going to happen.
“We don’t have an official record of that,” he said, referring to the dedication date. "And we don’t have time this year to be ready for a Christmas Mass. In the future, that’s a possibility, but it wasn’t a possibility this year.”
Garcia said that won’t stop them from showing up Christmas Eve.
“We’ll have a candlelight vigil on Monday night — Christmas Eve," she said. "The doors will be locked most likely, unless there is a change of heart, but we’re going to probably be on the street and will celebrate as close to the church as we can.”