Our Lady of Lourdes (1947)

Old timers still remember the folding chairs, hard floors, and communion counts for the first parish Masses of Our Lady of Lourdes, celebrated in the gymnasium of the State Home for Children at East Iliff Avenue and South Logan Street. After the parish had acquired a spacious one-block site in February 1947, its first construction project was an outdoor shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes. Father Damen L. McCaddon, the first pastor, and men of the parish organized the “Rocks of Lourdes”–220 volunteers who built the massive, fifty-two-foot-high stone shrine and outdoor altar.

The Rocks also served as parish builders, raising money through picnics, bazaars, bingo, Sunday breakfasts, harvest parties, St. Patrick’s Day dances, and Mardi Gras galas. The first Mardi Gras netted $5,000, which was the price of the house at 2218 South Logan purchased for a temporary rectory and meeting place.

Groundbreaking began on a $150,000 church and school combination building on June 3, 1948. The first four classrooms were ready on September 27. Sisters Angelita, Dorothy, Helen Ann, and Loretta of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration persuaded the 101 pupils to attend Saturday classes to make up for the late start. By December 16, 1948, the library, offices, and basement church were completed for Archbishop Vehr’s dedication ceremony. That Christmas, over 1,650 people attended Mass in the new subterranean church.

A new school wing was completed on the north side of the church in 1952 and by 1954, seven nuns were teaching 384 pupils in the school’s eight grades. After being chauffered in each day, the sisters finally moved into their own Our Lady of Lourdes convent following its completion in 1955. Father McCaddon lived in an old house that formed the core of the 1952 school wing.

Father McCaddon and his dog Mike loved the great outdoors and frequently took parish youngsters camping, both on the church property and at his summer cabin near Empire. Father McCaddon, an admirer of Colorado’s great naturalist Enos Mills, also loved to use nature themes in his sermons. And he worked with the Rocks to transform the spacious parish grounds into a tree-shaded retreat, complete with outdoor stations of the cross.

Most kids appreciated the fresh air life espoused by Father McCaddon. An exception was little Stephen J. Leonard, who subsequently became a famous Denver historian, writer, and long-time chair of the history department at Metropolitan State College. Leonard recalled in 1987:

Father McCaddon had been an army chaplain and loved the great outdoors. He had us school kids camping on the church property during the 1950s in a stockade-like area. Most kids liked it. I hated it. Green eggs full of sand in the morning. It’s stupid to leave a comfortable bed to sleep on the ground, even if we did get to watch Hopalong Cassidy movies.

Father McCaddon retired in 1966, a year after the parish completed its church building and finally moved Masses out of the basement hall of the school. Archbishop Vehr presided at that long-awaited church dedication on May 16, 1965, blessing a buff brick, neo-Romanesque structure designed by John K. Monroe. Subsequent pastors were Robert E. Kekeisen, Robert M. Harrington, Joseph Lievens, and, since 1985, George L. Weibel.

As of 1988, Our Lady of Lourdes is a parish of 386 households with a school offering kindergarten through eighth-grade education. Despite its setting in a now developed part of Denver, the well-landscaped parish plant includes not only the impressive grotto, but also woodsy nooks, outdoor picnic pavilions, and Maryhaven–a two-story brick home for the elderly on the northern edge of the parish campus along Warren Avenue. The 1947 dream of Father McCaddon and the Rocks of Lourdes has materialized in this peaceful, green, parish plant.