St. Mary’s Church gains city’s nod for renovations to rectory
There are only a handful of buildings left in Aspen built before 1900 that are still being used as they were originally intended. They include the Wheeler Opera House, the Hotel Jerome, the Pitkin County Courthouse, the Community Church in the West End and St. Mary’s Church.
Also on that list is the rectory at St. Mary’s, on the corner of Galena and Main Streets in Aspen. Since it was built in 1888, the brick house has always been the home of Aspen’s Catholic priest.
Today, that’s the Rev. Michael Glenn, who recently went next door to Aspen City Hall and gained permission to renovate the rectory and build a two-bedroom employee housing apartment above a new three-car garage next to the rectory.
The new two-story building will sit at the end of the present driveway to the east of the rectory. The church yard between the rectory and the church itself will be preserved. Construction is expected to begin later this winter.
The housing will allow the church to meet what it considers a moral obligation to give its employees “a just wage” and the opportunity to live in the community in which they work.
There are currently four employees of the church, which is owned by the Archdiocese of Denver. They include the pastor, the youth minister/pastoral assistant, the caretaker/organist/pianist and an administrative assistant.
And while the project gained the unanimous approval of both the city Planning Commission and the City Council, there were times when Father Michael may have felt like appealing to a higher power for providence.
“The process with the city is a very lengthy process,” said Glenn, noting the most difficult part was the “subjective reality” of the Historical Preservation Committee. “While I am deeply committed to preserving a historic house, it also has to function for the needs of the church.”
While the larger project was approved, what wasn’t granted was a request to replace two windows at the back of the rectory with a set of French doors opening up to a small back yard. The doors would have made it easier for small groups, such as those who gather for a weekly theological discussion, to move between the yard and the house.
“We’re not in the business of operating a museum,” Glenn said. “The church has a need to continue to exist.”
The rectory, while serving as the pastor’s house, is also a very public building, given the many small meetings that are held there.
“They pushed hard for it twice,” said Fred Jarman, the city planner on the case. “And they were denied twice. But the HPC liked everything else.”
The HPC had a profound interest in the St. Mary’s rectory not only because of what it is, but because of where it is.
“It’s on the most unique block in the entire city, if not the county, in terms of history,” said Jarman.
In addition to the church and the rectory, the block also includes City Hall and several historic mining cottages.
“The HPC kept that in mind,” said Jarman. “This is really a cornerstone of identity for this town.”
For his part, Father Michael is quietly persistent and plans to continue to discuss the door issue with the HPC. He is also philosophical, noting that the project was bound to get close scrutiny given its location.
“The mere fact that the parish sits between the city and the county buildings makes it more of a focus,” he said, noting that he appreciated the support the city had for the overall project.
“It’s a great thing for the community to have the rectory restored,” Glenn said.
And indeed, the HPC was very supportive of the plan to restore a smaller peaked tower that was originally on the building.
And for reasons beyond the architectural, City Councilman Jim Markalunas thinks the project should send a message to other organizations in town.
“It’s an important project for the community, not just for the parish,” Markalunas said. “It demonstrates that people can provide much of their own affordable housing. And they are doing it without any public housing assistance.”
The church has so far raised $1 million of the $1.4 million necessary for the project, mostly from its 300-member congregation.
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