St. Clare’s pastor moving on
EDWARDS – It was a sunny but cool spring day at St. Clare’s Catholic School Wednesday, and dozens of bright-shirted students were taking part in the annual field day competitions. In the midst of it all was the Rev. Ed Poehlmann, a standout in his black priest clothes and collar but as much a part of the frenetic scene as anyone.A curly haired boy, maybe about 6, looked up as Poehlmann walked by. “Hi, Father Ed,” he said. “I just ran the 400-yard dash!””Hi, Max. You’re not even out of breath!”A moment later, the school’s physical education teacher, Jeff Hayslip, slowed down to say hello.”We’re going to miss him,” Hayslip said. “He’s a good man.”After 18 years in the Vail Valley and about 12 dedicated to the creation and leadership of the St. Clare of Assisi parish, Poehlmann is leaving. Next month, he takes over as pastor at Presentation of Our Lady, a poor, inner-city parish around Sixth and Federal in Denver. Father Robert Kinkel of Arvada – whom Poehlmann has known since high school – will take over at St. Clare.”I feel like I’m leaving it in good hands,” Poehlmann said. “But there’s no doubt I’m going to miss a lot of the people. Skiing has also been a big part of my life, so I’m sure I’ll be up here in the winter.”
Ed the builderPoehlmann (pronounced “pale-men”), 63, has been in Eagle County for about 18 years. He grew up mostly in Denver after his family moved there from Oklahoma following World War II. After graduating from high school, he attended seminary school in Denver at St. Thomas and found his calling as a young priest working with youth at Holy Family and Machebeuf schools.When the bishop asked him to fill in at St. Mary’s in Breckenridge, Poehlmann’s mountain tenure began. Taking over the parish in 1971, he was also instrumental in getting the Our Lady of Peace church built in Dillon in 1975. A decade later, he oversaw the construction of a new St. Mary’s.”It was all part of the growing Catholic community in Summit County back then,” Poehlmann said.Now, a lot of that growth is in Eagle County, driven in large part by the burgeoning Hispanic community, he said. After six years at St. Patrick’s in Minturn, the bishop asked Poehlmann to build a new Catholic school in the county – with an eye toward growing a parish midvalley. After an extensive search for land, 94 acres were secured about two miles west of Edwards.Since then, Poehlmann has been the building pastor, shepherding the construction of a Catholic elementary school and a gym that doubles as a worship space. The parish also built affordable housing units and a child care facility on the property; construction of a church is planned for the future, as well as a $4 million school expansion.According to Poehlmann, the sky’s the limit for growth in the parish. “We get 700 people on Sunday nights for the Spanish Mass,” he said, adding that the early morning Mass in English tops out at about 125.
Despite the large number of Hispanic parishioners, few of them send their children to the school, Poehlmann said. That’s largely due to the roughly $4,000 annual cost per student for parishioners.”We put a big effort into getting Hispanic kids in here, but many of the parents look at public education as very superior to what they had in Mexico,” he said, adding that the tuition – modest by most private school standards – is still a deterrent to people struggling to afford housing.Even with the current student mix, the school has 170 students, and the expansion can’t come soon enough.”We’re maxed out,” he said.Master planFather Poehlmann said he’s disappointed that he won’t be on hand to implement the next phase of growth at St. Clare, but said he doubted his successor would see the end of it, either. He leaves, though, with a sense that the parish is in good shape.”It’s very healthy, both from a financial and a spiritual perspective,” he said. “The people who live here are invested in a lot of wholesome activities, and they take awfully good care of their kids.”
With a long-term plan for expansion already in place, Poehlmann said it only needs to be implemented as the need arises. Meanwhile, he’ll be at his new church tackling a new set of issues. He’ll go from a home where he said he never locks the door to a rectory (priests’ home) with bars on the windows. A small school with 100 students and a variety of urban-style problems will present added challenges, he said. The reason Poehlmann is leaving is a church policy that rarely lets a priest stay in one parish for more than a dozen years. Peggy Warner, principal of the St. Clare school, said she has no doubt Poehlmann will make a difference at Presentation of Our Lady parish.”He’s great with stating the needs of the school to people who can help,” Warner said. “He’s got a strong record of getting benefactors and donors on board. He’ll be missed here, though; he has a lot of friends in the valley.”While Poehlmann sounds wistful about leaving, Warner said there’s little doubt he’ll roll up his sleeves once again down in Denver. For his part, Poehlmann said he’s taking a two-week vacation before he gets down to business in Denver.”I’ve always been a hands-on kind of guy,” he said.Assistant Managing Editor Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado
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