Three decades ago, Catholic Extension helped Afton’s Catholic community build Holy Family Catholic Church. Today, it’s thriving.

The Catholics sprinkled across Star Valley in west central Wyoming have always stoically accepted one fact of their faith life: getting to Mass during the long winter months is treacherous business. They also have embraced another: being part of the Holy Family Catholic Church community is worth the risk.

“Our biggest fear is sliding into the river,” said a parishioner, “but very seldom is Mass ever canceled. We always feel that if a priest is going to travel 78 miles to get to Afton, well, we can, too.”

Overcoming hardship, making do, banding together. These are the traits that have characterized the intrepid community of Holy Family Catholic Church since it was founded in 1977 under the leadership of Father Charles Bartek. When he was assigned to shepherd three small parishes scattered throughout Bridger National Forest in the west central portion of the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming, he made two critical decisions: to insist that the 18 Catholic families in the Afton mission parish help build the new church, and to ask Catholic Extension and our donors for critical funding support.

This combination of sweat equity and Catholic Extension capital gave birth to a community that has grown, despite a predominant Mormon culture and a location that is difficult to reach.

These days, Holy Family is the spiritual home to 160 registered families and filled to overflowing each week. Parishioners have developed a thriving religious education program for young children, activities for teens, and clubs and prayer groups for adults.

Given the influx of Catholic families moving to the area, the community understood that it was time to build a new, larger church in the geographic center of the Valley that would be more accessible and visible. In doing so, they relied on Father Bartek’s tried-and-true formula for getting things done: parishioners donated time and raised their own funds. They then asked Catholic Extension donors to match their fundraising efforts.

In June of 2012, Holy Family celebrated the dedication of their new church, a true labor of love.

We knew the partnership between Catholic Extension and Holy Family would ensure the parish roots continue to spread—nurtured, says Deacon Bill Hill, “by the biggest group of brazen Catholics you’ll ever come across.”

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