In the 1850s gold fever hit Colorado.
William Greene Russell and his brothers
panned out seven ounces of gold in July of
1858, at the mouth of Dry Creek on the
South Platte. Inflated news of this modest
strike sparked the Pikes Peak Gold Rush,
a barrage of some 35,000 fortune-seekers.
The Russells founded the pioneer
settlement of Auraria the following
October, naming it after their home town
in Georgia. Auraria is a Latin word for
As the tiny frontier town prospered,
an intense rivalry soon developed with an
equally prosperous neighbor across Cherry
Creek-Denver. Although Auraria boasted
the first school, public house and library,
the first stagecoach arrived in Denver circa
1859, thus establishing Denvers su-
premacy. On the chilly, moonlit night of
April 6, 1860, a ceremony on the Larimer |
Street Bridge united the two towns.
Auraria then became west Denver,
thriving for decades with attractive homes
and flourishing businesses.
This early economic success allowed
Auraria to support several three Catholic
churches within a six-block radius, and an
Episcopalian chapel that later became a
Jewish synagogue. As Auraria slowly
changed from a middle class, residential
neighborhood to a heavy industry district,
the needs of the people changed. By the
time the Auraria Campus was constructed
in the early 1970s, only two of the Cathohc
churches and the synagogue were still
standing. St. Cajetans, St. Elizabeths and
Emmanuel still remain as an integral part
of the campus and a reminder that
Auraria was the place where Denver
The building of the railroads brought a new immigrant population
into Denver. A number of these newcomers were German Catholics; at least twelve
families settled on the west bank of Cherry Creek in the 1860s. The German
Catholics set about building their own church and parish school in 1868. They also
pleaded with Bishop Joseph Machebeuf for a German priest. In August of 1879, the
foundation of St. Elizabeths church was laid and construction began.
By the middle of September the church was partly completed and Mass
was being celebrated inside. In 1880 a parish school opened in the small brick house
once used as the parish rectory.
The original plan for St. Elizabeths had been to make it the national
parish for the Germans, but soon Irish immigrants began to move into the neighbor-
hood. The Germans felt they had built the church, paid for its construction, and that
it belonged to them. The Irish petitioned for their own church, and one year later
construction began on Saint Leo the Great Catholic Church.
The Franciscan order took charge of St. Elizabeths in 1887. Three years
later, the original St. Elizabeths church was tom down, two lots on 11th Street
purchased, and fundraising
began for a new church and
school. Two brick buildings
at 10th and Champa streets
were purchased and quickly
converted, the larger
serving as St. Claras
convent and the other as St.
Claras Orphanage, which
later moved to the outskirts
of Denver. The old orphan-
age buildings were eventu-
ally converted to the St.
Rose Residence for Women.
All of these projects
were remarkable consider-
ing the economic conditions
in Denver after the Silver
Crash of 1893. Undeterred
by financial difficulties, the
creative pastor, Father
Francis Koch, found
unemployed laborers who
were glad to work for low
The design for the
new St. Elizabeths was
based on the cathedral
structures of Europe. While
the church was nearing
completion, Father Koch
commissioned a St. Louis
The Gothic St. Elizabeths Church is an impressive
monument to the German immigrants who were very
influential in Denvers history.
interior of St.
1968. Some of the
Paris, a modem
tile mosaic that
was hung behind
the altar, a 12-
window in the
choir loft, plaques
on either side of
the altar, new
stations of the
cross in the old German tradition, twelve brass crosses and candle holders, and a
bank of organ pipes placed in the choir loft. The cost of these changes was $250,000
and was paid from the estate of May Bonfils Stanton, who died in 1962.
The year 1968 also marked an end and a new beginning for St. Elizabeths.
Three years earlier St. Leos had closed, making St. Elizabeths the territorial parish.
One year later the church was declared a Denver Landmark. In 1969 it was nomi-
nated and accepted for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. In the
1970s, however, the parish faced its greatest challenge as the prospect of Urban
Renewal and the creation of the Auraria Campus became a reality.
