Work on the new church at Mountain and Howes began in 1900. There was a story in a local newspaper in February of 1947, as near as can be determined, recounting the history of St. Joseph that was presented to Father O’Sullivan, the current pastor at the time. It went like this :
“It was in the spring of 1899 that Father G. Joseph La Jeunesse came to St. Joseph’s as pastor. A new church was his first goal. The smallness of the parish and the lack of funds failed to daunt him. He selected a site, but lacking money was forced to let the deal stand. One morning Father La Jeunesse was informed that he had until 4 o’clock that afternoon to raise the money or the land would be sold.
The priest immediately began a canvass of the parish and succeeded in obtaining part of the money. He then called on Mike Gardener and his wife, and told them of his need. He was greatly relieved when Mrs. Gardener said: ‘We have the money in the trunk.’ The old couple had no children, and Mrs. Gardener, being impressed with the young priest, said to him: ‘I wish I had a son like you,’ to which he replied, ‘Well, you can adopt me.’”
Father Reycraft’s 1975 historical account noted that Art Brookman, who was then a parishioner, worked as a stone mason on the renovation of the church in 1960, the original stone came from different quarries near Fort Collins. Part from the Stout quarry at the south end of Horsetooth Reservoir, another part from the Noney Frye quarry west of Dixon Canyon dam, and the rest from the Lamb quarry opposite Soldier Canyon dam on the west side of Horsetooth reservoir. Mr. Eugene Patrick Lamb, whose granddaughter is Kay Quan and a member of the parish today, donated one hundred tons of stone to the church. The stone was transported by train and by teams of horses. It was all hard sandstone, buff and gray in color. The cornerstone of the new church was laid in 1900. Some parishioners had opposed the idea of the new church as being too large and expensive. In the end it had a cost a grand total of $12,000.
When the church was renovated in 1960, a metal container was found inside of the cornerstone, with a note reciting that Bishop Nicholas Matz of Denver laid the cornerstone on March 25, 1900. A Benedictine priest, Father Chrysostom, delivered the principal address, and the names of Father LaJeunesse as pastor and of Frederick R. Baker as mayor of Fort Collins were also inscribed in the note.
Bishop Matz also dedicated the church on August 4, 1901. Mrs. Riddell and Ray Kissock who were parishioners in 1975 both recall attending the dedication. The electrical installation in the church was incomplete at the time of the dedication, the light was furnished by an oil lamp hung in each window and only about one-third of the pews had been installed. Father LaJeunesse established his residence in the sacristy at the northwest corner of the church.
A rectory adjoining the church on the west was built in 1908, and in succeeding years more property was acquired abutting on the church and rectory. Father Reycraft noted in his 1975 history that Leonard Verellen, a parishioner at the time, recalled that his wife’s aunt was the housekeeper in the rectory when he came to Fort Collins in 1905.
Father LaJeunesse was a forward thinking individual with obvious charisma, business savvy and a true politician. In November of 1909 the parish held a church fair in order to raise money to reduce the parish debt. Musical programs were staged, as well as displays in booths wherein various items were sold. The city of Fort Collins has a slogan today – “Shop Fort Collins First”. In 1909 Father LaJeunesse wrote the following article for a flyer “Grand Catholic Church Fair” fundraiser to be held November 22-27 that year entitled “Spend Your Money at Home”:
With very limited means I endeavored ten years ago to erect in Fort Collins a Church building which would be at once a joy to the Catholics and a credit to the city. It seemed impossible at first that the idea should materialize, but an appeal was made to our numerous non-Catholic friends, and their generous response, which is not yet forgotten, assured the realization of a fond hope.
In erecting, two years ago, the present rectory, the finest in this diocese, I might have appeared extravagant, but I intended keeping apace with a growing town, and the public spirit which animated me, I trust, justifies my action in again appealing to the generosity of our friends in patronizing our Fair of 1909. In my opinion what advertises a town best is its public and business edifices. Can any stranger, for instance, be more favorably impressed with the wealth of this section of the country than by the sight of such buildings as the First National Bank or the State Mercantile? While expressing then my sincere thanks to the people of Fort Collins for past kindnesses, I feel confident that Thanksgiving week shall once more prove their appreciation of good will and entitle them to still more gratitude.”
Father LaJeunesse also built churches in Loveland and Greeley.
Mrs. May Williams told Father Reycraft in 1975 she recalled that, while driving to church one Sunday in 1917, she became involved in an accident, which damaged the front of her car considerably. She was quite worried and upset about it, but Father LaJeunesse invited her into the rectory, gave her coffee, and reassured her.
Mrs. Maryette (Sullivan) Williams was the youngest of ten children of Grace and William Sullivan. She recalled her mother, Grace, was the first convert to receive her First Communion the day St. Joseph Church had its first Service at Mountain and Howes. Maryette is an Alumini of St. Joseph Catholic School’s second graduating class and remembers her brother, K.B., delivered milk from the Sullivan Dairy to St. Joseph rectory, school and convent for forty years. Her father William also helped haul rock for the facing of the basement of the church from Rist Canyon.
Francis Kintzley, a parishioner today, recalls that Father LaJeunesse asked Mr. Avery, who owned the home on the west corner of the block, to donate money for a bell for the Church tower. Mr. Avery’s response went something like this “…he would pay $50.00 to not put in a bell.” It is unclear when the bell in the Church tower was installed but it was a time later. Father Lajeunesse paid Francis $1 per week to light the coal furnaces before Masses. Francis also remembers helping get coal from the railroad cars. He recalled a time when some parishioners paid pew rent. This would assure them of their place during Mass. The more affluent ones had soft padded kneelers. He recalls sitting in these pews when he thought the occupants weren’t coming – and being asked to move when they arrived.
Another parishioner, Dorothy DeCicco, reminisced about living near the railroad tracks off North College. When her father died (she was nine years old), Father Lajeunesse was a great help to her mom and five children. Dorothy remembers they would hide in the cornfield because Father LaJeunesse would tease them and their cat. They all loved him.