New Life for Jerome Arizona’s Holy Family Catholic Church

When Scott Kolu sang “Salve Regina,” a traditional hymn to the Virgin Mary, from the balcony of the Holy Family Catholic Church in Jerome a few years ago, I was transfixed. I felt as though heaven was singing right through me and down to the beautiful old altar. The church’s acoustics were perfection.

Interior corner of the HOly Family Catholic Church in Jerome AZ

These sweet statues that were once part of the Holy Family Catholic Church in Jerome AZ are being repaired. The window painting was removed in the nineteen nineties. Photo by Bob Swanson.

Scott, a baritone, who once sang with the Royal Hawaiian Opera Company, is the cantor, caretaker, historian and advocate for the restoration of the oldest church in Jerome.

He wasn’t always Catholic. He was a renegade from growing up in a family of conservative Orthodox Jews with a Rabbi father and converted to Catholicism eleven years ago. Today, he lives in the Holy Family Catholic Church’s convent, where he can monitor day-to-day restoration.

A year and a half ago, Scott outlined the structural problems of the church and his dreams for renovation to Father David Kalesh, pastor of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Cottonwood. The three-story brick and stone back wall facing Main Street is bowed, its foundation crumbling, mortar for its brick and stone façade in need of repointing.

The Holy Family Catholic Church is one of the oldest churches in JErome, AZ

Image of the Holy Family Catholic Church as depicted in an old postcard of Jerome, AZ.

Not surprising for a building that was built in 1896, burned in the fire of 1898, and was rebuilt as a brick and stone structure in 1899-1900. It was known as the ‘miner’s church.

Father David and Scott Kolu became strong allies.

Together they are bringing Jerome’s Holy Family Catholic Church back to life. Father David conducts Mass on the third Saturday of each month at 8:30 a.m. When long-time and much loved Jerome resident Don Walsh died in late September, a funeral service was held to a packed church of family and friends.

“The church has immense historic value,” Father David told me. “Most important are the memories the church holds for former parishioners and their families who visit Jerome. I would like to help the church become the polished jewel that it once was.”

After Father Juan Atucha Gorostiaga (Father John) died in 1979, the church interior was in shabby condition. Some funds for repair came from money that was recovered from the discovery of its theft from the church. The night after Father John died, one of Jerome’s hippie newcomers discovered someone coming out of the church with garbage bags. The thief fled, and the garbage bags, full of silver coin and old bills, were handed over to the police. When they looked inside the church, more money was found. According to Ron Ballatore, one of the policemen, $8000 was recovered. “The Phoenix diocese asked that it be given to three of his loyal parishioners for fixing up the church,” said Ballatore in an interview that I did with him in the 1980’s. “What happened to it after that I don’t know. I do know that Tony [Anthony Lozano, Sr.] spent years repairing that church pretty much on his own.” (A more complete version of these stories are found in my Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City.

Lozano’s work included cleaning the interior of the building, repainting the altar and sanctuary, and making repairs to the antique pipe organ. “Unfortunately, the roof leaks above the organ were neglected, and a big rainstorm in 1981 inflicted a lot of damage,” Scott Kolu said as he showed me the rotten felt and damaged rubber gaskets on each key.

Interior HOly Family Catholic Church, Jerome AZ.

This is how the interior of the Holy Family Catholic Church in Jerome AZ looked in 1985. The lifelike statue of Saint Anthony Mary Claret was stolen then mysteriously returned and thrown on the floor of the church, breaking it into pieces. Photo by Bob Swanson.

The organ, designed especially for smaller churches, was built by the prestigious Kilgen and Sons Pipe Organ Company in St. Louis in the early nineteen hundreds. Only two others of the same compact design still remain in the United States. (Perhaps the most well known Kilgen church pipe organ is housed in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan.)

“We are ecstatic that Mr. Charles Kegg, President and Artistic Director of Kegg Pipe Organ Builders ( is willing to take on the restoration project,” Scott said.

I sent an email to Mr. Kegg and asked him why.

“I would like to restore it to its original condition so that it can remain an example of this almost extinct style of American pipe organ,” he said. “The pipe organ in Jerome is rather unusual. . . It was being sent to a place where electricity probably didn’t exist at all at the time, so this organ was built using methods from the mid-19th century and with the intention that it must play under difficult circumstances with little or no maintenance. This was not uncommon at all for remote locations. . . Jerome must have been an outpost much more remote than other locations that would want a pipe organ. Another thing that makes it unusual is that it has survived, virtually intact.”

Scott is in the process of restoring the altar and sanctuary to some of the glory that Tony Lozano accomplished. During the nineteen-nineties, well-meaning seminarians repainted the altar and painted over the two golden images of The Holy Ghost and All-seeing Eye of God with their white fluffy clouds above them. “You can still see their faint outlines beneath the paint, so they can be redone,” Scott said.

The seminarians also removed the old window paintings of the Twelve Apostles in the sanctuary and The Holy Family that graced the large window in the church’s balcony. “Eventually we will find a way to replace them,” said Scott. “I already have an arrangement with Penelope Davis, who runs the kid’s art program in Jerome, to repaint a more modern holy family in the large balcony window.”

“At least the tin ceiling wasn’t repainted,” I remarked. “In 1984, I walked in to the church to see Tony Lozano painting the blue fleur de lis designs on the ceiling with his fingers. He was a most devout man.”

“I sorely miss the statue of Saint Anthony Mary Claret that used to stand in the back of the church.” I told Scott. “It was so lifelike that it unnerved me every time I visited. Sadly, the statue was stolen sometime in the nineties.” (St. Anthony founded the Claretian order.)

“The finale of that story is that the statue was returned,” Scott said. “Someone dumped it on the floor of the church, and it broke into pieces. Now only the bust remains. Such a desecration.”

Scott’s passion for restoring the church is equaled by his love of the town of Jerome.

“I’ve been coming to Jerome since the nineteen eighties,” Scott said. “The beauty of this town isn’t just the view, but like the church, every step you take, you know someone else has taken that same step. I love the fact that I fit in. There’s a belonging that you get here that you don’t find anywhere else.”

I quoted him the lines from Kate Wolf’s song “Old Jerome.” (Complete lyrics are found in the author’s book Home Sweet Jerome.

They say that once you live here, you’ll you never really leave,          

The town has a hold on you until the day you die.

“I don’t know whether you never really leave Jerome or whether Jerome doesn’t leave you,” Scott replied.

Before I left the church, Scott rang the well-functioning bell, made and smelted by a 17-year old living in Jerome who went on to become a bell maker. Its peals resounded throughout the church and town. “You have to know how to pull it straight for the clobber to hit it decently,” Scott said. I tried. It was too heavy for me to even get a good pull. I thanked him for his time.

The article was first published in the Verde Independent newspaper in Cottonwood, AZ. The photo gallery featuring Vyto Starinskas’ photos are spectacular.

Today, I heard from my Facebook friends that a new business downstairs was going to replace Scott. Worse, Scott was going to have a hard time finding a place to live in a town that always made room for people it loved that had contributed positively towards the town. Jerome has turned scrooge: what counts these days, more than compassion and humanity is money, and this in a place that professes those values. A blasphemy, indeed.

(Diane Sward Rapaport is the author of Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City. The blogs are different from the stories that are included in the book, but the book does include some great stories about Father John, the beloved priest who died in the late 1970’s.  The book is available in many stores in Jerome or for $18 post paid by sending me a check at Box 398, Hines OR 97738. Happy New Year. I’ll include an autograph. Diane Rapaport )