MINTURN — Erlinda Martinez has spent most of her life as a member of the Saint Patrick Catholic Parish. But her life in that community of believers covers just half of the parish’s existence.
Martinez and her husband, Aggie, joined the church in 1962, when it was just a little chapel on Main Street. Over the years, she’s had children and grandchildren baptized and married in the church. They’ve also received their first communion from the parish priests. The church has grown over the decades, too, expanding from its little home on Main Street to a bigger church building in Minturn and the Vail Interfaith Chapel.
These days, Saint Patrick is the spiritual home for about 250 local residents and perhaps 600 second-home owners and frequent visitors. The parish hosts by far the biggest crowds at the Vail Interfaith Chapel on Christmas and Easter, the two most important dates on the Christian calendar — no surprise, since “lapsed” Catholics as a group are more numerous than any other non-Catholic Christian denomination.
Believers turn out in big groups for other events. Parish office manager Jeanmarie Angarola said the church’s annual Saint Patrick’s Day dinner in March will draw 250 people or more. The annual Thanksgiving dinner will draw a few hundred people, too.
And given the church’s historic members, which include many of the valley’s Hispanic families, who have been here for generations, most of those potluck affairs include green or red chili — which is always delicious.
Father James Baird arrived just this summer to minister to the parish, which includes believers in Minturn, Vail and Red Cliff. While he’s new to the valley, Baird said he’s eager to learn more about the long history of the parish.
The parish started small, of course — Minturn and Red Cliff have always been small towns. But as the sheep pastures of Vail turned to ski runs, and members of the 1960s jet set started to arrive, the church changed, too.
When she was still Jacqueline Kennedy, the slain president’s widow attended services at the church.
“We didn’t know anything about it until the next week,” Martinez said.
But over the years, Martinez and her husband — who have long served as Sunday-morning greeters — have shaken hands and wished a “blessed day” to people from around the world, and from every cross section of humanity, from neighbors to the rich and famous.
As someone who’s been at churches in Conifer, near Denver, and Colorado’s Eastern Plains, Baird quickly came to appreciate that his new post puts him in a somewhat different position when it comes to spreading the gospel.
“Jesus says to go to the ends of the earth to preach the gospels,” Baird said. “Here, the ends of the earth come here.”
And people tend to come on weekdays, too. The church in Vail provides weekday services in the mornings, and Angarola said those services will draw between 30 and 50 people each day.
While most of the visitors end up in Vail, Martinez said a lot of second-home owners and regular visitors have found the parish’s Minturn facilities.
“A lot of people say ‘We like to come here better,’” Martinez said.
Part of that might be the friendly greeting they receive. Some just stare when they get a handshake and a “welcome” or “God bless you,” Martinez said. But those who visit a few times come around quickly, she said.
Being friendly is something Martinez has drilled into her kids and grandchildren.
“I tell them, ‘You have to be kind to everyone,’” she said.
But, while Saint Patrick still draws people to services, Martinez said there don’t seem to be as many families as there once were. And there don’t seem to be the number of volunteers, either.
Martinez used to be part of a small crew that would clean the chapel every Friday. Those same women could be counted on to deliver food to families in crisis, clean the priest’s quarters or take on any other job that needed to be done.
Martinez is still just about the first person called when a parish member has passed and it’s time to organize food for the family.
Seeing families return is Martinez’s biggest wish for the church as it moves forward.
“Mass used to fill up with families,” she said.
Looking over the church’s history, Baird said Saint Patrick was built in stages over the years, with buildings, improvements and people altering the life of the parish as the decades have passed. What the next stage will bring is unclear. The parish is renovating its church on Pine Street in Minturn, but other than that? It’s hard to tell.
“Going forward, we want to celebrate the people and what has taken place here,” Baird said. “But what the future holds? Well, Vail wasn’t here 50 years ago.”
We’ll all just have to wait to see what happens next.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 and email@example.com.