A few years back I was visiting with Councilman Ernie Marranzino whose family lived one house west on Osage, behind Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church at West 36th and Navajo. It was around noon and the bells of Mount Carmel announced as they did everyday the time for the Angelus Prayer. The bells included the 1,000 pound bell, the Maria bell. The bells shook the whole Marranzino residence, the windows and dishes on the shelves on the second floor of what is now called the Spiderman house at West 36th and Osage. Spiderman hovers on the north side of the house for all to see. Take the kids by to see this creative local sculpture.
I told Ernie, “Ernie, the bells are beautiful.” He responded, “Dennis, our family has been here for over one hundred years. We don’t even hear them anymore.” Tom Noel in his axial 1989 history, “Colorado Catholicism,” quotes Ernie as saying, “the Maria, the 1,000 pound bell, was the heartbeat of North Denver. That bell regulates life here the way church bells did in the old country.” However, Fr. Hugh Guentner, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, received calls from new millennial immigrants to the neighborhood asking that he postpone the early morning ringing of the church bells in hope that it would not interrupt those sleeping in after parties the night before. Fr. Hugh adjusted the times of the bells to welcome the new residents’ somnambulistic sensibilities.
Mount Carmel was the result of Italian Catholics wanting priests who could speak and hear confessions in Italian. While welcoming, St. Patrick’s church on Osage did not fulfill that need. So the community hired contractor and parish member Frank Damascio to design the Romanesque revival which was under construction from 1899 to 1904. The church with Italian marble statues, Italian frescoes, and towering four-sided copper domes and white crosses on the bell towers out front became the finest example of Roman architecture in our city. By 1930, Mount Carmel, Denver’s Italian National Parish, had over 3,000 residents, who became Denver’s fourth largest foreign born group.
No mention of the history of Mount Carmel can overlook the contribution of Mother Frances Cabrini, an Italian immigrant, whom the pope sent to America to care for the children of many Italian citizens who suffered in the brutal working conditions in mines in America. In 1902, Mother Cabrini started a school at the Michael Notary house at 3357 Navajo, just down the street from the church. That Denver square, the Notary House, still stands. I imagine the building could be considered a relic as Frances Cabrini was the first American citizen to become a saint.
It was in North Denver that Mother Cabrini met Captain Patrick Carey of the old Highland Fire Brigade located at West 32nd and Wyandotte. Still there. Cabrini asked him to unhitch the fire horses at the station to take her to the mountains to find land for her orphans. A greedy mountain land owner in Jefferson County wanted to sell her land with no water on it. So Captain Carey used the city horses to take Mother Cabrini to the mountains. And, interestingly enough, whenever Captain Carey had Mother Cabrini and the nuns on the city horse wagon, there was never a fire in Highlands or North Denver. Even the Protestants were calling him, saying, “Can’t you take Mother Cabrini up to the mountains again? We have too many fires in North Denver.” Today, Captain Carey would be fired for misusing
Mother Cabrini bought the land in Jefferson County on the way to Idaho Springs. You can see the tall white statue of Jesus from I-70. She hit a rock with her walking staff and, like Moses, an artesian geyser burst forth in the drought-parched part of the county. She got even with the unscrupulous realtor who tried to trick a saint out of good land.
Some of the events at Mount Carmel coming up include Dolce Dominica, always the third Sunday of month, on March 20, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Spaghetti dinner for two for only $30, and box of Italian cookies for $20. You can order ahead on the church website. The Blessing of St. Joseph’s table is at 10:45 p.m. Invite your family and friends. They will be made to feel more than welcome. Donations will assist the poor and needy of North Denver. See you there.
Mount Carmel’s summer festivals are legendary in the neighborhood. This summer, I bet you might be able to attend St. Rocco’s procession in person. Processions usually start after the last morning mass. Parish members carry a statue of St. Rocco and his little helping dog through the neighborhood. I always say, “You just don’t get neighborhood and church organization like this in Cherry Hills Village.”
So enjoy Our Lady of Mount Carmel church, an immortal diamond in the crown of our city’s churches. Fr. Hugh will welcome you to the church with open arms and an open heart. Listen for the Maria bell, the heartbeat of North Denver. It will lift your spirits.
Any questions? Email me at email@example.com.
The Honorable Dennis Gallagher is a former city auditor, city councilman, state senator and state representative. He shares thoughts and stories from North Denver’s past and future in his monthly column in
The Denver North Star.