Denver church open for 7 decades closes its doors; parishioners fight decision

DENVER -- It’s a tiny church whose parishioners have worshiped at for nearly 70 years. And now, they’re taking on a big fight to save it.

Our Lady of Visitation Church closed its doors Sunday. But that closure isn’t coming with the silence of its members.

The church sits in Goat Hill, a predominantly Latino neighborhood off Federal Boulevard and 65th Place.

It’s a church where so many of them have worshiped for decades. They are having a hard time saying goodbye to a place they say is much more than a building. It is tradition and history.

“I am very saddened,” said Rick Garcia, a parishioner and former altar boy.

The members are more likely to pray for the sick and the needy, but today they pray for a miracle.

“This is a travesty. I never imagined in my wildest dreams the doors would shut at this church,” Garcia said.

The doors will shut on Garcia, who has worshiped there for 58 years.

“How could they be so black-hearted to close the doors to a church? It’s supposed to bring people together not to disperse them,” he questions.

“You are going to take God away from 100 people. Let’s put it that way,” said parishioner Jerry Roys, who has attended the church for 55 years.

He said the Archdiocese of Denver is shuttering the largely Latino church for several reasons, including the huge cost to fix it, dwindling attendance and not enough priests to staff it.

“All of their excuses, that’s what they are is excuses. They don’t hold water,” Roys said.

So this humble and proud people loaded up two buses to visit the archdiocese.

“I don't know any other church. I don’t want to know any other church,” said one parishioner through a megaphone in a rally outside the huge archdiocese property.

Their message? They won’t let their church go without a fight.

“No one likes to have a dispute in the family like this. But it’s been five months since we sent a  letter to the Archbishop (Samuel Aquila) and we have yet to meet with him,” said 13-year church member and former Denver Mayor Federico Pena.

His father-in-law served as deacon at OLV for nearly 30 years. But the group's visit highlights what they call a striking disparity between OLV and the archdiocese.

“Looking across the way, it’s kind of hard to believe they would close such a small church in a small community, when they have so much,” parishioner Dawn Romero said.

The group hopes they can get some help from above.

“We are hopeful we can continue to have some dialogue with the archbishop, to see if there are other ways to keep the church open,” Pena said.

Church members say they will meet with Aquila next week. The church has three law firms helping them pro bono. And they might have a case.

Church members claim a deed to the property states if the church ever closes, everything, including the land and the building, belongs to the parishioners.

The church has also set up a legal defense fund to pay for assorted court fees.