Father John

Father John at his snow covered placer mining site.
Father Kaufman at his placer mine; 1984

    Our local Catholic Minister can relate to the locals because he’s out doing the same things we do. He builds homes and carries a carpenters belt with the best of them. His adaptation to the mountain environment reminds me of the historically famous ‘Father Dyer.’ (Father Dyer’s was actually a Methodist preacher and his real name was John Dyer, but was affectionately referred to as ‘Father Dyer’ by the Breckenridge community during the Nineteenth Century.)
Father John took off his tools and stopped working on his drywall work in order to spend some time with me. I lead off with asking for clarity over my confusion about whether he is a preacher or a contractor.
    Well some, I have talked to, think I should be spending more time doing churchly things. I just look at churchly things as not spiritual things. Things that have driven me is life itself. To participate and share life as completely as one can. Life itself is what church is all about. Many times just being involved in things sometimes outside the church even with people not in the church have given me a deep appreciation of what I’m living and the life other people are living. I guess I don’t see Jesus as being that type of a person either, one that was doing just churchly things. He was one who was involved in the lifestyles in the nitty gritty trenches of what life was all about. And I believe I should do that too. It’s not just something that I force myself to do because that’s what I believe. This is where I enjoy spending my life and how I enjoy spending my life. I think one of the things that kind of motivated me to be ordained when I was ordained it was the fact that I could see this understanding of life and not being too complicated in life, but just sharing life with other people, but at the same time sharing it in living their lives with them.
    Also bringing this other dimension of my friendship and my contact and closeness with the spirituality in my life. Bring that into the other days, not something I preach on Sunday and then go and talk to the `nice’ people and the people that the preacher comes in contact with. It’s kind of like I’ll preach to certain society on weekends. Then the rest of the week I’m `preaching’ to the rest of the people; the dry-wallers and the carpenters, and the people that are doing other kinds of things in their lives. I try to touch that part of life too. I don’t consciously do that, it’s just something that’s part of my life. All my life I’ve lived in places for just a few months and for years my dad was in the military service and we lived two years here and three years there. All my life its seemed as if I’ve set down roots anywhere and this was the first time I came to a place where I lived in one place over a few years. Its really a great thing to be able to go into a store and the proprietor knows you, driving down the road and somebody says hi to you or honks their horn or flashes their lights. I go into Safeway and the checker knows who I am. It’s just a whole way of living which seems so much more comfortable than going in and dealing with strangers and being among strangers.
    When I first came up I did a lot of skiing. I’ve been skiing since I got to Colorado in sixty-one. So when I got up here seventy-eight, I skied an awful lot. The last couple of years I haven’t skied so much do to a couple of reasons, my knee has torn cartilage there and… I just think they’ve never been strong anyway and getting older and can’t hardly bend over…he laughs…to go to bed. When I used to ski in the sixties, never had good boots or anything like that. My feet were a little frozen from skiing back in the early days.

    My favorite thing is the summers. I like to get out, especially higher up. I like to do some mining at my mine I’ve been working for about five years. Well I find gold every year and found a couple pounds this year. I do placer mining and that includes dredging and panning. I have twelve of them and one’s right off of the highway just below Hoosier pass.
    When I first started gold panning about, I didn’t know whose property it was. When I first started panning out there, it pretty good. So I got out my little sluice box, I had made, and started running stuff through it. A guy came down and asked me how I was doing. I say `Well, doing fine.’

He asks `Are you finding any gold?’

    I said `Ya, sure.’ I got a vile and showed him my gold and he said `Well this is the first time in years anybody has told me they’ve found any gold. Any time I ask anybody else they say “oh no.” This is all my property.’ I say, oh I’m sorry, I’ll pack up.
He says `no, no just tell me what you find.’
And I say `sure, no problem.’ Since then we got to be real good friends.
    About three years ago I leased ten acres from him, mineral rights for ten acres. I went through all the state regulations and everything. Got a state permit. I had some money at the time and invested in equipment. We put a lot of dirt through there. Somewhere between thirty to fifty tons a day.
    “Well, we’re not doing it anymore. (He laughs about the recent drop in the price of gold.) There’s plenty of gold there, but its not worth working at the prices that they’re paying right now. The price of gold just went back up to $500 the first of the week.
    “My future in Summit County will probably be pretty limited. I’m not sure they’re going to be able to find somebody else to come up here. I don’t know if that’s even always a consideration when they move you someplace. They just figure eventually they’ll find somebody to come up here.
    “We use to do a lot more traveling out of the county to take care of parishes. I used to take care of the Fairplay parish for five or six years and then that was changed over to a Colorado Springs guy. I would say two masses here in the morning and then drive over to Fairplay and say one.
    “The difference was between night and day. The people are just a whole lot different from there to over here. More rural, more country type over there. In comparison to Denver, I see both as a lot slower paced environment, and I love it up here. I love that aspect of being up here in the mountains. I don’t think that I would really be super happy in a place where I had to have the pressures associated with the city. I think it would be difficult for me to live there. It would take a year at least and maybe two years to get over the shock.
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    Father John Kaufman has been pastor for the Catholic Church in the mountain community of Kremmling, Colorado, since 1986 and loves it there. Most of his mining activities have ceased with the exception of an underground mine in Idaho Springs, Colorado.

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