The parish adjusted to the campus by providing a place where students could
gather and relax. This was the St. Francis InterFaith Center, which was built using
funds from the Bonfils Foundation.
To build the center, the school, the St. Rose Residence and the convent were
razed. As they were being tom down, a bit of Denvers past was uncovered. When the
cornerstone of the old school building was removed, workmen found plans for the
school and three 1890 newspapers: The Colorado Journal (in German), The Daily
News and the The Rocky Mountain News. The St. Francis Center officially opened on
In 1983 the Franciscans turned over St. Elizabeths to the Capuchin order,
which had been in Denver since 1970, bringing an end to almost 100 years of
Franciscan involvement and guidance in the parish. The St. Francis Center is now
the property of the Auraria Foundation and serves as a meeting space and reception
hall for the campus and community.
company to cast in bronze three large bells for the belfty.
Two of the bells had been paid for, but the third still
awaited a donor. Father Koch went to the wealthy
German brewer, Philip Zang, who owned the largest
brewery in the Rockies and asked Zang to donate the
money needed to buy the third bell. Father Koch assured
him that his donation was strictly business. The priest
also promised that Every time that great bell rings it
will advertise your brewery, it will cry your name far and
wide. Zang! Zang! Zang! Since St. Elizabeths was just
two blocks from the competing Milwaukee (Tivoli)
Brewery, Zang agreed.
On January 23,1898, construction was completed
on the new church. That spring, the Bishop formally
dedicated St. Elizabeths, which measured 132 feet by 69
feet with its spire reaching 162 feet high. The church was
constmcted of msticated rhyolite (lava stone) quarried at
Castle Rock, its architecture predominately Gothic with
a few Romanesque touches. The interior of the church
featured statues and woodwork carved in Germany.
Thanks to the polished pleas of the Franciscans
and the generosity of Colorados German Catholic
community, St. Elizabeths was completely debt free by
1902, the first church in the diocese to retire its debt.
In the autumn of 1907, the ill-fated Father Leo
Heinriches became Superior. On Sunday, Febuary 23,
1908, Father Heinriches celebrated six oclock morning
Mass. At Communion no one paid much attention to
Giuseppe Alia, who knelt at the altar rail to receive the
host. Alia jumped to his feet and pulled a revolver out of
his coat. Joseph Hines, an altar boy assisting the priest,
cried out a warning, but it came too late. As Father
Heinriches turned in the boys direction, Alia placed the
gun against the priests chest and fired. Moments later
Father Heinriches died. He was only forty years old.
An off-duty police officer, Daniel Cronin,
captured Alia before he made it out of the church. Alia
was found guilty and executed July 15, 1908.
Although the shooting attracted national
attention as rumors of a socialist plot spread, it is far
more likely that the murderer was mentally ill. Today, a
plaque on the wall marks the spot where the assassina-
tion took place.
Shortly after Father Heinriches death, Bishop
Matz reconsecrated the church. The years following the
horrifying murder of its pastor provided quiet growth
and change for St. Elizabeths.
Gradually, the neighborhood began to decline
from middle-class homes to low income dwellings,
warehouses, and small industrial plants. Nonetheless,
St. Elizabeths remained a vital, growing parish.
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The murder of Father Leo Heinrichs in 1908 gained national attention, spreading rumors of a socialist plot.
In the early 1920s, Spanish-speaking people began arriving in the predominately Irish and German
neighborhoods of Auraria. A majority of these newcomers decided to attend St. Leos, the Catholic Church built
for the Irish in the 1890s. When conflict developed between Hispanic and Irish parishioners, Father William ORyan,
pastor of St. Leos, asked the Theatine Fathers to minister to the needs of the Spanish-speaking Catholics in the
Leading Hispanic women presented Bishop Henry Tihen with a petition requesting a separate parish and
church and the involvement of the Theatine Fathers,who had been active in the American Southwest for centuries.
The Theatines were founded in 1524 by St. Cajetan of Vicenza, who came from a family of bankers and is credited
with creating the first credit union.
