History of the Very Reverend Joseph P. Carrigan
In 1885 Father Carrigan was appointed pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Denver by Bishop Machebeuf. Carrigan, an Irishman born and trained in New York, had come to Colorado after his ordination. A capable and outspoken priest, he had served at St. Mary’s in Breckenridge, St. Mary’s in Denver, and as pastor of St. Ann (Annunciation) parish before coming to St. Patrick’s. This young priest proved to be an able and popular pastor. He paid off the parish debt and, in 1889, enlarged the church and school. Father Carrigan aggressively boosted church attendance by urging his flock to bring non-Catholic friends to Mass each Sunday. Non-Catholics were also welcome in the church’s public reading room.
North Denverites in those days were separated from the city by the South Platte River and a maze of railroad tracks, where trains killed and maimed people every year. Furthermore, the 15th Street bridge over the Platte was so rickety that the city posted a notice at either end: “No vehicles drawn by more than one horse are allowed to cross the bridge in opposite directions at the same time.”
Father Carrigan and his parishioners joined the crusade to build a viaduct from downtown to North Denver as a safe crossing over the river and rail lines. Mayor Robert W. Speer cleverly persuaded the railroads to put up most of the cost of the viaduct. Completed in 1911 for $500,000, this three-quarter-mile-long trussed viaduct left Denver at 20th Street but landed in North Denver at 33rd Avenue–at the front door of St. Patrick’s. Parishioners praised God for what is now the oldest and largest trussed viaduct in Colorado, and North Denverites still call its bend “Carrigan’s Curve.”
Father Carrigan could certainly bend the ears of City Hall. This powerful priest also took on Bishop Matz, criticizing his administration of the diocese publicly and repeatedly from the moment Bishop Matz succeeded Bishop Machebeuf in 1889. Carrigan had hoped for an Irish bishop, not another Frenchman.
In defiance of his bishop, Father Carrigan, in 1907, undertook the erection of a new church. After touring the Spanish missions of California founded by the Franscican friar, Junipero Serra, Father Carrigan became enamored with the mission revivial style. With architects Harry James Manning and F. C. Wagner, he designed a beautiful stone church with asymmetrical front bell towers connected by a curvilinear parapet. An arcaded cloister along Pecos Street connected the church with a large courtyard and a rectory. Fund-raising difficulties and Father Carrigan’s ongoing feud with the bishop prolonged construction for three years. Priest and parishioners finally celebrated completion of the new St. Patrick’s, a block northwest of the old church, in May 1909. A year later, Bishop Matz reassigned Father Carrigan to St. Stephen parish in Glenwood Springs. This solution followed a rather uncivil civil court case, numerous appeals to Rome, and a scandalous public fight from the pulpits.