On this day of love, happiness and bouquets of roses, there is none at the west side shrine once world famous for sending blessed miracle healing roses to the faithful.
Rather than the scent of roses, the over-powering stench of human waste and death permeates the “Saint Rose E. Arveson Shrine” at 36th Street and West Pikes Peak Avenue.
No longer do desperate people seeking cures wander the hillside shrine offering prayers at the statue of Christ or before the large etched mural of Rose Arveson, who died in August 1963, giving birth to a legend.
Her daughters, Dorothy and Pauline, claimed a miracle occurred after her funeral when six roses placed on her casket wilted, died and were resurrected. They said the roses bloomed 10 days later.
Then, they claimed, a petal from one of the roses cured a severely arthritic friend.
Dorothy and Pauline spent the rest of their lives erecting the shrine and campaigning for the Catholic Church to declare her a saint due to her healing powers.
The story of Rose was spread by tabloid newspapers, triggering pilgrimages from folks hoping to be healed of various diseases and afflictions.
Over the years, the sisters claimed the spirit of “Little Saint Rose” had cured people of cancer, heart disease, AIDS and blindness.
For those who couldn’t make the trip to Colorado Springs, the sisters shipped out roses blessed in their mother’s name. Roses went out by the tens of thousands to people around the world.
But sainthood never came, officially, to Rose. Dorothy worked as an accountant from the modest family home she shared with Pauline.
And as the sisters aged, their efforts to promote their mother and the shrine faded.
The shrine took on a spooky quality in recent years. Weeds grew unchecked. The statues decayed. The elderly sisters were seldom seen by neighbors who grew concerned as a stranger appeared. It was a man no one recognized, and he moved in with the women.
Police were called to check the welfare of the women, but they were never allowed in the house. Same for Code Enforcement and Adult Protective Services.
Readers called me in 2010 and I tried to talk to the sisters and the man, but they wouldn’t open the door.
When officials finally did get inside recently, they were shocked at what they found. The house had become a toxic waste site, according to Ken Lewis, code enforcement administrator.
His officers were with police Jan. 28 when, in response to neighbor complaints, they went to investigate horrible odors wafting from the house.
Lewis said officers decided the overwhelming smell of death gave them probable cause to enter the house. So they crawled in a window and were stunned.
“There were dead animals and human waste everywhere,” Lewis said. “The place was filthy. It’s one of the worst we’ve ever seen.”
Inside, they found 69-year-old William E. Schwartz, who appeared to be suffering a leg infection and had to be carried out, Lewis said.
Then officers of the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region went in, wearing hazard suits and facemasks, to rescue some cats living inside and clear out the carcasses of dead animals, Lewis said.
Turns out, Pauline Arveson died in April 2008 at age 82 and Dorothy died in March 2011 at age 81 leaving Schwartz alone in the house.
“We’d been trying for a long time to get in the house,” Lewis said. “Dorothy almost let us in one time but she said she didn’t want to anger (Schwartz).”
When Dorothy died, Lewis said, the first responders found her body on the porch because Schwartz didn’t want anyone in the house.
I wondered what would become of the house and shrine and Schwartz.
Lewis said his officers went back on Friday and condemned the place.
“It’s a health hazard,” he said. “We put it on the dilapidated building list.”
It’s so bad, he doesn’t believe the house can be saved.
“It would require a biohazard cleanup,” he said.
Lewis knows neighbors don’t want to be stuck with a rancid building, so he intends to start the process of asking the city attorney to go to court and ask for a receiver for the property, assuming there are no heirs to take control.
“Somebody has to take responsibility for the property and take the house down,” Lewis said.
It could take months, but Lewis said it will be a priority for his office because not much can happen until a receiver is appointed.
As for Schwartz, Lewis said he remains hospitalized. And once healthy, he is facing three counts of misdemeanor cruelty to animals, filed last week in El Paso County District Court, according to court documents.
Looks like it will take another miracle to save Little Saint Rose’s shrine.