When Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver blessed the Chapel of Saint Basil the Great at Assumption of the Theotokos Cathedral, the Greek Orthodox Metropolis Cathedral of Denver, on May 21, 2022, the idea of Michael and Katherine Johnson to build a chapel in Denver became a reality. That idea began more than a decade ago, in July of 2010, when the Johnsons, active supporters of the Greek Orthodox Church for more than 60 years, took a trip to Columbus, Ohio to visit friends.
“They had just finished building a chapel in their parish in Columbus. We took the idea home with us and thought it over carefully and decided to go forward. Among items that we needed were structural plans, a good builder, an experienced iconographer, architect and chapel size and costs,” according to Mike. The Assumption parish granted them a very suitable building site. The chapel would be built next to and under the same roof as Assumption Cathedral.
“Early on, we decided that we would build a chapel unlike any existing Greek Orthodox Chapel in America. All iconography would be done in mosaic-type. In searching, we found that completing mosaics is very costly and there are fewer iconographers that do mosaic,” added Mike.
Master planning of the entire site began in 2010 with the engagement of Eidos Architects of Greenwood Village, Colorado. After a lengthy study, the chapel location was selected, and the design process began. Construction of the building began in April of 2014 and was completed in July of 2015. The Johnsons then selected Bruno Salvatori as the iconographer. He was able to finish a part of the dome and chapel but because of health issues had to resign. To find a replacement, Metropolitan Isaiah and Mike traveled to Nashville during the Clergy Laity Congress in 2018, looking for an iconographer. They found George Papastamatiou, were impressed with his work, and hired him. Progress in completing the chapel was slow due to health issues, previous commitments by the iconographer and the pandemic. The chapel was finally completed in 2022. Michael and Katherine Johnson and Family financed the entire project.
The chapel, named after Mike’s mother, Vasiliki, seats sixty people in cushioned pews and has a beautiful baptismal font. Highlights of the life of Jesus Christ are shown in 16 large mosaics accompanied by 69 other mosaic figures. All the figures in the chapel are the same scale.
Mike said he was not aware of any Greek Orthodox Chapels in the U.S. done entirely in mosaic style.
Mike gives special thanks to Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, Rev. Fr. Chris Margaritis, Rev. Fr. Dimitrios Kyritsis and Mr. John Johns for their love, prayers, and support, which made it possible for the Chapel of Saint Basil the Great to become the beautiful house of worship that it is.
Michael S. Johnson was born in 1926 in Maryville, Missouri, of Greek immigrant parents. His interest in the oil business began when his family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1931, then called the Oil Capital of The World. He graduated from The Ohio State University with a B.Sc. degree (1947) and a M.S. degree (1949), both in geology.
He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1950 during the Korean War. Because of his college background, he was assigned to The Armed Forces Special Weapons Project (AFSWP). While there, he experienced one of the most exciting times of his life. For the first time in history AFSWP, together with The Atomic Energy Commission, would detonate several atomic bombs at The Nevada Test Site. This program would provide the very first measurement data on the effects of surface and underground nuclear detonations. For the blast, his group stood nine miles away from ground zero. The flash heat from the blast was like opening an oven heated to 350 degrees F. The white, radiation-filled cloud moved away from them and dissipated.
In 1958, Johnson became Rocky Mountain Exploration Manager for Apache Oil Corporation in Denver. He resigned from Apache in 1963 to become an independent oil and gas geologist. In 2008, he was awarded the Explorer of the Year Award by the oil industry for his part in discovering the Parshall Oil Field in North Dakota, one of the largest oil fields in North America.
He served on the Archdiocesan Council from 1979 to 1997. He is presently a member of The Board of Trustees of Leadership 100 and FAITH. He became an Archon in 1979. He currently lives in Denver with his wife, Katherine, of 63 years. They have two children, Alicia and Mark (wife is Judy), two grandchildren, Justus (wife is Bettina) and Hunter, and one great-grandchild, Katherine.