In 1922 Father
Bartolomew Caldentey began
saying Mass for the Hispanics in
the basement of St. Leos, and
immediately began to raise
funds for a new church. In
September, Father Caldentey
was recalled to Rome to become
the Superior General of the
Theatine order. Before he left,
however, he went to see John
Kernan Mullen, a poor,
uneducated Catholic Irishman
who had become a millionaire
flour miller. Born in Ireland,
Mullen came to the U.S when he
was fourteen. He bought his first
mill in 1875, the Star Flour Mills
in North Denver, and within
four years owned three more. In
1885 he created the Colorado
Milling and Elevator Company,
which by 1911 had spread into
four other states. Mullen never
forgot his beginnings in the
Auraria neighborhood. He was
one of the key figures in the
founding of St. Leos, helping
the parish out of its financial
crisis in 1898. At the time,
Mullen still owned his old home
on Ninth and Lawrence streets,
even though he had built a
mansion in the Capitol Hill area.
Mullen agreed to give
the land on Ninth and Lawrence
to the proposed parish on one
condition: the parishioners were St. Cajetans in the 1950s. The school, convent and health clinic were
required to show their good faith razed in the 1970s.
In the Fall of 1990, St. Cajetans
received a major exterior face-lift.
Weather-worn and laced with chipped paint,
the old church was badly in need of repairs,
particularly the stucco that characterized the
structure. For researchers involved in the
restoration the selection of authentic paint
colors was an important concern
Sometime between 1955 and 1965
the church had been painted for the first time,
pink and light blue. According to former
residents of Auraria, those colors may have
been chosen because someone in the congrega-
tion got a bargain on the paint.
When the Auraria Higher Education
Center (AHEC) assumed responsibilities for
the building in the 1970s, the paint had faded
to an off-white. In an effort to preserve the
building, the church was repainted in the pink
and blue color scheme, described by Denver
historians and preservationists as Afro-
Caribbean, and a wedding cake. A decade
later, the church was once again repainted in
pastels. Unfortunately, an oversight resulted
in only the bottom half of the church being
repainted, which gave the church a two-toned
neighborhood clinics established in the 1960s by Denvers
department of Health and Hospitals.
In 1935 the parish announced that it would build a
school and convent. Both buildings were designed by the
famous Denver architect T.H. Buell. WTien the school
opened, tuition was $20 for each family, regardless of size.
In an attempt to reach out and help more people,
St. Cajetans established Our Lady of Victory Mission in
1937. This tiny chapel was set up at West Twelfth Avenue
and Umatilla Street to help the poor people living in the
South Platte River bottoms. The flood of 1965 washed
away the mission and it was never rebuilt.
To help Hispanic families buy cars and homes,
and meet lifes occasional emergencies, the St. Cajetans
by raising $5,000. Put to the challenge, the parishioners managed to raise over
$4,000. Unfortunately, the bank in which they had deposited their money folded and
they lost everything. Mullen was satisfied by their show of faith, however, and
donated the land and a small house to serve as a rectory. He also contributed money
to begin the construction of the new church.
Theatines and the Hispanic parishioners moved out of St. Leos basement
and into a small house on the Mullen property. Masses, classes and church meetings
were held there. The parish
borrowed $15,000 for the
construction of the new church
and broke ground on October 1,
1924. By January 1925, the
basement of the church was
finished, the borrowed money
was exhausted and the parish
was in debt. The council decided
to hold services in the basement
until the bills could be paid.
Catherine, had been a strong
supporter of the new church.
With her death in March 1925,
Mullen felt compelled to provide
support to the parish in his
wifes memory. Mullen donated
$65,708 of the needed $89,000
to finish the church. The
cornerstone was laid on June
was completed, Mullen
expressed his desire to see St.
Cajetans consecrated. He
agreed to retire the churchs
remaining construction debts.
St. Cajetans was completed and
consecrated March 21,1926, and dedicated as a memorial to Catherine Mullen.
Many of the parishioners had helped build the church, donating labor for
carpentry, masonry and woodcarving. The church itself was built of brick and stucco
and had two belfry towers in the front. The interior was trimmed in pine and oak
wood with plaster walls. Lines to simulate marble wainscoating were drawn on the
walls. The main altar was ornate, with carved, painted white wood, and included
niches for statues and the crucifix. Robert Willison, who designed the Denver
Municipal Auditorium and St. Dominics Catholic Church, was the architect.
