Friday, February 22, 2013


Today's Christian congregations might be urged to prepare for Easter by simplifying their lives, giving up FaceBook, Starbucks, a favorite food, television program, movies or beer. Early settlers in Globeville didn't have many luxuries to give up but regarded Lent as an opportunity for spiritual growth with greater prayer, repentance and charity. Lent was also a way to express their faith, which had been suppressed in the Old Country, and to preserve the food, traditions and culture they had left behind. 
On the day before Ash Wednesday, or Fastenacht, a German-Russian cook would serve her family schlitzkuchla, a deep-fried pastry. While the German-Russians didn't observe a strict fast, many families served meatless meals, such as Kaseknepfla,(cheese buttons) during the season. Lent was a time of frequent church attendance, with special services every Wednesday evening, and no dancing, card playing, amusements or weddings. 
Lent began for Catholics from St. Joseph's Polish and Holy Rosary Churches on Ash Wednesday with the application of ashes on the forehead, and a reminder that "dust you are and to dust you shall return". Lenten practices included abstaining from meat on Fridays and observing a fast that required the evening meal to be no larger than the combination of breakfast and lunch, and avoiding eating between meals. (It was understood that the faithful would cut back on beer and wine during the solemn season). Fridays were for the devotion known as the Stations of the Cross, Via Crucis, or Via Dolorosa, recalling the route Jesus took on his way to Golgotha, with incense, candles and Latin hymns like Stabat Mater, Mary is Standing.
Because Russian and Serbian Orthodox observed the Julian calendar, "Great Lent" usually began later than that of Roman Catholics with fasting that included not only abstaining from meat, but also certain kinds of fish and dairy. Inside the church, the royal gates to the altar remained closed to signify man's separation from God through sin, and the priest donned vestments in the somber color of purple. The Vesper service which began the lenten season was called Vespers of Forgiveness where the faithful asked forgiveness and forgave each other.
Many of the descendants of Globeville's earlier residents return to the neighborhood parishes to continue the lenten practices they practiced as children, and use the dark, cold days of Lent to prepare for the joyful resurrection of Easter. 

One of the stained-glass windows at Holy Rosary Church

German Russian Lent
St Joseph's Polish Catholic Church 
Holy Rosary Church
Holy Transfiguration of Christ Cathedral

Monday, February 4, 2013

Historic churches in Globeville

Shot-gun houses fill the long, narrow lots, iron and wooden fences define each yard and sheds, re-purposed chicken coops and barns line the unpaved alleys. Economically, Globeville is a poor neighborhood, but historically, tiny Globeville is rich. Each small home contains the story of an immigrant with a low-paying job, sending for relatives from the Old Country and building a better life in America. Hard-working and painfully frugal, these newcomers saved and planned for a generation to build their own ethnic churches, a link to their native cultures and a celebration of the freedom of worship that brought many here. By 1920, the neighborhood was home to three Volga-German congregations, a Russian-Serbian Orthodox Church, St. Joseph's Polish Roman Catholic Church, Holy Rosary Church, the Greenwood Methodist and the Seventh Day Adventist Churches. As the founders passed on and their descendants assimilated and moved away, congregations would struggle and not all the churches would survive
As the remaining parishes reached milestone anniversaries, parishioners experienced a renewed interest in their ethnic heritage, and looked for ways to celebrate their legacy with official historic status. Three of Globeville's ethnic churches have received historic designation: St. Joseph's Polish Roman Catholic Church is on the National Register, while both Holy Transfiguration Cathedral and Holy Rosary Parish are on the Colorado State Register. St. Joseph's at 517 East 46th Avenue, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
The listing from the National Register states that "the Gothic style church was constructed in 1902 to serve Polish immigrants in the Globeville suburb of Denver." What the description doesn't say is that Globeville's Poles were from the Russian-controlled Plock region of Poland, where their religion, language and culture had been suppressed, that they would save for nearly 20 years, and then petition the German-born Bishop Matz to build a parish "exclusively for the Polanders." The congregation obtained Father Jarzynski (a Holy Cross priest from the same Plock region as many parishioners) and held Mass, confession, baptism and marriages in the home of Frank Wargin until the church was completed on Christmas Day, 1902. The church was a connection to Poland at a time the nation had ceased to exist, and much of the life of the Polish community was centered around St. Joseph's. There were processions for the feast of Corpus Christi, blessings of food before Easter, as well as Mass after the secular celebrations of Polish Constitution Day and the birthday of Casimir Pulaski. There was the Polish Literary Club, an organization for young people, that produced Polish plays, raising money for the parish and entertaining the community. There were also choirs, music performances, fraternal organizations, mock Polish weddings and parish bazaars.
The parish survived the Depression, World War II, assimilation, the division of the neighborhood by interstate highways and inadequate services from the city of Denver to make it for 110 years. With an infusion of new arrivals from Poland and enthusiastic support from the descendants of the founders, St. Joseph's is again the source of Polish culture, with Masses in both English and Polish, Polish language classes, Polish music and dance performances. Visit the website, or stop by (Lent is coming!) and experience the rich faith, food, culture and traditions of Poles in Globeville.  
St Joseph's Polish Roman Catholic Church

Funeral at St. Joseph's circa 1910, Photo® property of Mary Lou Egan

St. Joseph's circa 2013, photo® property of Mary Lou Egan