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Historic Aspen church could see renovation, expansion

Marci Krivonen

A 120-year-old church in Aspen is raising money to renovate and expand. St. Mary’s Catholic Church on Main Street is one of the town’s most historic buildings. But it’s maxed out and church officials say more space is needed. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.

For more than a century mass has been held regularly at St. Mary’s, even when miners moved out and the town’s population shrank.

"We know that in the 1930’s Aspen went down to 700 people. It was a small community and a small parish, but they plugged along and continued to stay open," says Father John Hilton.

Now the church is busy. Mass is held here along with several other programs including the winter homeless shelter, AA meetings and classes like Family Faith Formation. It’s led by Chantal Howard.

"We’re bursting at the seams. We have literally people meeting in the hallways now. So, from the standpoint of need, it’s been something that’s been on my mind for awhile," she says.

Howard’s excited the church is planning to grow. St. Mary’s submitted a preliminary application to the City of Aspen last week to renovate the historic church...and construct an additional building. The “Pavillion Building” would be a one-story, 6500 square foot structure. A lecture series would be held there, built around the “spirit” component of the Aspen Idea. Father Hilton says it’s needed.

"I hear people saying, ‘We’ve got the body and the mind part down really well.’ But the spiritual component of the “mind, body, spirit” Aspen Idea, people say they see a need for more and formation and encouragement in the spiritual life."

Inside the old church building, the construction project would tackle safety problems like aging fire escapes. A classroom area would get a facelift and apartments would become office space.

In the upstairs sanctuary the project would enhance the building’s historic character. Original stained glass would be restored and the Victorian-era stenciling that once covered the ceiling would return.

"(We would) bring in artists who are skilled in Victorian stenciling and artwork and bring that back. For example, behind the altar there used to be stars representing creation. That would be restored back to its original. Now it’s painted one color."

The cost of the church renovation and addition is 8 million dollars. Father Hilton will bicycle across country this summer to raise awareness, and possibly money, for the project.