Delayed church construction means no St. Patrick’s Day dinner in Aspen |

Delayed church construction means no St. Patrick’s Day dinner in Aspen

Longtime Aspenites John Keleher, left, and John Callahan take time to chat while working their volunteer duties in the dinner hall at St. Mary's Catholic Church on March 17, 2006.
Aspen Times file

The St. Patrick’s Day dinner at St. Mary Catholic Church, Aspen’s oldest annual tradition dating back to the 19th century, will not be held this March because of delayed construction on the place of worship.

Father John Hilton told parishioners over the weekend of the cancellation, which is a first in 132 years.

“A lot of the proceeds (from the dinner) go to the poor in the valley,” Hilton said Monday. “So that’s one of our biggest concerns. And we’re also interrupting a 130-year-old tradition.”

St. Mary is undergoing a $7 million interior renovation that began in June. Weekend masses in the meantime have been held at Aspen Community Church, while daily services have continued at the St. Mary Rectory Chapel.

The work was expected to be finished by the end of February or the first weekend of March, but the church learned Friday it would be delayed until around the middle of March.

St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, falls on a Saturday this year.

The timing of the delayed construction simply wouldn’t allow for the church to hold the St. Patrick’s Day dinner, Hilton said.

“We don’t have the time to move in and then do all of that,” he said of hosting the popular meal, which raises in the neighborhood of $15,000 in donations. The dinner menu has not changed in 131 years: roast beef and pork, homemade mashed potatoes, coleslaw and desserts. The evening usually includes Irish music, beer and a silent auction to raise funds for charitable causes.

“We’re just hoping that the people who would have come in and left a donation will send that to us and we will continue the work,” said Hilton, adding that the church does not have time to find another venue to put on such a big event.

The money goes toward food vouchers that can be used at Clark’s Market, bus passes, medical bills, Catholic Community Services and Catholic Charities in Glenwood Springs, among other concerns, Hilton said.

After the completed renovation, the church will resume services on its ground-level floor, with the end of May being the target date for masses in the main church, Hilton said.