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Goat Hill and Our Lady of Visitation Parish: Part Three: Jerry Roys’ Brief History of Goat Hill and Our Lady of Visitation

May 2, 2017

Jerry Roys (center with sun glasses), Goat Hill Historian, in the midst of a April 30, 2017 demonstration in front of the Archdiocese of Denver, protesting the closing of Our Lady of Visitation Parish

by Jerry Roys.

(Jerry Roys, a roofing contractor by trade, a local historian by passion and competence. Roys grew up in Goat Hill and attended Our Lady of Visitation where he was a choir boy. )

Former Colorado House Legislator and Senator, Polly Baca grew up in Greeley, Colorado Polly says living in a bigoted town was not easy, even when it came to attending church. Polly’s parents were parishioners at Saint Peter, the only Catholic Church in Greeley. One of her earliest memories is attending church with her parents. The church was segregated and says in those days everything was segregated; even the Catholic school allowed only Anglo children to attend.

“I grew up in Greeley, Colorado. My earliest memory was when I was three years old. We went to church, the only Catholic church in town. I saw these little girls in white dresses and knew they were going to march around the church, and I wanted to watch them from both sides. You know how little kids are, I insisted on sitting in the center and my parents went to the center pew. The usher told us we couldn’t sit there, because the church was segregated. Mexicans, Mexican Americans, Latinos, and Spanish Americans all had to sit in the side aisles. The center aisles were reserved for the Anglos in the community.”(Polly Baca recorded interview, August 5, 2013, August 13, 2013, and August 25, 2013).

Due to racist acts of the past many Hispanic Catholics in certain areas gained a considerable distrust of the church. These Hispanics had been indoctrinated into an ethnic type of Catholicism that was practiced in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado, areas that were once Mexico. In 1821, following Mexico’s independence, the Catholic Church removed its priests out of New Mexico. For decades afterwards a 400-year-old secretive society known as the Penitente Brotherhood stepped in to keep the faith alive. This group was excommunicated by the church. (Kuruvilla, Carol, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/03/penitentes-new-mexico). Not practicing traditional European Catholicism for a generation could be one reason many Colorado Hispanic Catholics were not comfortable with the American form of Catholicism, which had a European orientation, and as stated, openly displayed racism.

Due to racist acts of the past many Hispanic Catholics in certain areas gained a considerable distrust of the church. These Hispanics had been indoctrinated into an ethnic type of Catholicism that was practiced in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado, areas that were once Mexico. In 1821, following Mexico’s independence, the Catholic Church removed its priests out of New Mexico. For decades afterwards a 400-year-old secretive society known as the Penitente Brotherhood stepped in to keep the faith alive. This group was excommunicated by the church. (Kuruvilla, Carol, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/03/penitentes-new-mexico). Not practicing traditional European Catholicism for a generation could be one reason many Colorado Hispanic Catholics were not comfortable with the American form of Catholicism, which had a European orientation, and as stated, openly displayed racism.

Polly says her father Jose, along with other Greeley Latinos, petitioned the Catholic Church to build their own church, Our Lady of Peace. The archbishop gave them his approval because of the bigotry displayed at Saint Peters. The church was established in 1941 and to this day is known as a place Latinos can go to worship. In southwest unincorporated Adams County residents living in the Spanish speaking Goat Hill barrio wanted their own place of worship, other than having to travel six miles to attend the nearest Catholic Church where more than likely they experienced the same racist views. The residents established their place of worship in two old railroad cable cars during this time. On that same street, W. 65th Place, within a few hundred feet of the church, there was a morada which was place of worship for the Penitentes. Also to this day Our Lady of Visitation is known as a place where Latinos can go to worship.

Before 1945 the church hierarchy paid little attention to Mexican American social economic problems. In January of that year the Bishops of Los Angeles, San Antonio, Santa Fe, and Denver met in Oklahoma City and organized the Bishops Committee for the Spanish-Speaking under the direction of San Antonio’s Archbishop Robert E. Lucey. The result of the meeting was leadership issues for Latinos improved in the church. (Meier, M.S., Ribera, F. 1993. p. 226).

The tramway car, in which church services began in 1949. The picture hangs in the church all

In 1945 Father Joseph Trudel, a Chaplin at Mercy Hospital, began ministering to the residents living in the Goat Hill barrio. With no permanent place to worship mass was held in different locations, living rooms, barns and even a box car. In the fall of that year Trudel contacted the Penitente brotherhood who agreed to let the congregation use their building of worship, or Morada, located at the east end of 65th Place. Then in 1949 Trudel asked the Denver Tram Way Company for a cable car after the company had switched to buses. The company gave them one cable car, but the congregation soon realized one was not enough. A second cable car had to be purchased. Marcos Saiz donated his prize pig and three piglets for a raffle to raise money for the second cable car. The residents of Goat Hill were very happy to have their own church. Benito Garcia donated a lot next to his home. The trolley cars were placed on a cinder block foundation and parishioners donated material, time and labor to install an altar, pews and a bell. The church was ready just in time for Christmas Eve mass. The cable cars would serve as a place of worship up to 1954, (Colorado Catholicism, The Archdiocese of Denver, Our Lady of Visitation 1950, Thomas J. Noel).

The new church was constructed of cinder blocks and the name was changed from Chapel of the Good Shepard to Our Lady of Visitation. In the beginning parish priests, especially the Servite fathers, took turns giving mass. Then before George R. Evans became Bishop he requested and received the little barrio church. It easy to see why a man of God would want to serve this congregation of Hispanic Catholics who had an obvious passion and love for God. Funds were raised through food sales and raffles to construct the church hall (http://www.htcatholic.org/#/ministries/our-lady-of-visitation).

Five men who are recognized for building the church are, Benito Garcia, Marcos Saiz, Paco Trujillo, Harry Milanez, and Don Ortiz.  For the community to have a place of worship these pious men of meager means sometimes sacrificed what they could not afford. They worked in sub-zero temperatures to make sure the new church would be finished by Christmas Eve. Those early parishioners who gave to having their “own” place of worship did not only sacrifice for those living at that time, but also so that their children, grandchildren and future generations had a place of worship. They gave and built the church for their families, and those living in the Goat Hill barrio, and for future generations, not for the Archdiocese of Denver.

In ending it seems in today’s political climate, the era of Trump that it is alright to marginalize and push aside certain groups of people. What the Catholic Church does not realize is what is previously stated: that there is some distrust of the church, and the residents of the Goat Hill barrio have been indoctrinated into an ethnic type of Catholicism. We have the Brown Virgin, Our Lady of Guadalupe; maybe it is because of this that many Catholic Hispanic churches have the name of “Our Lady.” If Our Lady of Visitation is closed those Catholics living in Goat Hill will have no place to worship, no place for community to come together once a year and celebrate a Goat Hill tradition, Our Lady of Visitation Bazaar, that has lasted more than half a century. One has to understand Chicano culture, and tradition to know that closing Our Lady of Visitation will be devastation to the community, because without a place to hear the word of God, life can be devastating. Those early parishioners who prayed for cable cars knew that.

_____________

Links”

Part One: Goat Hill and Our Lady of Visitation Parish

Part Two: Goat Hill and Our Lady of Visitation Parish

Part Four: Goat Hill and Our Lady of Visitation Parish

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