LONGMONT — St. John the Baptist Catholic Church may be celebrating its 125th anniversary this month, but the parish considers the milestone more of a time for rebirth.
“We’re looking at it as a time of spirit renewal,” said the Rev. Fr. Brian Morrow, lead pastor at St. John’s. “We’re really taking a look at ourselves and are aware of our blessings and how rich we are, and not necessarily material things.
“We’re moving ahead with a vision.”
The Roman Catholic church at 323 Collyer St. will celebrate its legacy with events and activities throughout the year, beginning June 24, the feast day of its namesake saint.
Other events in the next year include a program on Islam, a celebration Mass presided by Archbishop Charles Chaput and an ongoing public display of church artifacts, including an 1892 chalice that will be used in the June 24 Mass.
“It’s almost unbelievable. What a beautiful thing,” said longtime church member Margaret Vanthuyne, whose great-great-grandfather William Mulligan, with his brother Lawrence, donated two lots on the west side of Collyer Street between Third and Fourth Avenues where the church has stood in one form or another for more than a century.
“Through the years, we’ve been very involved in the community,” Morrow said. “We’ve grown up with Longmont.”
According to church archives, only 17 Catholic families lived in all of north Boulder County in 1875, just a few years after Longmont was founded. Morrow said the church now has 4,400 families on its roster.
Transient priests would visit the Catholic missions along the Front Range to serve the mining camps, but in 1881 the Rev. Fr. J.W. Cummings secured a large room on the upper level of the north side in the Zweck Hotel at Third Avenue and Main Street so resident Catholics had a more suitable and permanent place to worship.
At the time, Longmont had five Protestant churches, and, according to church archives, most of the local Catholics lived in the Mead district.
Bishop Joseph Machebeuf decided, however, that a church building should be built in town, and on June 24, 1882, he dedicated the new structure — a meager wooden edifice that lacked pews and altar supplies.
But the church building served the local Catholic population for nearly 18 years before the growing congregation wanted a newer building.
The old church was sold to the Norwegian Lutherans for $4,150, and St. John’s, through church bazaars and gifts, raised enough funds to buy two adjacent lots on Collyer Street and begin work on a new building.
That church building, constructed for just more than $21,000, was open for service in 1906 and served the area Catholics until it was razed in 1962.
During those 60 years, St. John’s expanded with a school, parsonage and ministries for Spanish speakers and residents of the Carbon Valley and Mead areas.
In 1962, church members agreed to raze the 1906 church building — workers removed a reported 1,000 tons of stone from the site — and built the current building for $375,000.
The first service was Midnight Mass at Christmas 1963, and the current building was dedicated in 1964. The building more than doubled the seating capacity of the old building, which accommodated only 320 people.
Other changes came to St. John’s as the Second Vatican Council brought sweeping changes to its parishes, such as: saying the Mass in English, not Latin; the priest now faced the congregation, instead of having his back to the people; removal of the altar rail; and inclusion of women and trained laymen in the Mass.
Morrow, who has served at St. John’s for eight years, said the past decade has brought extensive renovation projects to St. John’s. The next year will see a renovation, too, of the spiritual kind, he said.
“We’ve asked ourselves ‘Are we doing all that we can through our ministries?’ So we will be re-evaluating our mission and examining and moving ahead,” he said. “We’re taking this opportunity to renew ourselves, in terms of God’s relationship and with others.”
Melanie M. Sidwell can be reached at 303-684-5274, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.