Denver: Thirtieth Anniversary of the Founding of Casa San Alfonso

Fr. Mike McAndrew with many of the men who were part of the Casa San Alfonso family from the earliest days in 1991. Gildo Villegas (far right) was one of the padrinos of the ministry, and an important supporter of the Casa community. Six of these men lived in our community for a time; four of them were high school students at the time.

On the feast of St. Alphonsus, I had one of the best days of my life as a Redemptorist. For more than a year, a few alumni of Casa San Alfonso considered having a reunion. This year is the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of a Redemptorist youth initiative in Denver. We wanted to enter the world of young people in an inner-city barrio suffering from poverty, gang activity, the lure of drugs and a lack of opportunity.

We wanted young people to know their goodness and dignity, and the traditions of their Catholic faith. We wanted to help, but we needed to truly understand their needs.

When Casa San Alfonso began in 1991, I knew very little Spanish. Fr. Enrique Lopez, C.Ss.R. said, “If you want to work with my people, you need to know the customs, the faith, and the struggles of my people. If you will not walk with my people, don’t bother to learn Spanish.”

Fr. Patrick Keyes, Br. Andy Miklusicak and I began Casa San Alfonso to walk with young people in our neighborhood. We wanted youth to demonstrate their goodness. We believed in the youth. Instead of having programs and plans for the ministry, we wanted to enter the lives of the youth, if they would let us in.

The Casa was a house of welcome. Most young people coming to our house were men between the ages 16 to 25. All were immigrants or children of immigrants. For every ten phone calls received at the Casa, nine were in Spanish and the other was a wrong number. We wanted them to believe that Casa San Alfonso was their home. Many came regularly to the house, and we invited a few to live with us. The residents worked, went to school, and helped with the hospitality of the house. They prayed with us and helped with youth ministry at St. Joseph Parish. Six were young enough to go to high school. All graduated. Others got GEDs, or studied English and sought training in trades. Most importantly, they gained self-respect, respect for others and love of their religious traditions.

The Redemptorists of Casa San Alfonso discovered the hopes, dreams and love of young people whom too many fear and judge harshly. We discovered that evangelization depends on people experiencing love, trust, forgiveness, kindness, prayer, hope and comfort when trials come.

August 1: A Day of Gratitude

More than forty young people who made Casa San Alfonso their home from 1991 to 1996 came to St. Joseph’s Church to celebrate the Casa’s thirtieth anniversary. They came with their spouses and their children,who heard stories about their parents that they never heard before. Gildo and Lucy Villegas were our compadres in the ministry. We called them “padrinos” of Casa San Alfonso. They amazed our Casa San Alfonso family by staying with us until the last persons left. Other adults who helped in the youth ministry of the Casa and St. Joseph’s Parish also came. Several parents came to thank us for being present to their children in difficult years of their lives. The best part was hearing the stories of what the youth of Casa San Alfonso have done in their lives since the Casa.

The group who gathered for the Casa San Alfonso reunion in Denver, minus those who left earlier in the day.

The day began with Mass at St. Joseph’s Church. There were surprise visitors at the Mass. One family who was very active in our ministry in Greenwood, MS moved to Denver after we left Greenwood. Fr. Steve Nyl celebrated their wedding in 2003. Another couple from Garden City, KS was in Denver that weekend. They decided that morning to go to Mass at St. Joe’s, and were quite surprised that I was offering the Mass. Sergio and Rosie Aguilar were lay missionaries who traveled with Fr. Bob Simon and I on our bilingual mission team in 1998-99. They were involved in ministry with Redemptorists when we were in the Diocese of Dodge City in Kansas.

After the Mass, there was a picnic at a small park near the church. Great food and people stayed in the park from noon until 8:00 pm. It was great to hear memories of the days of the Casa. More impressive was the joy, hearing the stories of their lives and their families, and realizing how many are very active in the Church. The new pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish is retired Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez. After telling him about the Casa, he said that he would probably not know many of the people from our group. He was surprised at how many he does know, and said that there are good lay leaders in the Archdiocese of Denver.

All through the day people asked about: Fr. Tony (Judge), Fr. Patrick (Keyes), Fr. John (Fahey Guerra), Br. Larry (Luján), Fr. Greg (May) and Marco (Cipolletti). They never used last names. While I was the only Redemptorist present at the reunion, I want all Redemptorists to know the gratitude this community has for our presence in their lives. The Casa was only open for five years, but it lives on in a very grateful community.

by Mike McAndrew, C.Ss.R. (Courtesy of Denverlink, update 27.08.2021)