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Parish Pioneers

Norma & Jack O’Grady

The O’Grady family joined Our Lady of Fatima Parish in 1966 when they moved from Northwest Denver. They have six children, and four graduated from Our Lady of Fatima School.

Father Robert Syrianey was the pastor in 1966. A combination church, school and parish center had been built in 1960 and Mass was held in the school gym, but it felt like a church to the O’Gradys. The current cross was on the east wall, with a lovely tile background. From the back of the seating, you couldn’t see the altar without looking around people. So when plans began for our current church, the slight slope of the floor was a key requirement. Ground breaking for the new church was in September 1977.

Fr. Syrianey was very generous and beloved by all. Norma remembers him allowing her to hold a 50th anniversary party for her parents in the “gathering room” at no fee since she was a parishioner. There was a welcoming committee with a couple coming to the home of new parishioners to tell them all about Our Lady of Fatima.

The school was starting its first 8th grade class in 1966. Benedictine Sister Irmina Giles was the principal and 8th grade teacher. There was a waiting list at the time, but the O’Grady children were accepted right away since Jack’s sister was also a member of the Benedictine Sisters at the Benet Hill Monastery in Colorado Springs. Norma considered Sr. Irmina one of the best of Our Lady of Fatima’s principals. She was an excellent teacher and had a wonderful way with people.

Fr. Schmidt succeeded Fr. Syrianey as the second pastor of Our Lady of Fatima in July 1970. Jack and he got along especially well, probably due to his German ancestry. (Despite the Irish surname, Jack is half German.) Though Father appeared stern, he was actually rather laid back. Son Tom cracked an upper window with a baseball and also broke a procession cross, but Father never told his parents until much later.

The parish was very vibrant in those early years. Everyone was young and energetic. The O’Gradys’ social life revolved around parish friends and activities. Those most involved seemed to be parents of Our Lady of Fatima School children. There was PTA, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Norma was also active in the Altar & Rosary Society, serving as president from 1983-85. Early on, Fr. Syrianey had announced: “I need an Altar & Rosary Society,” and the women responded promptly and took care of many things. Monthly meetings were held in the school gym, mostly business meetings and sometimes speakers, and they were packed. Norma joined a bridge group, St. Jude’s Circle, though she had never played before. The group of eight became quite close, and also socialized as couples. Jack was a founding member of the parish Knights of Columbus Council. They began the pancake breakfasts and the annual Christmas dinner, which still continue. Jack served as Grand Knight for two terms.

In the autumn of 1975, a number of Catholic Vietnamese families resettled to the United States. The Archdiocese requested the help of the parishes. Norma worked with a group of women who helped the Nguyen family. The family included the parents, a married daughter and her husband, two other daughters and a young son. The ladies found them an apartment, enrolled the children at Our Lady of Fatima School, taught them English, and found them jobs. Involvement with the family continued for 6-7 years and enabled them to make a good life here. The relationship was close enough that the women were invited to family weddings.

The O’Gradys have a grandson, now 21, who was born with hydrocephalus. There were many concerns and worries at his birth. The prayers of Our Lady of Fatima friends made a big difference for them. Mass intercessions for specific people were not in practice at that time, so the word spread more informally among parishioners.