Black Catholics in the Archdiocese of Denver are under duress this month, as multiple acts of theft—and an act of episcopal heavy-handedness—in the past two weeks have rocked parishes connected to the African-American community, leading to questions about local safety and the local archbishop.
Reports emerged on Tuesday, August 31st that a robbery had occurred overnight at Curé d'Ars Catholic Church, resulting in major damage to the church, and the loss of not only the copper wiring and audio-visual equipment throughout the building, but also the tabernacle, Eucharist, and sacred vessels.
“Please pray for those who would even think about committing such a horrible act upon any church,” said parish deacon Clarence McDavid in a statement sent internally to parishioners on Flocknote and to the public on Facebook.
The parish is only the latest to face the sacrilege of a stolen tabernacle, as numerous US parishes have reported similar incidents over the past several years, including one in Minnesota last December and in North Carolina last June.
In Denver, as a result of the damage from the break-in, the 69-year-old parish was without cold air or running water for days and the parish hall was flooded. A meeting with an insurance adjuster was held yesterday, September 13th.
“We are moving forward, and the good news is that we do have insurance,” McDavid told BCM that same day.
“The financial impact on the parish isn’t as bad as it would be if we didn't.”
Curé d'Ars, which became a majority-Black parish in the 1960s due to White Flight, has served the Park Hill neighborhood since its founding in 1952. The parish was without a building entirely from 1974 until 1978, when the present was built.
The parish’s late Charlie Bright was the first African-American deacon in the archdiocese. The aforementioned parish hall next door is named in his honor.
Masses have continued at the church since the incident and McDavid has provided updates on social media, noting that makeshift A/C units were installed on September 6th and that water was restored to the church on September 9th.
They have also made note of the support they have received, including sacred vessels and financial contributions from donors, as well as continued help from the Denver Police Department.
“The responses that we have received show that no matter what happens, we remain a faith-filled community who are even stronger when faced with tragic situations,” McDavid said.
Those interested in donating to the parish can do so here.
Ignatius of Loyola
Just days after the break-in at Curé d'Ars, and just a little over two miles away, tragedy struck at another home for Denver’s Black Catholics: St Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Church, run by the Jesuits.
The parish, one of many in the country to display a “Black Lives Matter” sign following the murder of George Floyd last year, had theirs stolen by an unknown party shortly before Labor Day weekend.
“Sometime Thursday night or Friday morning, the sign was cut from its frame and stolen,” said the parish pastor, Fr Dirk Dunfee, SJ.
Interestingly, just hours before the theft, Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila had instructed the parish to take the sign down—a stark contrast from the chancery’s previous stance.
“At first, the Archdiocese seemed supportive,” Dunfee told BCM on Monday.
In his weekly column for the parish's Sunday bulletin, he noted that the theft has been reported to the police, “together with a possible lead or two”.
“This was an aggressive act and a crime.”
Since the incident, information has begun circulating in the community that the perpetrator was a fellow Catholic.
“That's the word on the street,” said parishioner Gregg Fairweather.
He noted that after the sign first went up last summer, during the parish's silent protest for Black lives, an onlooker exited their vehicle to yell ‘White lives matter, too!’
According to parishioner Mary Simon, the sign had indeed been a growing issue, and this was not the first time it had been damaged. It had been taken down once before by an unknown vandal, though not stolen.
In that instance, the sign was simply put back in place.
Now, with neither sign nor explanation to speak of, the way forward for the parish is uncertain—as is the relationship with a notably conservative prelate in Aquila.
“I’m in the process of drafting a letter to the archbishop from [myself] and parish council,” Dunfee said.
“We’ll ask [him] for clarification and invite him to visit our parish.”
For this story, the archdiocese did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
St Ignatius itself is 97 years old and was once pastored by Fr William Markoe, SJ, a noted promoter of interracialism. He advocated for integration in the community and in the Church, as did his successor Fr Edward Murphy, SJ, and today the parish maintains a significant African-American presence.
It was also added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994—an honor still attached to the church property to this day.
UPDATE 9/14: This story has been expanded to include additional comments from a parishioner at St Ignatius Loyola, as well as his picture.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).