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Rev. Prohens, 96, opened arms to all

Published December 12, 2007 at 12:05 a.m.

The Rev. James Prohens recites the rosary in the rectory at St. Cajetan Catholic Church in west Denver in August. The Rev. Prohens was still serving as pastor at St. Cajetan, his post for 37 years, when he died last month at age 96. He championed the rights of Hispanics and reached out to gay people and women.

The Rev. James Prohens recites the rosary in the rectory at St. Cajetan Catholic Church in west Denver in August. The Rev. Prohens was still serving as pastor at St. Cajetan, his post for 37 years, when he died last month at age 96. He championed the rights of Hispanics and reached out to gay people and women.

The Rev. James Prohens never stopped opening his arms and his heart to the marginalized of Denver. He also never retired.

When he died Nov. 21, at age 96, he still was serving as pastor of St. Cajetan Catholic Church in west Denver, his post for the past 37 years.

"He was a beautiful priest," said Helen Ortega, the religious education program coordinator at St. Cajetan. "He was a prime example of what a priest should be, what you expect your priest to be. And he did that for so many years."

The Rev. Prohens was born in 1911 in the town of Felanitx on the Spanish island of Majorca to Antonio Prohens and Maria Nadal. He entered seminary at age 9 and did advanced theological training at Gregorian University in Rome starting in 1931.

When civil war broke out in Spain in 1936, he returned to Spain to complete his education at Theatine Seminary. He was ordained a priest later that year and became master of novices and principal at the high school in Palma, Spain.

Later, he went to Argentina to help found a branch of the Theatine order there. While there, he studied philosophy and literature at the University of La Plata.

When he returned to Spain, he was named provincial, or leader, of the Theatine order there. After his term of office ended in 1954, he came to the United States.

"The Theatine fathers had been in Colorado for a few decades by that time," said the Rev. Prohens' nephew, Antoni Piza, of New York City. Aside from short stints serving parishes in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, the Rev. Prohens lived at the old St. Cajetan Parish church, which was owned by the Theatine order and was the first Hispanic parish in Denver.

The Rev. Prohens was named pastor of the parish in 1970 and helped relocate St. Cajetan to its present location near West Alameda Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard in 1975, after its original neighborhood was largely bulldozed to make way for the Auraria Higher Education Center campus.

"They built that church from scratch," Piza said. "They started it from nothing. They had to borrow the money to build. The parishioners are mostly Mexican and Mexican-American. They give to the collection what they can, which sometimes is not a lot. But they bought the land around the church, and they've built an amazing community center for the parishioners, and have maintained the church and the rectory. It's now a prosperous church that came from nothing."

Throughout his life, the Rev. Prohens loved books and occasionally wrote poetry. He earned a master's degree in English literature from Colorado College in 1965, and he published three books of poetry in the Majorcan language.

"I think one of the most remarkable things about him was his intellectual zest for life," Piza said. "He was active as a pastor, but he kept on reading and writing, and he even painted a bit."

In addition to championing the rights of the Hispanic community in Denver, the Rev. Prohens also reached out to gay people and to women, who he feared felt marginalized by the church.

"He was the most liberal priest you can imagine," Piza said. "Women who had divorced or separated went to him for advice, thinking that maybe the church would not accept them. And he literally opened his arms to gay people. He said Mass for a gay group in Denver called Dignity. He was a very open, liberal person, open to anyone who could feel he or she was on the margins."

In addition to his nephew, the Rev. Prohens is survived by a sister, Micaela Prohens, of Majorca. He was preceded in death by a brother, Juan, and a sister, Maria, who was a nun.

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