St. Anthony, Aguilar looks to repair aged church

By Andy Rybak

(Previously published in the World Journal, December 14, 2017. Used with permission)

StAnthonyAround 1870 pioneers moving north from New Mexico and east from the San Luis Valley settled in an area along the Apishipa River beneath the towering Spanish Peaks to build their homes and to farm and ranch. This first community was called San Antonio Plaza, later renamed Schultz Plaza in honor of the man who opened its first general store. In 1875 a Catholic church was built to serve this growing community.  It was christened the Parish Church of San Antonio.

The late 1880s brought the first coal mine – the Peerless – followed by the Royal mine, and signaled the influx of many European immigrants to work the mines.  In 1888 the town was renamed "Aguilar" for J. Ramon Aguilar who donated the land on which the church was built.  In 1894 Aguilar was incorporated.  

By 1922, Aguilar with a population of 1400, boasted a bank, four grocery stores, an opera house, a drugstore, five dry good stores, two furniture stores, six garages, one undertaking parlor, two churches, one grade school and a high school, three large coal mines and a score of other smaller mines.  It was time to build a new Catholic church, St. Anthony of Padua, to accommodate its 300 to 400 parishioners. The initial structure was condemned as it was judged that the foundation was not solid enough resulting in cracks in the walls. This may account for 1925 being notated as a conflicting date for when the church was built.  At one point, the populace of Aguilar swelled to 2,500 and the town became known as “ Little Chicago” with a large proportion of the 2500 residents, including grandpas and grandmas, involved in boot-legging.  Each Sunday at 8:30 a.m., a church bell rang to announce the start of services.  

Within a short time, coal mining began to decline.  The Royal mine was shut down resulting in a loss of 200 jobs, and with it, a steadily declining population in the town.  Up until March 4, 1946, St. Anthony’s had been a mission parish of Holy Trinity Parish in Trinidad.  Now it was officially designated an independent parish. The parish hall was begun in May of 1959.

Nearly 100 years have passed since St. Anthony of Padua was built.  Time and weather have exacted a harsh toll on the structures.  In the ensuing years, a declining number of parishioners of about 88 families are trying to financially support the upkeep of the church.  The northwest corner of the church has cracked. At the top of the stone block wall is a four inch crack that extends to ground level, formed as a result of major water seepage between the foundation and the ground. The west wall is moving forward while the north wall is pulling away. The crack is visible from inside the church as well as out. The first phase of repair involved inserting helico piers 43 feet into the ground, well below the water table at 30 feet, both on the north and west side, to form the foundation for the buttresses to hold the walls in position. These buttresses will be poured in phase two. The expense is staggering for such a small parish community.  The church has received some generous donations for the repairs.

But, there is more. Years of wear and tear have taken their toll.  As one walks further around the outside of the church one sees that there has been movement of the southwest corner, but at this time perhaps a cosmetic repair will do.  Single-paned windows have lost much of their glazing and are in danger of falling out from the frames.  A good deal of painting is needed on exposed wood. Sweeping and sealing of the driveway and parking area are on the list.  And the bricks forming the exterior skirting around the hall are crumbling and turning to dust. 

Inside the church, caulking needs to be done, pews need to be sanded and refinished from years of hands and bottoms rubbing on their surfaces.  Many pews are pulling apart and need to be glued.  The hardwood floor under the kneelers is badly worn.  Kneelers need to be hinged and felted to prevent further wear.  There are cracks in the interior walls, outdated electrical wiring and plumbing fixtures, ceiling fans installed.  The church, the hall, and the rectory all are in need of caulking and painting - and the list goes on. 

We dream of restoring this beautiful church to all its former glory – to make repairs that will last for generations, and all in time for our 100 year anniversary in 2022, a scant four years away. We pray that the Holy Spirit will touch generous hearts not only of the current parishioners but of all those that wish to preserve our antiquity. Please send donations to:

St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church
ATTN Treasurer – for the “Church Repair Fund”
123 Fir Street
Aguilar, CO 81020