HISTORY OF ST FRANCIS OF ASSISI, CASTLE ROCK
The history of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church is relatively long and colorful, going back to the Gold Rush years of 1858-1859 when pioneers began pouring into this part of the country. In 1861, Congress created the Colorado Territory which was identical to the present state boundaries, and in 1887, railroads to Cheyenne connected the east and west, bringing more people into the new territory.
One historian wrote:
"A group of Bavarian Catholics, some with interfamily relationships, found the area south and east of Castle Rock to their liking and became known as the Lake Gulch Community. If it had not been for these Germans, a few other Catholics and William Dillon, there would not have been a church in Castle Rock until much later. In Castle Rock, early meetings were held in the Lake Gulch schoolhouse and in private houses. It seems that the friars and Diocese of Denver were unable to help with finances to build a church."
A Brief Historical Account from the Castle Rock Journal, October 4, 1887: "It has been decided that the Roman Catholic Chapel will be built south of the courthouse square. Estimated cost $1,000."
The church was financed partly through the efforts of Henry Hart of Ireland, who came to Douglas County in 1880, to visit his nephew, William Dillon. Hart saw the need for a church, and Adeloide Hart of Ireland, William’s mother, left money as a nucleus for a building fund. The family’s one request was that the church be named St. Francis of Assisi in honor of William’s brother who had become a Franciscan priest. By 1887, pledges amounting to $400, some from non-Catholics, had been collected. It was decided that the church would be built of rhyolite stone from the local quarries. The carpenters’ names are unknown, although stories tell of donated labor.
In December 1888, the Castle Rock Journal reported: "The dedication of the new Catholic church took place last Sabbath (Dec. 16, 1888). Quite a large congregation was in attendance. The church having been blessed and dedicated, a collection was then taken up and $27.50 realized, the whole of which sum was handed to Mr. Dillon to assist paying off the small debt still remaining on the church.”
Finding priests to meet the needs of the people was an on-going challenge. A newspaper article stated that the priests said Mass with a pistol hidden among the statues.
From 1930 to the early 1950s, Father Walter Steidle traveled 75 miles every Sunday saying Mass at the six churches in his territory, including St. Francis of Assisi. He was a rock hunter and mason by trade and added a back room and front vestibule to the church. It was Father Steidle who invited Sisters from Denver to come for one or two weeks during the summer in order to provide religious instruction for the children. An Altar Society was also established, and this group would sponsor dances and dinners to raise money for the church.
In the early 1960’s it was evident that the church had outgrown its original site. A new location was chosen overlooking the valley and Pike’s Peak to the south, while the original stone church became a restaurant that still operates on the town square. A wood and stone church with its wall of windows behind the altar was dedicated in 1966.
In January of 1985, St. Francis of Assisi Parish became part of the newly formed Diocese of Colorado Springs headed by Bishop Richard C. Hanifen. Bishop Hanifen retired in 2002 and on January 30, 2002, Bishop Michael Sheridan became the second Bishop of Colorado Springs.
Several resident pastors have ministered to the people of this community since Fr. Steidle’s time. Some of them are Fathers Thomas McMahon, Clement Gallagher, Emmanuel Gabel, William Vollmer, Dennis Dwyer, Herb Hayek, O.P., Brad Noonan, Homero Cardozo, and currently Fr. Mark Zacker.
Today, St. Francis of Assisi Parish is serving the needs of Catholics in Castle Rock, Sedalia, Larkspur, Franktown and other surrounding communities. Located one and a half miles east of Wilcox Street on Fifth Street, St. Francis of Assisi Parish currently has over 2,800 families registered in the parish who participate in many ministries and outreach programs.