Since 1971 St. Thomas More Parish, named after a layman-saint popularized in the movie "A Man for All Seasons," has become a showcase of a modern twentieth century Catholic community.
This dynamic center of today began as Mission South East. It would not have been possible without the vision of its first pastor, the Reverend Frederick D. McCallin. In November 1970, Father McCallin and a group of people, aware of the demographics of the area, met on a weekly basis to discuss the needs of the people in the new area. A parish census taken in May 1971 revealed 590 Catholic families with the need and ability to support a new parish. The proposal was taken to Archbishop Casey who approved the establishment of a new parish in June 1971. For many years St. Thomas More Parish was known as St. Thomas More Center because its founding pastor believed that it was to be the center of people's lives, their neighborhood and a center for them to meet God and one another.
Construction on the new rectory started immediately. By February 1972, through the tireless efforts of Ted Gerhardy and John Petrinsky, the parish acquired 40 acres of land as a building site for the parish center. On February 24, 1974, Father McCallin broke ground for the St. Thomas More Parish, and on December 8, 1974, celebrated the first Mass in the newly completed 300-seat chapel. By this time the parish community had grown to 1000 families.
Two weeks later the parish opened its restaurant, the Padre. The idea of a restaurant in the church building was so unique that the news of its existence reverberated throughout the country. Father McCallin, however, saw it as a natural way to evangelize people. "You had to bring them together before you could evangelize them."he said. He often cited examples of how people gathered around Jesus at feasts and how he fed the multitudes. He also pointed out that Christ's public life began at a wedding feast in Cana and ended with the Last Supper with his apostles.
He recalled that in earlier times, the priest made pastoral visits to families. Since our modern, complicated life rendered these visits difficult to accomplish, the priests could meet the people in the Padre.
The parish community continued to grow, and in January 1982, construction on the church adjacent to the original center began. On June 21, 1983, the parish celebrated the Mass of Dedication. In addition, the parish added new programs and facilities. Tennis courts and softball, soccer and football fields were put in place to meet the needs of the ever-growing community. Father McCallin's last building project before his retirement in 1988 was the Youth Center.
Father Michael Walsh succeeded Father McCallin in June 1988 as pastor of St. Thomas More. The parish passed into the hands of a very experienced and capable priest who not only was able to carry on the vision of its founding pastor, but also brought innovative ideas of his own. Under Father Walsh's leadership, the parish reached out to the local community at large, now reaches out to the global community.
The parish played a major role in hosting 2,300 French youth who came to Denver for World Youth Day in 1993.
After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Father Walsh recognized the need to help the emerging Catholic Church and its people who suffered persecution for 70 years under Communism. Father Walsh initiated the First International Conference to assist the Catholic Church in the republics of the former Soviet Union. First of its kind in the United States, the Conference, which was held in Colorado Springs, brought to Colorado a cardinal and three bishops from the former Soviet republics who told of their hardships of rebuilding Christ's Church. What initially began as aid to Russia, QAMA (Queen of the Apostles Mission Association) now has expanded its aid to Ukraine and Slovakia where it continues to send medical equipment to hospitals, and rebuild churches and seminaries.
The thrust of Father Walsh's pastoral work was evangelization - evangelization, not just abroad, but at home. Because of the tremendous growth of the parish and shortage of room in the church facility, large numbers of students in religious education were scattered in the homes of various catechists. Although Archbishop Stafford approved the construction of an education complex next to the church, residents in the vicinity objected. After many hearings and numerous meetings with County Commissioners to overcome the objections of neighbors, permission was granted. Archbishop J. Francis Stafford dedicated the Evangelization Center on June 24, 1994. Today, the Center houses not only three sections of grades K-8, but all of the religious education classes. In addition to 700 students who attend school, 1800 students from public schools are in religious education classes and 150 students in the Mother's Day Out program take advantage of the Center facility.
Father Walsh also added the Holy Hour and the Perpetual Adoration in the Oratory of the Blessed Sacrament to the already prayerful parish. Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger from France consecrated the Oratory during World Youth Day. The Oratory enhances the prayer life of a parish in a special way, and its fruits are visible.
In June 2000, Father Andrew Kemberling began his term as administrator of St. Thomas More. "Adjusting to the business operations of the largest parish in the Archdiocese of Denver was a big challenge during the first year," said Father Andrew. He has made a number of changes thus far. A true believer in the practice of stewardship, Father Andrew's first official policy was to make St. Thomas More a tithing parish. "I believe that by doing so, we truly live out our practice of stewardship on the parish level, fairly and justly on all counts." He also remodeled the parish offices, facilitated some much-needed repairs of the parish facilities and expanded the Cloister Cove, the largest Catholic religious gift store in the southeast Denver area.
Father Andrew also initiated changes in the religious education, parish school and youth ministries - specifically the changes in Confirmation from 10th grade to 6th grade, which proved to be an inspired decision. Nearly 1,000 young people received the Sacrament of Confirmation in the two years after its implementation.
In addition, the Evangelization Center is now fully used not only by the parish school, and religious education, but also by the youth ministries, with the renovation of the basement into a special place for the youth, "The Catacombs."
"Working with the school children on a regular basis has been gratifying and it should serve the parish well in promoting vocations," Father Andrew said. It is one of Father Andrew's goals at St. Thomas More. "I'm happy to see that the practice of parish has a very strong sense of vocations, with the incredible number of clergy recently ordained to the priesthood and the diaconate." Yet Father Andrew knows that "the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few" (Lk: 10:2). He has made it a priority for his staff to find ways to promote vocations in their own sphere of influence.
Furthermore, Father Andrew has taken a leadership role in promoting stewardship as a way of life at St. Thomas More and beyond by assisting parishes locally, nationally and internationally to embrace it.
Presently, there are more than 4,800 St. Thomas More families, made up of more than 15,000 registered individuals. Thousands of volunteers serve on the parish's 125 ministries. The vitality of parish life is evident not only in its social activities but also in its devotional life. Over 300 people attend Mass daily and 5,000 on Sundays.
Indeed, we have a lot to be thankful for as a parish for the spiritual vitality as a faith community.
~ Kitty Kolody