John Kernan Mullen, Businessman and Philanthropist

Published: May 16, 2016

By Janet Dubois

Photo of John Mullen 

Photo courtesy of the Denver Public Library

Nine-year-old John Mullen arrived in America from Ireland with his family in 1856. They settled in New York where John learned the trade of miller. At age nineteen, John went west to Kansas to work. In 1871 he moved on to Denver, Colorado. He was an experienced miller but found it hard to obtain a job in the milling industry in Denver. He eventually went to work for O. W Shackleton and Charles Davis at their West Denver Flour Mill. As a progressive businessman, Mullen built the Colorado Milling and Elevator Company and bought the Excelsior Mill from John W. Smith. 


Photo of Catherine Mullen

Photo Courtesy Denver Public Library

Catherine Smith Mullen                    


Catherine Smith was born in Cavan County, Ireland in 1851. She immigrated with her widowed mother and three older brothers to America in  1854. The family settled in Iowa, then Kansas. In 1864, they settled in Central City, Colorado. Kate and her mother, faithful Irish Catholics,  were very involved in the Central City Irish Catholic community. Eventually, Kate moved to Denver and in 1874 married John K. Mullen. 







Hungarian Mill

Photo of the Hungarian Mill

Photo Courtesy Denver Public Library

Once Mullen became successful, he built the Hungarian Mills, Elevator and Ware House between Seventh and Eighth Streets on Wazee. By 1882, Mullen was “the leading flour producer in Colorado





Former Mullen Home

The Mullens were known for their philanthropy and in 1924, Catherine Mullen donated the Mullen's former home at Ninth and Lawrence Streets to build St. Cajetan's Catholic Church for the growing number of Hispanics who were living in the Auraria neighborhood in the 1920s.

Photo of the Mullen's former home

Photo Courtesy Denver Public Library






St. Cajetan’s Catholic Church

Photo of Cajetan's Catholic Church in color

Photo Courtesy Rebecca Hunt

In 1925, the basement of the church was finished, but funds had run out. Because Catherine Mullen was an avid supporter of the new church, J. K. “felt compelled to provide support to the parish in her memory" when she died that year. He donated more than $65,000 to the church to help cover the remaining building costs. St. Cajetan’s Catholic Church was completed in 1926.