The 1920s and 30s saw the addition of the St. Cajetan Clinic. During 1934 the
clinic was renamed the Ave Maria Clinic, and served as an outpatient department
for Denvers three Catholic hospitals. The clinic, partly funded through the United
Way, was roughly the equivalent of todays modern medical centers; it continued to
operate until 1969 when it was closed by the archdiocese. The sick were then
steered to the updated outpatient facilities in the three Catholic hospitals and to the
Credit Union opened on January 10, 1939. This credit union served the parish for 31
years and had 1,350 members. By the 1940s the St. Cajetan complex included the
church, the convent, the parochial school, the Ave Maria Clinic and the Credit Union,
which was housed in the rectory located next to the church.
In November 1953, the church was robbed. The story lead in the Rocky
Mountain News read: Two armed thugs invaded a Denver church Wednesday and
stole $255.. . The money had been taken from the church credit union. The incident
was so unusual that the investigating officer said
that, it was the only armed robbery of a church
he could remember in six years of investigating
stickups in Denver.
This marked the beginning of St.
Cajetans troubles. The unprecedented robbery
soon became the norm. In April of 1958, a second
For nearly 50 years, St. Cajetans was a religious and cultural center for the
When Auraria was built, St. Cajetans survived to
armed robbery occurred. The credit
union was robbed twice more, once
in September 1961 for $800 and the
last time in July of 1967 for $195.
Only the final robbery resulted in
In June of 1964 it was
discovered that the bookkeeper for the credit union had been embezzling funds
amounting to more than $14,000. According to the auditors, interest income
accounts were short from 1959 to June of 1964 by approximately $150 to $180 a
month. She had also written up several fictitious loans from which she embezzled
$7,000. The bookkeeper confessed she had been going to the dog tracks and attend-
ing church bingo games held in the basement of St. Cajetans.
After the last robbery was solved and the embezzler revealed, St. Cajetans
ilete exterior restoration of St. Cajetans in
>91 included a return to its original colors.
In January of 1991, funding was
obtained for the complete restoration of the
exterior of the 65-year-old church. Soon an
intensive search for St. Cajetans original
colors began. After interviewing former
residents of the Auraria Hispanic community;
Father Prohens, pastor of St. Cajetans in the
1970s; and Denver preservationists, a
selection was made. The National Park
Service analyzed and numerically coded
plaster samples from the church. This process
provided the research team with the churchs
colorstwo types of gray trim, apricot walls
and forest green window shutters. In Novem-
ber of 1991, the Denver Landmark Commis-
sion approved the color scheme.
Instead of actually repainting the
church, a type of synthetic plastic stucco
(elastomeric) was used on the church during
restoration. Stucco is a breathable material
that was applied by layers onto the brick
structure. When stucco is painted, the paint
seals it and keeps it from breathing, which
results in cracking and crumbling of the
material. This new form of stucco is expected
to be more durable and resistant to cracks.
experienced a new terror, arson. In March 1968, two fires were started in the church
that caused damage to a confessional booth and an altar curtain. No arrests were
ever made in connection with the fires.
When rumors swept through the Auraria neighborhood in the late 1960s
that the Denver Urban Renewal Authority was going to demolish the area to make
way for the 171-acre Auraria campus, panicked neighbors met in the basement of St.
Cajetans. Some prayed, some decided to fight the project and others resigned
themselves to the end of an era. In 1967 the neighborhood was officially declared the
future location for the Auraria Higher Education Center, and in 1969 the city called a
special bond election to secure funds for the project. Even though some residents
organized and campaigned against the bond issue, it was approved by the voters.
Fortunately, residents of the community were given funds for relocation, even if they
After the bond issue passed, there was nothing left for the residents, no
The Lawrence Street viaduct was torn down in 1988, and the street became an
attractive pedestrian mall. St. Cajetans plaza now serves as a focal point for the
reason to stay in Auraria. Soon St. Cajetans school and playgrounds, the Ave Maria
Clinic, and the convent were demolished. Interestingly enough, all three buildings
were of the same achitectural style, one that may still be seen at St. Josephs Hospi-
tal administration building.
