In 150 years, the Catholic heritage of the Denver area has grown rich
As hundreds of Knights of Columbus and their families converge on the Mile High City for the 129th Supreme Convention Aug. 2-4, they are being met by the hospitality of Colorado Knights and by the beauty of the Colorado landscape. They will also encounter the rich Catholic history of Denver and the surrounding areas.
For the days preceding the convention, the Colorado State Council has organized tours that include not only scenic locations such as Rocky Mountain National Park and Pike’sPeak, but also sites of Catholic devotion.
For example, many will visit the Mother Cabrini Shrine in Golden, Colo., located at the site where Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, foundress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, opened Queen of Heaven Orphanage at the beginning of the 20th century.
Originally built in 1929 as a replica of the grotto at Lourdes, France, the shrine was dedicated to Mother Cabrini in 1946, the year that she became the first U.S. citizen to be declared a saint.
Others will travel 225 miles south to San Luis, where they will visit the shrine of “La Mesa de la Piedad y de la Misericordia”(The Hill of Piety and Mercy). Built in 1986, the shrine features a trail of Mexican martyrs and life-sized bronze stations of the cross.
In many cases, the history of devotion in Colorado is inseparable from the history of the Knights of Columbus. The Colorado Knights have enthusiastically supported the Cabrini Shrine since its inception, and the stations of the cross in San Luis were constructed with statewide K of C support.
THE EARLY YEARS
The first church in Colorado, named for Our Lady of Guadalupe, was built in Conejos, in the southern part of the state, in 1857. The following year, the site of Denver (named for the governor of Kansas Territory) was settled as miners flocked to the area in search of gold.
In 1860, a young French priest, Father Joseph P. Machebeuf, was charged with the responsibility to head north from Santa Fe to minister to the burgeoning community in the Colorado Territory. Together with Father John Raverdy, Father Machebeuf found Denver to be a town of 3,000, of which about 200 were Catholic, including 10 Catholic families, a number of Catholic men and others.
In 1864, three Sisters of Loretto arrived and opened St. Mary’s Academy, Colorado’s first Catholic high school.
Denver was named Colorado’s capital in 1867, but its growth remained slow until the first railroad reached the city in 1870. Soon, the Church grew rapidly, as did the rest of the population throughout the territory, which included Wyoming and Utah.
Denver was elevated to a diocese in 1887, 11 years after Colorado became the 38th state. Father Machebeuf was named Denver’s first bishop, and by the time he died two years later, the diocese counted 64 priests, 102 churches, 10 hospitals, nine academies,one college and one orphanage.
THE GROWTH OF THE KNIGHTS
By 1890, the population of Denver exceeded 100,000. At the turn of the century, ground was broken on the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, which would take 12 years to complete.
Also in 1900, Denver became home to the first Knights of Columbus presence West of the Mississippi River with the establishment of Council 539.
The charter grand knight, John H. Reddin, dedicated his life in extraordinary service to the Order. Brother Reddin was the first state deputy of Colorado; instituted the first councils in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming; was the first member of the Supreme Board of Directors from Colorado; and was the first supreme master of the Fourth Degree, serving in that capacity from 1907 until his death Dec. 30, 1940.
Although much has changed, the Catholic Church has continued to grow along with the rest of Colorado. Today, the population of Colorado has grown to 5 million, including approximately 720,000 Catholics among the state’s three dioceses — Denver, Pueblo and Colorado Springs. There are now more than 16,000 Colorado Knights in 142 councils.
THE KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS AND THE DENVER CATHEDRAL
Immaculate Conception Cathedral Basilica in downtown Denver is marking the centennial of its completion this year and next year will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its dedication. In anticipation of John Paul II’s visit to the cathedral in August 1993, the Order’s Fourth Degree donated $100,000 for a renovation of the Gothic building, in honor of John H. Reddin, a pioneer for the Order in the West who was the first supreme master During the same time, the Colorado State Council committed $200,000 for repairs to the Kimball pipe organ. Plaques commemorating these gifts are mounted near the front doors.