Parish History

St. Ben's History

The geographic area served by St. Benedict's is somewhat diverse. The small mountain mining towns, ranches, cities and foothill communities contribute to a rich diversity of people who comprise the parish. Like most of Colorado, Florence is in the midst of a transition from one way of life to a new and unfamiliar one, and they are striving to embrace change as a gift, even while they mourn the passing of the familiar. The many prisons in Fremont County bring a new population of prison employee and families of prisoners to the area. This new population offers new and valuable gifts, while it creates new and challenging demands on the community. As the local economy has diversified in the last decade, the area has lost the strong traditional tie of working with one's neighbors. Thus, the generation of lifelong residents who grew up and worked together is giving to another generation that has come searching for a slower pace, and a better climate to raise children and retire in.

Around 1895, Fr. Michael Rank, O.S.B., from St. Benedict's Abbey, Atchison, Kansas, was given charge of the missions of eastern Fremont County.  He conducted masses in the various mining camps until 1898.  Mass in the town of Florence was held in the City Hall, and later, the John La Plant home until a small frame church was built.

As the mostly Italian and Slav immigrants arrived, they worked in the refinery, smelter, railroads, coal mines and cement mills and swelled the population of the town and of the church.  St. Benedict's status as a mission changed to that of a parish responsible for Brewster, Williamsburg, Coal Creek, Rockvale, and Penrose.  By 1905, the congregation had outgrown the old frame church, and they began to plan to build a larger structure.  The cornerstone was laid in 1906, and by the end of the year the church was completed at a cost of $15,000.  Two years later a rectory was built west of the church.  In remained in use until the 1980s.

Shortly after St. Benedict was built, there was a bank failure in Florence, and all the money saved for the accoutrements of the new church was lost.  Thus the altar from the old frame church served in the new church for many years.  Various parishioners donated all of the other necessary items, such as altar rails, sanctuary lamps, statuary, an organ, vestments, etc.

In the late twenties, the Sisters from St. Scholastica Academy traveled to St. Benedict every Sunday to teach religious instruction.  This continued until the Benedictine Sister from St. Joseph Hospital took over the task in 1947.

In August 1949, due to the deterioration of the church building, it was decided to tear down the tower and remodel the front of the church, in the process, the church would be enlarged.  Approximately $25,000 was spent on the construction project, and once again, parishioners donated all manner of accoutrements for the refurbished church.  St. Benedict celebrated its 50th anniversary on September 17, 1950 and 100th on September 17, 2000.

In the ensuring decades, the parish benefited from the influence of many spiritual pastors who motivated the congregation to continue to expand the parish plant in size and in beauty, and (after Vatican II) to become involved with the liturgy and all other aspects of the celebration of the mass.

The church has changed much over the years, as has the liturgy, but the love at the heart of the community remains the same.  It is love of God and neighbor that called the congregation together as a community years ago, love that sustained them through the changes and growth that the years have brought and love that unites them still, with the challenges of today and of tomorrow.