Parish History

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By Fr. Louis M. Kirby, O.S.B.

(For a Historical List of the Assumption Pastors, click here)
(For the Assumption Parish History in Photos, click here)
(For Miscellaneous Parish Historical Facts, click here)

The parish of Our Lady of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church in Westcliffe, Colorado, has had a varied history since 1880. The parish takes in all of Custer Countywhich in civil affairs, belonged first to Spain and later to Mexico before it officially became a part of the United States of America.  

Old Assumption ChurchEcclesiastically, the area was under the Diocese of Durango, Mexico, until the Bishop of Santa Fe was designated governance over all of Colorado. It successively was part of the Archdiocese of Denver and now, is a part of the Diocese of Pueblo.

The earliest Catholic presence could have been the settlers from New Mexico, who attempted to found San Buenaventura, located along the Hardscrabble Creek. In 1877, there was a church built in Rosita. Bassickville (Querida) was a mission attended from Cañon City, but there is no record of a church in Bassickville. In 1880, the church in Silver Cliff became a parish church, with Sacred Heart of Mary in Silver Park as its mission. The Wet Mountain Tribune reported that, “Bridget Burns, age 16, and Billy Byrne became the first couple to exchange vows in the Assumption Church in 1880.”
For a Photo History of the Parish, click here.

Westcliffe became the center of population when the railroad terminal was located there. Sometime after 1890, the church building in Silver Cliff was moved to the prairie along Highway 69 South. In the 1930s, Father Raymond Layton, O.S.B. moved the church building to its long-term location at Fifth Street and Rosita Avenue in Westcliffe. In 2004, the parish community had a registered population of over 120 families.

Fr. Robert Servant, 1883From the beginning, the parish was served mainly by diocesan priests who often had to minister to Cañon City as well. The first pastor to be stationed in Westcliffe for any length of time was Father Robert Servant. Having served as a surgeon in the Franco Prussian War, he was ordained to the priesthood in Denver and served as pastor of Westcliffe from 1890 to 1907.

For a full list of priests who served as pastors and photos, click here.

During this time, Westcliffe priests would celebrate Mass in the mining town of Rockvale as described on this website. The Wet Mountain Tribune reported that, “On January 18, 1907, Fr. Servant, long-time pastor of the Assumption Parish, was reassigned to Aspen by the bishop and that no one knows who his replacement would be or if there would be one.” Later, Father Servant was appointed to St. Joseph Parish in Golden by Bishop Nicholas Chrysostom Matz in 1913, and he served there until his death in 1924.

Then the August 17, 1907, Wet Mountain Tribune reported that, “Fr. Early, the priest who has recently been appointed to this parish by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Matz, arrived here Thursday evening and will celebrate Mass at the Catholic Church tomorrow”. In the first week of February, 1908, the Tribune reported that, “Fr. Servant of Aspen arrived here Monday and remained as guest of Rev. Fr. Bruner until Wednesday morning. The visiting priest was here to settle some business transacted whilst he was in charge of this parish.” In the third week of August, 1908, the Tribune reported that, “Rev. Fr. Leo and Fr. Shoenemann of Pueblo, were passengers on Monday’s unlucky train. They arrived early Tuesday on Monday’s train, and were the guests of Fr. Bruner of this place.”

For a list of miscellaneous parish historical facts, click here.

Fr. BerkemeyerFather Edward Berkemeyer was pastor from 1909 to 1929. His twenty years of presence is still remembered by the oldest parishioners. In the last week of April, 1909, the Tribune reported that, “Father Berkemeyer held Mass in Silver Cliff Wednesday morning, the first Catholic service in that place in many years.”—this seems odd based on the previous reports unless the Tribune was separating Silver Cliff from Westcliffe. After Father Berkemeyer left the parish, Bishop J. Henry Tihen of Denver asked Abbot Cytrian Bradley, O.S.B. of the Holy Cross Abbey to assume care of the Parish.

Since that time the Benedictines had care of the souls in Custer County until 2004. Almost all the monks of Holy Cross Abbey have at one time or another served the parish community as pastor.

Fr. MahrerIn July of 1965, at the age of 63, Father James Mahrer, O.S.B. (often spelled Maher) came to be pastor. Little was it expected that he would continue as pastor for 31 years until his death at the age of 94! Father Maher's two major additions to the parish plan were the parish center and the beautiful bell tower, which houses the chimes so admired by those who live around the church. Three generations of parishioners knew him as their spiritual leader.
   To see a newspaper article about Fr. Mahrer and the parish from the early 1980s, click here. He celebrated his Golden Jubilee on June 15, 1980. To read a transcript of a taped interview with Fr. Mahrer, click here.

