Denver, Archdiocese of
DENVER, ARCHDIOCESE OF
Metropolitan see comprising 24 counties in the northern part of the state of Colorado, the Archdiocese of Denver (Denveriensis ) in 2000 ministers to about 363,000 Catholics in a total population of 2.7 million. Erected as a diocese Aug. 16, 1887, it was raised to the status of an archdiocese Nov. 15, 1941. Its suffragan sees are Pueblo, Colorado Springs, and Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Early History. The permanent settlements in northern Colorado that developed as a result of the discoveries of gold in 1858 and 1859 were under the jurisdiction of Bp. John B. Miège, SJ, Vicar Apostolic of Kansas. In 1860, after his visitation to the Catholics of Auraria, Denver City, and the mining camps in the Rockies, the bishop secured the transfer of the Colorado district to the jurisdiction of the New Mexico diocese. Bp. John B. Lamy sent Fathers Joseph Machebeuf and John B. Raverdy to the Pikes Peak region where they worked until their deaths in 1889, laying the foundation for the Church in Denver.
Diocese. A rapid growth in population led to the establishment (1868) of a vicariate apostolic at Denver for Colorado and Utah. Machebeuf was named to it and consecrated titular bishop of Epiphania at Cincinnati, Ohio, on Aug. 16, 1868. Three years later Utah was transferred to the jurisdiction of the Diocese of San Francisco. Denver was erected a diocese on Aug. 16, 1887, with Machebeuf as first bishop. In spite of financial difficulties in the state and the diocese, the westward migration continued and the Church grew. When Machebeuf died in 1889, Catholics numbered more than 40,000, and schools under Catholic auspices were educating more than 4,000 pupils.
Matz. Nicholas Chrysostom Matz, a native of Munster, Lorraine, and missionary to Colorado after his ordination in 1874, was consecrated coadjutor of Denver on its erection as a diocese in 1887; he succeeded to the see at Machebeuf's death on July 10, 1889. During Matz's 28-year rule, the Church in Colorado made notable progress. He conducted the first synod for the diocese in 1890, erected a cathedral in honor of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, and stressed the importance of a Catholic education for the young. Matz proved a capable administrator, although his episcopate was plagued by financial
problems caused in part by the fluctuating mining economy of the state, and by difficulties stemming from the growing animosity toward Catholics and from the German-Irish conflict within the Catholic body itself. By 1917 there were 174 priests caring for 110,000 Catholics in 188 churches and 133 missions. The diocese had 31 parish schools and five academies, educating 7,584 pupils; two colleges and preparatory schools for young men (one initiated by the Benedictines in Pueblo; the other, Jesuit-run Sacred Heart College and High School that was renamed Regis in 1921 in Denver). The Vincentian Fathers had opened St. Thomas Seminary in Denver (1908) for the diocese and the surrounding area.
Tihen. The third ordinary was John Henry Tihen; he was bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska when he was transferred to Denver to succeed Matz, who died on Aug. 9, 1917. After Tihen was installed on Nov. 28, 1917, he had to counter the attacks of the ku klux klan, which grew in power following World War I, until discredited in the mid-1920s. In the developing field of Catholic journalism, Tihen gave financial and moral support to Matthew Smith (d. 1960), editor of the Denver Catholic Register ; he encouraged him to establish a national weekly edition of the Register as well as local editions for other dioceses. Tihen's 14-year episcopate was notable also for a successful campaign to enlarge St. Thomas Seminary, the establishment in 1918 by the Sisters of Loretto of a Catholic college for girls, the unification of charitable works in the diocese under a centralized Catholic Charities (1927), the inauguration of vacation schools for rural public school pupils, and the consecration of the cathedral in 1921. When age and infirmity led Tihen to resign on Jan. 2, 1931, the Catholic population had increased to 135,258, the number of priests to 229, and the number of parish schools to 49, with a student body increase of 11,981. Three new hospitals, an orphanage, and the J. K. Mullen Home for the Aged also were well established. Tihen died Jan. 13, 1940.
Vehr. Urban J. Vehr was installed as fourth bishop of Denver on July 16, 1931. Born in suburban Cincinnati on May 30, 1891, Vehr had been ordained in 1915 and served as rector of Mt. St. Mary Seminary, Cincinnati. Despite the problems of the Depression years, the new bishop promoted the Church's growth, particularly in education and the press. The school system for the diocese was unified under a diocesan superintendent, while the Register system of newspapers was further expanded. Cordial relations with non-Catholic groups also marked the bishop's approach.
Archdiocese. By 1941 the Catholic population of the state had increased to 147,217, and the Holy See separated the southern counties of Colorado to form the new Diocese of Pueblo. At the same time (Nov. 15, 1941), Denver was made a metropolitan see, with the Dioceses of Pueblo and Cheyenne, Wyoming, as suffragans.
Casey. When Archbishop Vehr retired in February of 1967, James V. Casey, bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska, was named his successor. It was Archbishop Casey's lot to steer the Church of Denver through the years of change that followed Vatican Council II. Archbishop Casey created many new offices and agencies to administer and coordinate parish programs, ministries to Hispanic Catholics, family life, and social services. He made a conscious effort to encourage laymen and lay women to become actively involved in parish and diocesan programs. On the downside, he found that the Denver Register was floundering and deeply in debt because of dwindling circulation and increased competition. Shortly after Casey's arrival the archdiocese sold the Register to the Twin Circle Publishing of Culver City, California. In preparation for the centennial celebration of the diocese in 1997, Archbishop Casey commissioned Tom Noel to write a history that appeared under the title Colorado Catholicism, but Casey did not live to celebrate the centenary. He died March 14, 1986.
Stafford. Casey's successor, J. Francis Stafford, a native of Baltimore and formerly bishop of Memphis, served the archdiocese for ten years, from the time he was installed as archbishop July 30, 1986 to his resignation in 1996 when Pope John Paul II named him president of the Pontifical Council on the Laity. The high point of Stafford's episcopate occurred in August 1993 when Denver hosted World Youth Day that was attended by some 450,000 young people and Pope John Paul II. The pope named Stafford a cardinal in 1998. One of his last acts as archbishop of Denver was to establish the Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Mission Seminary of Denver (March 25, 1996) under the aegis of the Neocatechumenal Way. Like other missionary seminaries in the network, Redemptoris Mater prepares presbyters for the work of evangelization both in the archdiocese of Denver and in mission lands.
Chaput. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., was bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota when he was transferred to Denver to replace Archbishop Stafford in February 1997. Chaput, by reason of his Potawatomi ancestry, was the first Native American to head a metropolitan see in the U.S. Chaput moved swiftly to consolidate the administrative offices of the archdiocese, moving the chancery to a 40-acre site officially known as the John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization. It is also the site of the New Advent Theological Institute established in 1999 to consolidate the work of evangelization in the archdiocese. The Institute has four divisions: St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, established by Archbishop Chaput in 1999; Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary; the archdiocesan program for permanent deacons; and the division of Lay Formation.
Bibliography: Archives of the Archdiocese of Denver, Chancery Office. w. h. jones, The History of Catholic Education in the State of Colorado (Washington 1955). w. o'ryan and t. h. malone, History of the Catholic Church in Colorado (Denver 1889). h. l. mcmenamin, The Pinnacled Glory of the West (Denver 1912); Diamond Jubilee of the Cathedral Parish (Denver 1935). t. j. noel, Colorado Catholicism (Denver 1989).
[t. m. feely/eds.]