Before 1868, Catholics in Colorado were part of the Diocese of Santa Fe, N.M. Colorado was declared a vicariate apostolic in 1868.
Midnight Mass was first celebrated at the current church Dec. 25, 1959.
The Reverend Joseph Machebeuf was named the first bishop; he visited his parishes by train or stagecoach or on horseback.
Early Catholic services in Fort Morgan were held in the homes of parishioners. Rev. William J. Howlett, the first priest ordained in Colorado, was the first priest to say Mass in Fort Morgan. He reported in his Recollections that he said the first Mass in a hotel parlor.
As the congregation grew, it became necessary to hold services in rental halls.
Among the first parishes in northeastern Colorado to have resident priests other than Denver were Fort Collins, Greeley and Brighton. Priests would travel to outlying settlements, but due to distances and a shortage of priests, it would sometimes be weeks or months between visits.
The first resident pastor of Fort Morgan, Rev. J.K. Dubbal, arrived in 1908. He also had care of missions in Brush, Yuma, Wray and Akron and covered Morgan, Yuma and Washington counties.
The first church for St. Helena's parish was erected at State Street and Seventh Avenue in 1910 and dedicated on May 28, 1911.
The parish women started an Altar and Rosary Society before the church was completed, and the Knights of Columbus had their charter granted in 1931.
The Knights of Columbus chapter of St. Helena s received its charter in 1931.
By the mid-1950s, the church was too small to accommodate the number of parishioners.
In February 1955, the pastor, Rev. Herman Leite, announced that seven acres had been purchased from Park-Lane Addition promoter Guy Park for future development of a parish plant.
The new church on Seventh Avenue between Aurora and Park streets was completed in time for Midnight Mass on Dec. 25, 1959. The church was dedicated on Oct. 11, 1960. Ground was broken for a new rectory in 1961, and it was completed in 1962.
The old church was dismantled in 1963, and its walls and other salvaged material were used in the construction of a convent built in 1964 and 1965. The convent was later converted to a learning center.
The original church at Seventh and State Streets featured simple wooden pews.
The Reverend (later Msgr.) Edward Dinan became pastor of St. Helena's and of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Weldona on June 11, 1968. Nuns arrived at the parish in August 1969.
When he celebrated 20 years at St. Helena's in 1988, Dinan observed, "The history of St. Helena's parish is not written in statistics or books; it is written in the hearts of people, and its faith is handed down from one generation to the next."
Rev. Lawrence Kaiser (deceased) served as pastor from 1992 to 2004, when current pastor Rev. Jason Thuerauf arrived, followed by Reverend Joseph Toledo. The current pastor is Reverend Francisco J. Garcia.
Copyright Fort Morgan Times, 2010 – Used with permission