Aspen’s Catholic church gearing up for projects, programs | AspenTimes.com

Aspen’s Catholic church gearing up for projects, programs

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

Andre Salvail/The Aspen Times

St. Mary Catholic Church officials are in the early stages of planning interior renovations to the historic structure as well as a fundraising campaign to pay for the project, the Rev. John Hilton said last week.

Hilton, who has served as the church's pastor for nearly four years, said the discussions also involve new church programs. A tentative completion date for the work is 2017, the 125th-year anniversary of the building, which was dedicated in March 1892. The parish itself was established in 1882.

It's too early to put a figure on the cost of repairs, he said.

"All of our discussions have been about getting ready for the next 100 years," Hilton said. "It's not just about buildings; it's about programs and initiatives and community outreach for St. Mary's. We're not focusing on capital campaigns at this point."

Hilton acknowledged, however, that fundraising efforts will become part of the discussion eventually if the church is to accomplish its many goals. A Denver architect has been involved in the early talks, as has Aspen architect Charles Cunniffe. The city's Historic Preservation Commission held a work session in September to discuss a possible expansion on the west side of the church in the courtyard, but nothing was officially decided.

No formal development applications have been filed with the city, Hilton said.

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"We're really in the early stages of this discussion," he said. "What we're really looking at is, how can the building serve future needs of the parish, and how can the parish serve the community? What can the parish do for Aspen? And we're entering into lots of partnerships with different groups."

Hilton outlined a few tangible needs for the building's interior, such as repairing stained-glass windows; refinishing the altar area and pews; fixing statues; improving lighting, electrical systems and energy efficiency; installing new carpeting; and upgrading ventilation systems and the ceiling.

Parishioners have been surveyed to gauge their views on the church's needs, he said. Safety concerns also are being examined; the Aspen Fire Department wants to see an additional stairway linking the first and second floors, Hilton said. The church itself is on the second floor.

"We're looking at the need for additional office space," he said. "Also, the bathrooms are not code-compliant and that's also part of the discussion."

Rudd Construction, of Basalt, has joined in the preliminary talks to provide some "ballpark figures," the pastor said.

"We have some general ideas about how much certain things will cost, so now we have to decide as a parish as to what we're going to end up doing," Hilton said. "We have some ideas, but it's a slow process."

Thanks to a project in the 1980s, the building's basic structure is holding up fine, he said.

"One thing we don't have to worry about is a structural renovation," Hilton said. "That's a huge blessing because it would be very expensive to tackle that now."

Hilton will embark on a solo cross-country bicycle trip from Washington to Maine in early June. He hopes to use the six-week sabbatical to bring attention to his parish and also is planning local celebrations for the two weeks prior to his departure. Events in Aspen will include community bicycle rides, dinners and other ways of celebrating the future of the parish. Area businesses will be asked to join the effort as sponsors, he said.

He told his congregation Sunday morning that he'll be "the pedaling priest" with a mission to raise awareness of the parish.

Hilton joined St. Mary in June 2011 after serving as pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Westminster for 11 years.

He said the Aspen church is growing at a slight pace and currently is composed of 400 families. Its finances are stable, and the church won't take on any new debt to accomplish its goals, Hilton said.

"We would not do work on the church that we could not pay for in advance," he said. "We're being very cautious."

He hopes to implement new programs, including annual seminars and conferences, that will help bring more community members into the fold.

"The status quo is our enemy," Hilton said. "Making St. Mary's a treasured part of the Aspen community is critical for us."

The church provides a night shelter each winter for the area's homeless population and holds a dinner and auction every St. Patrick's Day to raise money for its charity-assistance fund.

andre@aspentimes.com