“This is the most beautiful spot in Pueblo.”
These words came from a visitor upon seeing the inside of St. Michael’s Orthodox Church for the first time, during our festival some years ago. Lately, I’ve been mulling this declaration with newfound appreciation for the hard work and sacrifice that went into establishing that small but exquisite Bessemer gem.
What puts this in mind is my present task of finding a permanent home for the mission I now serve in the Pacific Northwest, that’s rented three buildings over 17 years — wandering the wilderness like Israel after the Exodus.
We’re currently under contract on a 2,700-square-foot commercial building with a .64-acre lot, that could be ours for only $850,000. Believe it or not, that’s a screamin’ deal in the land of Microsoft and artisan wineries that make property values prohibitive.
We’ve built up a down payment sufficient to qualify for a loan that’ll stretch our limits. But the real test will come in meetings with the city, where we’ll run the gauntlet of conceivable code issues: sprinklers, seismic retrofitting, traffic studies and a host of potential show stoppers.
But if we get through all that, we’ll gain a place of our own to make the most beautiful spot in our city — like that oasis in Bessemer, with its deep blue ceiling adorned with golden stars like the firmament.
Such beauty came at a cost. St. Michael’s began in 1900, and five years later its gritty steel-working and mining founders had saved enough to build a lovely church, at the corner of Palm and B streets.
It stood for 16 years, until washed away by the Arkansas River in 1921. In my office, I keep a copy of a photograph of that church after the flood, which left it on its side a block away. I cannot imagine seeing the fruit of such sacrifice destroyed in an instant.
But the members of that generation didn’t give up. They approached their main employer, CF&I, for help — and the steel mill sold them a lot on Summit Avenue for $1. (Somehow, I can’t picture Microsoft doing likewise for my current congregation!)
The Rockefeller Foundation donated $4,000 for construction, and the CF&I matched $1,500 raised by parishioners. So with $7,000, a new church was completed in 1925. All this was overseen by a man I’ve come to respect more and more as I try to establish my own community in a home.
Father Theodore Grishan served St. Michael’s from 1919-1946, and remains the parish’s longest-serving pastor. He now lies at Roselawn Cemetery, awaiting the resurrection.
To build as he built! It’s a little pricier these days — and you may get washed away by rivers of municipal code, but Father Theodore’s tenacity gives me courage. Memory eternal, Father! May the beauty you worked for abide. And may it also spread my way.