‘Chapel on the Rock’ facing rocky path after second setback

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ALLENSPARK, Colo. -- Those who know the bible well, know that scripture.

Matthew 16:18 reads: "Upon this rock I'll build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

At a Colorado church - actually built on a rock - that verse has been put to the test - twice recently - by two hellish setbacks.

Both a fire and a flood have cast uncertainty on the future of the grounds surrounding St. Catherine of Siena Chapel,  the so-called “Chapel on the Rock” at St. Malo retreat near Allenspark.

Johnnie Davis is the caretaker of the church, a 77-year-old chapel made of rock.

Like many of the hundreds who drive by daily, and stop in for a picture or a prayer, or a story, Johnnie fell in love with this place the first time he saw it, as a 15-year-old visiting from Iowa.

“I went back home saying let's move.  Let's move to Colorado!” he said.

Even then, Davis had a hunch one day he'd work at the church someday.  He just had no idea how difficult that work would become one day back in November 2011.

“I can't repeat what I said,” Davis told FOX 31 Denver.  “I was driving in this driveway at eight in the morning and the roof was on fire.”

On November 14, 2011, flames filled the snowy sky, scorching the conference center behind the chapel.  The 60,000-square feet facility was destroyed.  The peaceful, solitary place where thousands of Catholics flocked every year for retreats - gone.

Now, almost exactly two years later, little still stands aside from the old stone fireplace.  Braces hold up what's left of the charred lodge.

And then the church faced another setback.

Last month, during the devastating Colorado flood, tons of debris were sent cascading onto church grounds.

The sacred property, littered with remnants of a five-mile-long landslide that started atop nearby Mount Meeker, and ended at the foot of the chapel.  Somehow the sanctuary itself - miraculously - escaped harm.

But an important part of St. Malo's history did not.  Out back, there’s a pathway called the Pope John Paul II Trail.  It was walked by the Pontiff during his famous 1993 visit to Colorado for World Youth Day.  Now, entire swaths of the trail have been washed away.

“This just pushes things back more,” said Karna Swanson, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Denver.  She told FOX 31 Denver they’d hoped to announce a renovation plan for the facility just days from now, in time for the second anniversary of the fire.

But after the flood damage, they’re not sure how to proceed.  They have no idea how much it will cost to clean up the debris, and no time frame for doing so.

“It makes things less certain.  There's just a lot more uncertainty,” Swanson said.

One thing is certain: there is a lot of work ahead.  And someone's got to do it.  Johnnie is happy to help.

“Just glad the church is still here and in good shape.” Davis said.

He knows it'll take a lot more than fires and floods to destroy the place so many love.  The place he fell in love with when he was a kid, 45 years ago.

“I see little kids come in I know that someday they're gonna tell their kids, ‘There's this place up in the Rockies, you gotta see it!’”

As for the chapel itself, it was spared from the flood, and it’s still open daily to visitors.

Follow the link to learn more about the Chapel on the Rock.


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