In June 1975, the congregation moved from the old St. Cajetans to a new
church in Southwest Denver, modeled after the ancient Aztec pyramids. On October
12, 1975, the new St. Cajetans at 4000 West Alameda Avenue was dedicated.
Since that time many things have happened to the old St. Cajetans. Parishio-
ners worked with preservationists to save the church structure from demolition. As a
monument of Hispanic architecture, culture, history and religion, St. Cajetans
became a Denver Landmark. The Auraria Campus has recycled the church as a
multi-purpose auditorium for lectures, concerts, recitals and other community
functions. In 1991 the old church underwent a complete exterior renovation.
For nearly half a century St. Cajetans had a key role in the everyday life of
Hispanic residents of Auraria. The church provided medical aid, education and even
financial support for its parishioners. Through hardships and heartaches, St.
Cajetans was there for its people.
become a meeting space and
o- arts center for the campus.
And then there was...
St. Leo the Great
Aurarias Irish-American Catholics originally attended
services with the Germans at St. Elizabeths. At first the two
ethnic groups shared the church. But the language and cultural
barriers eventually forced the parish to split, with separate priests
and Mass times for each. When that arrangement proved unsatisfac-
tory, the Irish contingent petitioned for a separate church. Denver
miller John K. Mullen donated his
land at Tenth Street and West Colfax
for the future parish. In 1888 construc-
tion began on St. Leo the Great, which
would be completed by 1890.
Initially St. Leos was one of
the more successful Catholic parishes
in Denver. The driving force was
Father William F. ORyan. Under his
leadership, St. Leos had as many as
2500 people attending the four Masses
on Sundays. Nevertheless, the
congregetion had financial problems.
In 1898 a U.S. marshal appeared
before Father ORyan and ordered him
to appear in the U.S. District Court.
District Judge Moses Halett signed
foreclosure papers on St. Leos,
ordering Father ORyan to raise
$11,200 in nine months or turn the
church over to its creditors. The pastor
immediately went to work asking for
donations. Within nine months he had
collected enough money to pay the
debt, thanks to an $11,000 lump sum
gift from four friends of the congrega-
tion, $10,000 of which was donated by John K. Mullen.
By the 1920s many of the Irish who had been instrumential
in the building of St. Leos, and whose families had attended and
financially supported the church, moved out of the neighborhood as
they made their fortunes. At the same time, a large number of
immigrants from Mexico and other Spanish-speaking Americans
moved into Auraria. A majority of these newcomers turned to St. Leo
for spiritual support and guidance. Once again, cultural differences
forced a confrontation between two ethnic groups using the same
Father Martorell began holding services in the base-
ment of St. Leos for the Hispanics in 1923. Two years later, John
K. Mullen helped finance the construction of St. Cajetans Church
for the Hispanics. Ironically, the churches were only two blocks
apart. While the immediate
problem was solved with the
construction of St. Cajetans,
St. Leos was never able to
count on the support of the
population. As the congregation
at St. Cajetans would grow
yearly, St. Leos declined.
In 1940 Monsignor
ORyan died. At the time of his
death, the church was kept
alive only because of the $150
per month received from the
estates of the late Verner Z.
Reed and John K. Mullen.
On February 28,
1965 Father Robert A.
Banigan, the parishs last
priest, announced the closure of
St. Leos. Catholic officials
stated that the dwindling
number of parishioners had
caused the archbishop to close
the church. Those families who
continued to seek service at the
downtown church were asked to go to Mass at either St. Elizabeths
or St. Cajetans.
Father Banigan writes, I told the parish members this
morning that it was better to shut down now instead of letting the
elements, dust, wind and snow damage it further. Old age just
caught up with St. Leos. Perhaps it was doomed from the begin-
ning because it was built on a foundation of prejudice. The
Auraria Campus Technology Building now occupies the site of the
St. Leos was demolished in 1965, just a few years before
preservation efforts associated with construction of the Auraria
Campus might have saved it.
