From Boondock Saints to FOCUS missionary

The Ivie’s unconventional path to faith

Therese Bussen

Not even a gangster movie is out of the Holy Spirit’s limits to reach into a heart and stir conversion.

That’s what happened to Joshua Ivie and his wife, Nikki, after watching the 1999 movie, The Boondock Saints, a story about Catholic Irish brothers who take it upon themselves to clean up crime in Boston through acts of vigilante justice.

“I always feel bad telling people [this story] because they probably shouldn’t watch [The Boondock Saints],” Ivie said. “But I think it’s really good to say that the Holy Spirit is able to reach you wherever you’re at.”

After watching the film together two years ago, Ivie and his wife, without having any Catholic upbringing or knowledge whatsoever, decided to pray the rosary.

“There was this part in the movie where they take their rosaries off and put them on the wall. I don’t know how to explain it except it was the Holy Spirit, but there was just something so powerful. We just both looked at each other and said, ‘Rosaries are really cool,’” he said.

After watching the movie, he and his wife, not knowing that you could buy rosaries, decided to make their own.

“One of the cool things is while we learned how to make it, we learned how to pray it,” Ivie said. “I didn’t initially realize how powerful the rosary is. I just thought it was the repetitive prayer. After praying it, just realizing the ability to meditate on all of the mysteries of the rosary, I was completely fascinated by it.”

From there, the rest was history. Ivie and his wife soon decided to attend Mass together at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Boulder and experienced it for the first time at the parish’s monthly candlelight Mass, which often draws a big crowd. The beauty of the liturgy moved them so deeply that they soon decided to enroll in RCIA.

“We were kind of head over heels in love with the Church,” he said. “Although I wasn’t practicing any faith life whatsoever, I still had that complete craving for that relationship with God the whole time, without even realizing it.”

Josh and Nikki Ivie both became inspired to make their own rosaries after watching the film The Boondock Saints. Soon after, they went through the RCIA, entered the Church, and now Josh is serving as a FOCUS missionary. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

But the conversion didn’t stop there. While attending RCIA classes, a Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) missionary came and spoke to the class about the organization, which sends missionaries to serve on college campuses — that number reaching 137 this year.

“[He] told us the statistic how 80 percent of the Catholic Church was falling away before they were age 23. And for me, that was a life-changing moment,” Ivie said. “I was falling in love with the Catholic faith, and for me to hear that, that people weren’t seeing what I was seeing, I felt like I needed to do something. It hit me like a ton of bricks…I was sold.”

Ivie and Nikki were baptized Easter of 2016, and this year, Ivie is serving as a FOCUS missionary on the Tulane University campus in New Orleans, LA. Both raised in Colorado, they’re excited for the move and for the mission of evangelizing to college students. In the meantime, Ivie has had the opportunity to witness to family and friends of all faith backgrounds as he’s fundraised his salary for the year, a practice all missionaries take part in so the organization can continue to spread to a large number of campuses.

We just both looked at each other and said, ‘Rosaries are really cool.’”

“Having no Catholic community has been daunting, but it’s been so incredible just to have faith that God’s going to provide,” Ivie explained. “But it’s been a blessing because I’ve been able to witness to so many atheistic people or Protestant people and be able to share my faith.”

His family in particular has witnessed the joy in his life and has even come to Mass with him.

“One of the things that’s been so beautiful is everyone can see the change that’s happened in my life,” he said. “Whether or not they entirely agree with my views on everything yet, they can just tell, and I think every single one of them has told me how excited they are for me, because they can see the joy that’s in my life right now. And there’s been so many people in my life that have come to Mass with us for the first time. My mom consistently comes to Mass with us, and it’s such an incredible experience.”

The fruits of a conversion that sprung from tiny seeds planted in a violent gangster movie are only beginning, and the couple is excited to continue to share their faith on campus this fall.

“[I want to show them] the incredible joy that having Christ at the center of your life brings,” Ivie said. “I’m very excited to try my best to show them what putting Christ first can do for their lives, and just let them know, based off my story, that if you let Jesus into your life, he’s going to take you on the craziest adventure you could possibly imagine.”

For more information on FOCUS, visit www.focus.org.

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Wrangled by faith

Meet ‘Cowboy John,’ a man transformed by Christ

Aaron Lambert

He stands against the orange-stained horizon, donned in a cowboy hat and spurred boots. Beside him, a horse grazes in the grass, wearing a saddle that’s ripe for riding. It’s easy to see that this man and horse share a bond; one that could only be shared between a cowboy and his trusty steed.

Meet John Calderon, a cowboy and Catholic convert whose life has radically been changed by Christ.

