The Diocese of Pueblo: The next 25 years: 1967-1992

The Diocese ushered in its second quarter-of-a-century with the Most Reverend Charles Buswell at the helm. It was the mission of this charismatic leader from Oklahoma to help the diocese implement the Second Vatican Council in the local Church which convened in the early 1960’s - just after he became Bishop of Pueblo. In his own words, “For many years, the Church had been very legalistic. It was the idea of Pope John XXIII that there be more freedom in the Church. He began the Second Vatican Council to renew the Church and reform it. There were two characteristics that were very special for the Second Vatican Council.

First, it was called to be a pastoral council, mainly a council for people. The people of the diocese and the people of the world were called to serve one another and love one another, in the spirit of the Council. The Council was also called to be an ecumenical council. The Church should be concerned with those outside the Church itself and to work especially with other Christians, to work towards the unity of all Christian people.”

Pueblo and Bishop Buswell responded by enthusiastically developing a liturgy program that involved all people, including the laity. Most significantly, the program was designed to include anyone and everyone that felt called to serve. This even allowed for the inclusion of women, which was fairly controversial at the time. But, in his quiet, gentle way, Bishop Buswell managed to persuade the Diocese that we needed a more inclusive program that allowed women to have the same experience, training and faith development as men because their gifts were needed as much as anyone’s. Simultaneously, described as “the most exciting development in the Church in modern times,” the permanent diaconate was revived. The restoration of this vocation allowed for both single and married men to serves as permanent deacons. Once thought of as strictly a step toward the priesthood, the diaconate would now provide an important additional resource for the Church and its people.

Pueblo also responded to Vatican II by becoming more aware of and involved in the care of the needy. Catholics were encouraged to join together with other Christians in efforts addressing humanitarian needs such as justice and peace and the need to feed the hungry and care for the homeless. To help support these and many other diocesan programs, Bishop Buswell established the Diocesan Development Fund, now known as the Diocesan Ministry Fund or DMF. He felt called to create a legacy of support for programs that served the needs of the diocese and the needy that call the Diocese of Pueblo home.

In the midst of these positive changes, Bishop Buswell was tasked with addressing the increasingly difficult duty of maintaining our Catholic schools. At the time, there were over 2600 students enrolled in Catholic schools in Pueblo and an estimated 45,000 Catholic students statewide. Several schools in the more rural areas of the diocese, which were operated primarily at the local level, closed in 1970 and 1971. In response to the trend, vigorous efforts were made to seek additional funding at both the state and federal government levels through initiatives such as a state-sponsored text book program and the Children’s Tuition Bill. The political climate at the time made it difficult to find adequate support for these ideas in spite of acknowledgement from the public school systems and educational groups that private educational opportunities were critical. In addition to seeking these additional resources, a reorganization of the Catholic schools in Pueblo was proposed in February of 1971 with the idea that consolidation might save the school system. Unfortunately, on March 7, 1971, the Children’s Tuition Bill was killed in the appropriations committee of the Colorado House of Representatives. That, and the undeniable fact that the financial resources of the diocese were simply inadequate to run the Pueblo area schools, led to the announcement of the closures of the 10 elementary and two high schools in Pueblo on March 31, 1971. The schools remained open until the end of that school year.

Bishop Buswell guided the diocese through tumultuous and difficult times. He was faced with addressing issues of ethnic harmony, both locally and nationally, served the diocese during the Vietnam War, navigated local labor union controversies, and was an unwavering supporter of ecumenical partnerships with Protestant churches and Jewish synagogues. In an ever-changing political and cultural climate, he managed to bring his parishes into the full swing of 20th Century Catholicism and earn national regard as a leader.

On September 18, 1979 Bishop Buswell’s resignation was announced by the Vatican. He was appointed apostolic administrator until a replacement could be found. Bishop Buswell was quoted by the Pueblo Chieftain and Star-Journal as saying, “My reasons for offering my resignation are both personal and pastoral. I feel that all the interests of the Catholic community on both the Front Range and the Western Slope call for a new and younger administrator.” He continued to serve until September 10, 1980 when Arthur Tafoya was installed as the new bishop of Pueblo.

It now fell to this native of New Mexico to nurture the modern Church in Pueblo, to encourage the vital contribution of the emerging laity, and to adjust to the situation created by diminished personnel and financial resources. Upon his arrival, his knowledge of Colorado was limited but he was happy to discover a rich history, a wonderful diversity of culture and a beautiful people. He immediately set about answering the question prompted by the tenants of Vatican II, “How do we more fully involve the people of God in clergy, religious and the laity in the ministry of the Church?” He felt if questions could be answered, the diocese would have a tremendous future.

To that end, in late 1982 Bishop Tafoya announced his three-year plan for a goal-setting process to provide parishes with a sense of direction from the diocesan level and by 1986 he was able to proclaim, on the feast of Christ the King, a set of 11 priorities for the diocese. Bishop Tafoya titled this process and the resulting priorities “Our Journey Together.” He made every effort to invite the people of the diocese to speak up, then to listen to what the people said and have it complied and categorized. His goal was to get as much advice as possible without having any intent of relinquishing the heavy responsibility for decision making. He permitted others to help so that people could say, “I was a part of that decision.” He felt the whole point of “Our Journey Together” was to make decisions “ours, not mine.” The 11 identified priorities (evangelization, catechesis, liturgical renewal, spiritual renewal, shared ministry, culture and faith, family life, youth, social justice, communications, financial planning and stewardship) expressed the hopes of the Church in Southern and Western Colorado for the future.

Bishop Tafoya also made it his mission to be servant to the wider Church. He had a willingness to serve on national committees and task forces. He served as the chairman of the Human Development Bishops’ Committee (an anti-poverty program), was a member of the 1987 Papal Visit to the United States Committee, worked on the Task Force on Food and Farm Policy, and spent time on the administrative board of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Over the years, Bishop Tafoya held several regional positions for the Region XIII Conference of Catholic Bishops and served in a multitude of capacities for local Catholic, Hispanic and educational organizations. He saw the founding of the Diocese of Colorado Springs in 1984 and participated in the installation of Bishop Richard C. Hanifen as the first Bishop of the new diocese. He accomplished all this in his first 10 years and was a strong spiritual leader at the close of the first 50 years of the Diocese of Pueblo.

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a series that reviews the Diocese of Pueblo’s 75 year history. The first 25 years were covered in the March issue and the last 25 years will be covered in the September issue.