A glance at any list of great places to ski will more often than not include the resort town of Aspen, Colo.
Amid all the snow for more than a hundred years is St. Mary Catholic Church.
St. Mary’s plays a unique role in this mountain town because it serves locals and tourists alike. One would be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful mountainside church dedicated to the Blessed Mother anywhere else.
Throughout the Bible, mountains play a significant role. In fact, mountains or hills are mentioned 500-plus times in both the Old and New Testaments; the logical thought was that a high place of prayer brought people closer to God.
At an altitude of close to 8,000 feet, St. Mary’s is probably one of the highest Catholic churches in the nation.
The parish began in the 1880s, amidst a silver-mining boom in the area. In its early history, it had a small grade school run by the Benedictine Sisters. However, it lasted only a few years. Over the decades, the church has gone through a number of renovations and remodeling, such as adding an elevator and refinishing floors.
One constant over the years has been its annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration. The event, which began in 1887 with only a handful of families, now boasts 700-900 attendees to its festive celebration. It is the longest continuous event in Aspen.
Much of this history came alive for me during an early morning Mass. Interestingly, the church is on the second floor, with offices and school rooms occupying the first floor.
Worn wooden pews were occupied by a handful of folks who gathered for Mass that day. Aged stained-glass windows allowed light in on both sides of the church. Family names are etched at the bottom of many of the panes, only adding to the rich story of this parish.
St. Mary’s pastor, Father John Hilton, celebrated the Mass with the original marble altar behind him. The tabernacle is front and center and is flanked by angels on both sides. A statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is stationed above the tabernacle; St. Patrick’s statue is to the right below Our Lord.
Side altars dedicated to the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph are on both sides of the church. The century-old Lyons-Healy organ sits at the back of the church, with a space for the choir to gather. Its polished silver pipes are a sight to behold.
Mass ended with Father Hilton leading the small congregation in the Hail Holy Queen, which was sung in Latin. Then there was Exposition and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. According to the parish bulletin, adoration occurs every day after the morning Mass. Then Father Hilton led Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.
One does not need to go to high places to be closer to God, but the ascent to this Aspen church and the chance to experience God in the Real Presence there is well worth the trek.
Eddie O’Neill writes from
New Castle, Colorado.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church
533 E. Main St.
Aspen, CO 81611