›› The only Catholic church I remember knowing well was the most famous of them all — St. Peter’s Basilica.
For four months, I admired the cathedral every morning as I made my 30-minute walk to school on the ancient cobblestone streets of Rome. The massive, 500-year-old, eggshell-colored icon is one of the grandest beauties I’ve ever known. It’s impossible to stand within half a mile of that place and not feel that if there is a higher power, he would like this.
I was raised Catholic, but by the time I hit my rebellious pre-teen years my family and I preferred to spend Sundays taking long walks, driving to the mountains or barbecuing instead of going to church. As a result, I’ve never been a religious person. Despite my absence of faith, one Sunday morning in 2007 inside St. Peter’s Basilica, I was awestruck by every detail of the interior. From the immaculate Renaissance art adorning the walls of the bright, gigantic dome, to the gold inscriptions around the cupola and Bernini’s bronze canopy over the shrine of St. Peter — it was all so majestic and formidable. I couldn’t understand any part of the mass, yet I was overcome with emotion. It was like I could feel my grandfather, a Catholic, South American native who died the year prior and never got the chance to visit Rome, or any place in Europe, sitting beside me on wooden pews where millions have come for eons.
Because St. Peter’s Basilica was my only basis for comparison, at least within the past decade, I didn’t imagine I’d be moved by any suburban Catholic Church near East Arapahoe Road and South Buckley Road in south Aurora. I parked my Mitsubishi among some Lexuses and posh sports cars and took in the view of Our Lady of Loreto Catholic Parish. The church, a brick building in shades of brown and burnt orange, was expansive. Small trees lined the lush green lawn in front of the church. From the hilltop the church sat on, I looked west. The sky was azure, and the clear spring day made for a miraculous view of the mountains.
I was surprised at first glance at how regal, how stately, how Old Europe, the building was. At first I wondered whether I was dressed too casually in my black T-shirt and blue jeans. I walked in, now expecting the pungent pine and citrus aroma of frankincense and myrrh. Instead, I was greeted at the entrance by garlic and oregano, the unmistakable smell of good tomato sauce. It was the church’s annual “Spaghetti Eddie” dinner, named after Pastor Edward Buelt. The scent trailed through the impressive wooden pews, along the façade of the gold organ and between the gigantic, European-style architectural posts that hovered over parishioners like a giant spider as they sat down for mass.
This is not my father’s Catholic church. The suburban church, built in the early 2000s, is as impressive as any centuries-old cathedral in Europe. Wealthy neighborhoods surround the church on all sides, but there was no hint of exclusivity. I wasn’t blinded by fancy jewelry. Some people wore spring dresses and slacks and others were dressed down. People smiled at each other and meekly apologized when they wanted to squeeze into empty spaces in the middle of pews.
“Our mission is basically one of hospitality,” Father Ed told me later. That spirit of welcoming is seen in events that stretch far beyond the annual spaghetti feast — in church ministries that serve the poor, in bible study classes and in greeters who welcome people to church before mass.
If the church’s mission is hospitality, Ed is the perfect man for the job. At the “ripe, old” age of 56, (his words, not mine,) he’s humble and gregarious and sets people at ease just by the way he talks. He’s eloquent. He doesn’t utter superfluous words in conversation. It’s like he’s perfected the art of friendliness. I should already have known that by how quickly he responded to my emails. There’s a joke around the church, Ed says with a chuckle, that, “Father Ed will always call you by a first name. It may not be your own, but it will be a first name.” With 3,000 families associated with the church, it’s hard to keep up with everything going on in their lives. But Father Ed tries his best. “I want people to understand that I’m making every effort I can to appreciate them as a person individually, not just as someone coming to church and then leaving anonymously,” he said.
A Denver native, Ed was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital and is a graduate of our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School and Mullen High School. He wanted to be a priest ever since he could remember. “There were other things I thought of being, like working in aviation or politics or becoming a psychologist,” he said. “But in the end, I always thought I wanted to be a priest.” The calling came to him as he grew up and began to see the strong, community-minded fabric of society start to crumble. “Families were breaking down, metropolises were becoming too privatized and not communitarian,” he said. There was too much emphasis on privacy and self-worship of the individual. “I always thought I wanted to counter that by being one who built up community, who brought the community up together in Christ,” he said.
Other church parishioners have learned by Ed’s example. A sense of hospitality has been instilled into Anthony Genella’s character since he started coming to the church at the age of 2. Now a 17-year-old senior at Regis Jesuit High School, Anthony recalled a time when he went out of his way to get to know a boy who had transferred from Mullen High School, which has long had an antagonistic and competitive relationship with Regis.
“I kind of stepped past that rivalry to befriend him,” he said. Anthony spent six years in altar service and now greets other parishioners as they come in for church services. Being a part of the church has helped him through his teenage years. While most kids his age struggle to find an identity and a sense of belonging, Anthony has always remained true to his values. He describes them in four words: “Open arms, warm heart.”
Our Lady of Loreto isn’t centuries old. In Catholic Church years, it’s still a newborn. What makes it impressive isn’t its architecture or its striking view of the mountains. It’s the people.
Our Lady of Loreto Catholic Parish
is actually one of the tallest churches in the metro area. When it was built a little more than a decade ago, builders wanted to make the church visible from East Arapahoe Road.
The celestory windows in the main chapel bathe the entire hall in light, a striking effect for anyone used to nondescript Catholic chapels.