Fr. Louis In 1997, Father Louis Kirby came from the Holy Cross Abbey to become the pastor of the parish. Father Kirby spent his time as the pastor, but also continued his duties at the Abbey, which included the Director of Oblates and assistance in coordinating the local prison ministry. He celebrated his Golden Jubilee on May 17, 1998. Prior to his assignment at Holy Cross Abbey, he was a pastor at St. Mary's in Pueblo. Before that assignment, Father Kirby was a missionary in Mexico for several years. Fr. Kirby retired on October 1, 2004, and moved to St. Benedict's Abbey, a Benedictine abbey in Atchison, Kansas.

Fr. Jim KingFr. Jim King from St. Michael parish in Canon City took over as parish administrator on October 1, 2004 and served until June 30, 2005. At that time Bishop Tafoya asked Father Vicente Paz en la Casa if he would become pastor of St. Benedict's in Florence, and Our Lady of the Assumption in Westcliffe, which he gladly agreed to do, beginning as the new pastor on July 1, 2005.

In 2006, plans on building a new church began to move forward with approval of architectural drawings and signing a contract with a contractor. The old church building will need to be torn down. The last Mass in the old building was celebrated by Father Vicente on Tuesday, October 24, 2006, after which the stained-glass windows (below) were removed for restoration by Doug Bayer.
Old Stained Glass Windows

Demolition of the old church building took place on January 18, 2007. The foundation of the new church was blessed after Mass on March 4, 2007. Soils from churches and holy sites around the world were added to the soil that is under the floor where the altar resides. The concrete slab was completed the week of March 19-22, 2007; and the first wall construction was begun on March 23. The church building was formally accepted by Bishop Tafoya on our feast day, August 15, 2007, in the Rite of Dedication Mass.
New church collage

Installing altar windowOn January 20, 2010, master glass blower and Assumption Parish parishioner, Doug Bayer and Josh Martin installed the main altar stained-glass window. Doug spent approximately 500 hours to design, create, and install this window. The two windows flanking this one were the next to be created. To see a large, high-resolution version (400k) of this image, click here.

Hint: if the high-resolution image is only as large as the browser's window, try putting the cursor over the image and if it turns into a magnifying glass with a plus sign, then click the image to make it become full size.

Fr. Vicente History PageAfter nearly seven years as pastor, Fr. Vicente passed away on Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 1:00 a. m. following a heart attack on Friday, February 3. His life story available here. Vigil Services were held at the Assumption and St. Benedict's Parishes on Thursday, February 9, 2012. The Mass of Christian Burial was held at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Pueblo on Friday, February 10, 2012. Photos of both services with links to the readings at the Mass are available by clicking here.
    Interment followed the Mass in the San Juan Bautista Cemetery, south of Florence, on Victory Lane (County Road 19). Directions: going south of Florence on Hwy. 67 about a quarter mile after crossing the railroad tracks, at the first left turn, turn east (left) onto Victory Lane/County Road 19, go approximately half mile, cemetery will be on the right. Drive around to the entrance on the east side. Fr. Vicente's grave is about 30' inside the entrance on the left.
For a map to the cemetery, click here, will open in new window or tab. 

Fr Nicodemus UrassaOn February 21, 2012, Fr. Nicodemus Urassa officially assumed his pastoral role for both the St. Benedict's Parish and the Assumption Parish. He celebrated his first Masses at both parishes on Ash Wednesday, February 22, for photos of the Mass at the Assumption Parish, click here.
     On June 30, 2015, Fr. Nick was reassigned to the Scared Heart Parish in Paonia and Saint Margaret Mary Parish in Hotchkiss, Colorado, on the Western Slope collectively known as The North Fork Catholic Community. Fr. Nick's new assigment takes effect on August 14.

Fr John Mass

Monday, July 27, 2015, Fr. John Farley to officially become pastor at OLA and St. Benedict's Parish. Ordained in May, l993 by then Bishop Tafoya, he received his seminary training at St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology attached to the Benedictine monastery in St. Meinrad, ID. Twice he has served Pueblo parishes, one in Rocky Ford, and has come here from continuing education studies in St. Louis, MO after eight years at The Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Grand Junction.
For more information, click here.

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