The Emmanuel Chapel is the citys oldest church structure. In 1859
Colonel Lewis N. Tappan built a non-denominational Sunday School, which was
conducted by Professor Owen J. Goldrick, Denvers first school teacher, on the
present site of the Emmanuel Gallery. Shortly thereafter, the school was moved to
Tenth and Lawrence and named the Union Sunday School. In 1874 the site was
purchased by Bishop John F. Spaulding for an Epsicopalian chapel.
The building was constructed of stone with twelve-foot by eighteen-foot wall
buttresses, a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles. The windows in
the front and along the sides are Gothic style. Orginally, rose-stained glass windows
enhanced the front and back walls.
From 1874 to 1893, it remained part of the Epsicopal diocese. When the
congregation moved to a new building at Twelfth and Lipan streets, the Cathedral
chapter of the Brotherhood of
Saint Andrew held services in
the chapel they renamed Saint
Andrews Mission. From 1893 to
1903, lay readers and members
of the Young Ladies Guild of the
Cathedral maintained a mission.
A Sunday School, a sewing
school and a mothers meeting
were conducted by laymen and
clergy within the chapel.
At the same time,
commerce and industry flour-
ished in the neighborhood,
attracting more immigrants to
the area. Survivors from the
Jewish Atwood Agriculture
Colony and those from the
Cotopaxi colony soon streamed
into Auraria to try their hands at
becoming merchants, small store
owners, peddlers and junk
dealers. With this influx came
the need for a Jewish synagogue.
There had been a small
Jewish congregation, Shmona Amunoh, in existence since the late 1860s, on Four-
teenth and Blake streets. Their synagogue was destroyed by the 1880 Cherry Creek
flood. The congregation was forced to move three more times for a variety of reasons.
Finally, in 1903, the members of this old congregation and the new immigrants
purchased the Emmanuel Chapel from Bishop Spaulding. The two groups then
formed the congregation Shearith Israel or Remnant of Israel.
The interior of the chapel was remodeled in the image of a traditional
Orthodox Synagogue. The ceiling corners were replastered and rounded in the
Orthodox style. A balcony was also added, where the Jewish women sat.
By the 1920s the Jewish population in Auraria declined. When World War II
ended, there were only fifteen members of Shearith Isreal. Finally, regular services
ceased in 1958, when the remaining congregation was unable to gather the required
ten men for Saturday and holiday services. In late 1958 the synagogue was sold to
Wolfgang Pogzeba, an artist, for $10,000.
From 1958 to 1973, Pogzeba used the building as an art studio. He updated
the electrical and plumbing systems and, except for replacing the orginal wooden
doors with bronze, he made few changes. In 1969 Emmanuel Chapel was approved
for listing on the National Register of Historical Places. As a registered United
States landmark, no federal funds, such as urban renewal or federal highway funds,
could be spent in any manner that might jeopardize its historical integrity.
Four years later, in 1973, Emmanuel became part of the Auraria Campus.
Currently the Emmanuel Gallery is used by the Community College of Denver,
Metropolitan State College of Denver and the University of
Colorado at Denver as a shared art gallery.
In the 1960s, Emmanuel was used as an artists studio. Today it serves
as an art gallery for the three Auraria schools.
Colorado Catholicism by Tom Noel
Pioneers, Peddlers, Tsadikion by Ida Uchill
Centennial History of Jews in Colorado by Allen Breck
The Episcopal Church in Colorado by Allen Breck
German Pioneers in Colorado by Jacob V. Schaetzel
The History of Catholic Education in the State of Colorado
The Denver Catholic Register
The Auraria Transcript
The Fourth Estate
Historic Denver News
The Rocky Mountain News
The Denver Post
A History of Our First 100 Years
Historical American Buildings Survey
Reverend James Prohens
Denver Public Library, Western History Collection
Auraria Library, Archives Collection
Colorado Historical Society
Bill Bower Collection
Written by Jason Krupar
Edited by Rosemary Fetter
Published by the Auraria Office of the EVPA
Designed and printed by Auraria Reprographics