Calderon, better known as “Cowboy John” to some in the community, has spent the last 28 years in Glenwood Springs, a town revered for its beautiful mountain scenery and natural hot springs. The rapid growth of Glenwood over the past several years has enabled Calderon to make a decent living as a tile and stone contractor.

After encountering Christ in the Catholic Church, John Calderon (left) began seeing people differently. He felt compelled to begin helping homeless people in Glenwood Springs, and is lovingly called an “angel” by some, including David and Diane Whitlock (right), a homeless couple he’s been helping. (Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic)

Though Glenwood Springs is a largely affluent community, the reality is that with large influxes of people comes an increase in the number of homeless. Ten years ago, Calderon wouldn’t have turned a blind eye to a beggar on the street; today, he calls some of those beggars friends, and does much more than just give them the occasional handout.

“I started noticing people. I feel like when I look at people around us,” Calderon said, pointing to a woman across the street, “I see God’s children everywhere.”

After his conversion, Calderon felt compelled to speak to homeless people in the area. It all started when he pulled up to McDonald’s in his truck, grabbed a Big Mac and parked in the parking lot to eat.

“I’d seen a lot of homeless people in the area, and I just decided to start joining them for lunch,” he said. “Talking to them, asking them where they were from and who they were. It got to where I enjoyed it.”

Angel in a cowboy hat

From there, it grew naturally. Calderon would get to know some of the homeless people he interacted with and would gradually offer them more and more help. Calderon connected with one homeless couple in particular, David and Diane Whitlock, and eventually began inviting them to his home, allowing them to do laundry and take a hot shower.

“Everybody else turns their back on us, but John is the only one who actually helped and said what he was going to do,” David said.

The sad reality of being homeless isn’t just the difficult living conditions people find themselves in. The Whitlocks recounted stories of being spit on, being called expletives, being told to get a job and worse. Many people who drive by treat them as less than human, but not Calderon.

I see God’s children everywhere.”

“John is an angel sent from heaven, I’m telling you,” Diane said. “He is an inspiration to all of us homeless. He not only buys us food, or provides for what we need, he gets out here and talks with us like we’re human.

“A true Christian is not going to be afraid to get dirty, and he’s not.”

Living on the streets can lead to a rough appearance, Calderon said, which not only makes it hard to get a job, but is also a big reason why there seems to be fear among people when approaching a homeless person.

“I hate that word, ‘homeless,’ it puts a label over someone’s head. They don’t look like you or I, and because of that appearance, it freaks people out,” he said. “But in reality, there’s a child of God underneath all of that.”

Tricks of the trade

The Whitlocks have been homeless for several years, drifting about the country, but always end up back in Glenwood Springs. They believe it’s because God wanted them to meet Calderon. They have both been having a tough time finding employment, and as a married couple of 28 years, they’d like to be able to do something together.

Calderon was an answer to this prayer, as well.

“He actually made us comfortable before he told us he owned a business and was willing to hire us on and teach us a trade,” Diane said. “That’s what we’ve been looking for, something we could do together as a husband and wife team.”

As a successful business owner, Calderon doesn’t just seek to give handouts to his homeless friends; he wants to empower them and teach them the skills to help them stand on their own two feet.

I hate that word, ‘homeless,’ it puts a label over someone’s head. They don’t look like you or I, and because of that appearance, it freaks people out. But in reality, there’s a child of God underneath all of that.”

“There’s a lot of people who really want to get out of their current situation, but with their appearance and sometimes looking rough, it’s hard to get a job,” Calderon explained.

“I try and make a point to offer laboring positions as much as I can. When I have a project going on somewhere around this area, I will go pick up someone that I’ve talked to that doesn’t have a job and I’ll put them to work. There’s a need for it.”

It’s a need that has spurred Calderon into action. He has plans to start a nonprofit organization that houses homeless people and teaches them a trade, thereby equipping them to enter the workforce. He’s already in touch with companies across the nation who would be willing to offer employment to people who went through his program.

Calderon would like to someday start a non-profit organization that houses homeless people and teaches them a trade, thereby equipping them to enter the workforce. (Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic)

“It’s important for people to try and help, not by just handing cash so they go away, but to actually take that person and teach them a trade,” Calderon said.

Calderon, an unassuming and humble man, was resistant to share his story at first; he didn’t want any recognition for his acts of charity, and doesn’t like to be in the spotlight. However, hopes that by his actions, he can spur others to break down the walls that stand between society and the homeless population and show true Christian love to those in need. In doing so, he insists the rewards are great.

“I feel like I get rewards that I can’t even speak of, and it [all] comes from God,” Calderon said. “I want people to come to realize that there are people who really care in the Catholic Church, and we’re inviting them to join us.”