The parish of Curé d’Ars was created in 1952. The name Curé d’Ars was chosen to commemorate St. John Marie Vianney who was the 19th century curé, or pastor, of a parish in the town of Ars, France. The name literally means pastor of Ars. Fr. John Vianney served his parish for forty years. He was canonized as the patron saint of parish priests.
In November 1952 Fr. William Mulcahy, pastor, celebrated the first mass in the old Tower Theater that was located at 2245 Kearney. By 1953, over 800 families had enrolled in the new parish that was bounded on the south by 28th Avenue and on the north by 46th Avenue. The east and west boundaries were Syracuse Street and Colorado Boulevard, respectively.
Ground was broken August 9, 1953 for church and school buildings. The church was located on the northeast corner of 32nd Avenue and Dahlia Street. Following Fr. Mulcahy’s death in 1953, Fr. Nicholas Haley became pastor. By this time, the rectory at 3050 Dahlia Street was ready with a chapel in the basement for daily Mass. In 1961, Fr. Frank Morfeld succeeded Fr. Haley.
In 1963 there were two events that impacted the decade old parish. The first event was that Continental Airlines moved its headquarters from Denver to Los Angeles causing a significant decrease in parish membership. The second was a migration of members to southeast Denver and suburbs with a simultaneous influx of Black families, creating a change in the ethnic and Catholic composition within the parish.
The 1970’s found Curé d’Ars serving approximately 200 predominantly Black families. The church plant was too large and too costly for so few parishioners. In 1974 the church plant was sold to Union Missionary Baptist Church. Fr. John Canjar, who had become pastor in 1969, insisted that “the parish is not physical buildings, but where the parishioners congregate for services and meetings”. It was with this spirit that the Curé d’Ars parish moved into Park Hill Congregational Church where it shared a space with Temple Micah.
Although this ecumenism was appreciated, Curé d’Ars parishioners missed having a building to identify as their very own church home. In 1978, under the leadership of Fr. Robert Kinkel, the parish used funds from the sale of the original church plant to begin construction on the church owned property on the northwest corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard, formerly 32nd Avenue, and Dahlia Street. The strong minded and determined parishioners demonstrated to the Archdiocese of Denver that Curé d’Ars was a growing parish, drawing its membership from all quadrants of the metropolitan area. The church made history by celebrating the ordination of one of its own members, Charlie Bright, to the Permanent Deaconate. Charlie Bright was the first African-American deacon in the Archdiocese. He was assigned to Curé d’Ars until his death in 1982.
The parish continued to grow under the pastorate of Fr. Martin Lally. During Fr. Lally’s tenure, Sr. Margaret Quinn served as Pastoral Assistant. Another Curé d’Ars parishioner stepped forward to say, “Here I am Lord, Send Me”— Clarence McDavid became a candidate for the Permanent Diaconate.
During this time, murmurings were heard that although we had a church house, something was missing – something that would make our church house into a church home. Visual representations of the predominantly African-American membership were absent in the altar, tabernacle, crucifix and Stations of the Cross that had been brought from the original church building. It was also around this time that the first significant annual Black History celebration was held, culminating with a Taste of Soul where parishioners share their tastiest dishes.
Fr. Lloyd Schmeidler became the seventh pastor of Curé d’Ars in 1986. Fr. Schmeidler’s assignment marked the beginning of a relationship with the Capuchin-Franciscans of the Mid-America Province who were hierarchially responsible for providing pastoral leadership and ministry to Curé d’Ars. Mr. McDavid became Deacon McDavid in 1987 and was assigned to his own parish. Sr. Marion Weinzapfel began serving as Pastoral Assistant in 1991. Still creating history, a third parishioner, Guffie Menogan became a candidate for the Permanent Diaconate. Deacon Menogan was assigned to St. Ignatius Loyola parish.
Under the leadership of Fr. Schmeidler all parishioners were encouraged to celebrate their culture. In the words of the Black Bishops, “Those of us who are African-American Catholics are reclaiming our roots and shouldering the responsibility of being both African-American and Catholic”. Further, Pope Paul VI wrote, “evangelization loses much of its force and effectiveness if it does not use their language, their signs and symbols…” It was in direct reflection of Pope Paul’s words that a Black Corpus from Uganda was hung on a cross carved by Denver artist Oye Oginga. The church house had become a church home. Years later, a beautiful statue of Mary, created by local artist Ed Dwight, provides a welcoming presence at the entrance of the sanctuary.
Fr. John Cousins assumed the leadership of the Curé d’Ars community in 1992. Fr. Cousins brought the community into the Age of Technology — parish records were organized and computerized. The parish center and church were renovated, with the most striking change being that of the exposed, beautiful stain-glassed windows behind the altar.
When Fr. Cousins’ tenure ended in 2000, Curé d’Ars was without a pastor to succeed him. Deacon Clarence McDavid became the Parish Administrator for the next three years while Fr. Tom Jost, SJ, from St. Ignatius Loyola served as canonical pastor for one year, Fr. Paul Milcetich served as Sacramental Minister the following year, succeeded by Fr. Simon Kalonga in 2002. In 2003, Fr. Simon was appointed Pastor and served through 2016. After teaching, by example, his parishioners the TRUE meaning of “Curé” in the parish name, Fr. Simon was assigned to St. Joseph’s parish in Ft. Collins, CO. As with all previous pastors, Curé d’Ars is richer for the pastorate of this son of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Fr. Faustinus Anyamele began his service as Pastor in January of 2017 until September 2018.
Fr Joseph Thai Cao arrived at Cure d’Ars to begin his Pastorate on October 1, 2018, the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux (the Little Flower). This is providential, because Fr Joseph has a great devotion to St. Therese. Fr Joseph is a native of Vietnam but he and his family had been in the United States since 1975. Ordained a priest in 2000, Fr Joseph brings an experience of being a servant leader to Cure d’Ars. Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila formally installed Fr. Joseph Thai Cao as Pastor of Cure d’Ars on January 13, 2019.
The parish experienced further capital improvement in October 2004 when the parking lot was redesigned and extended to accommodate the then 453 families. In December 2004, a new parish center, located just west of the church on Martin Luther King Boulevard was completed and occupied. Dedicated on January 23, 2005, the center consists of office space, a library, kitchen and a multi-purpose room. The relocation of the parish center from 3050 Dahlia opened a permanent home for the current and future pastors serving the community.
A relic of St. John Vianney was installed in the sanctuary in 2012. As its ministries grow, Curé d’Ars, a multi-ethnic community of Catholic Christians, rooted in African-American spirituality, continues to be a beacon of hope, a sign of the healing and reconciling presence of Christ to all.