As is tradition in the Archdiocese of Denver, several men were ordained to the transitional diaconate Feb. 25, the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, moving one step closer toward the priesthood.
Three of the men – Angel Perez Brown, Roberto Rodrigiez and Tomislav Tomic – attend Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary here in Denver, while one man – Darrick Leier – attends Pope St. John XXIII Seminary in Boston.
In his homily to the men, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila reminded them that as deacons, they are called to follow in the example of Christ and live their lives as servants of the people. He cited one of the readings of the day from the book numbers, which describes the Lord setting aside the tribe of Levi to be assistants to Aaron the priest.
“With that, he charges [the Levites] with certain duties and responsibilities,” Archbishop Aquila explained. “We see the see the same in the diaconate, as we see the seven set aside in the Acts of the apostles. That tradition has carried on in the diaconate, as men who are set aside to serve.”
“You will be called as deacons in that service to be like Christ and to proclaim and give your life as servants – not to be served, but to serve,” Archbishop Aquila said.
Deacon Darrick Leier
Deacon Darrick Leier delivered his first homily as a deacon at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, the parish where his vocation began.
Deacon Leier was born and raised in a “loving, devout Catholic family,” he said, but abandoned his faith when he left to go to college.
“When I left home to go to college, I was one of those young people who didn’t go to church anymore,” he said. “I became secularized and everything that goes along with that.”
That all changed five years ago, though, after Leier lost his mother to a year-long battle with cancer. Before her death, Leier made a promise to his mother and to God that he would start going back to church.
“Through that sorrowful experience, the Lord gave me the grace to run to him,” he said.
After 18 years of being away from the Church, Leier was led to Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, where he received the sacrament of reconciliation. He dove back into his faith after that. He began attending Catholics Come Home classes, led by Deacon Jerome Durnford.
After 12 weeks of being in the classes, Deacon Durnford saw a change in Leier, and asked him if he’d ever considered the priesthood. While reluctant at first, Leier discerned for a year and a half and entered seminary in 2013.
The seed for Leier’s vocation to the priesthood was planted on his mother’s birthday. Last year, during a brief period of wrestling with whether or not the priesthood was really God’s will for his life, the Lord gave him a sign that he couldn’t deny.
“The Lord placed this thought in my head: ‘When is your ordination?’ I saw that it was Feb. 25,” he said. “I almost dropped my phone, my jaw probably hit the floor, because guess what day that is: my mother’s birthday.”
Leier was ordained to the transitional diaconate on his mother’s 80th birthday.
Deacon Tomislav Tomic
Deacon Tomislav Tomic was born and raised in a village in Bosnia. He is the youngest of nine children, and comes from a large family with several priests.
“I had access to the priesthood from my childhood,” he said.
Tomic was raised in a Catholic family, had a simple upbringing and lived a simple life. Around the time he graduated high school, the Bosnian War had broken out. Four days after graduating, he enlisted in the military for a period of three years. After fulfilling his military duties, Tomic found himself feeling extremely isolated in his life.
“I felt completely alone. Immense solitude,” he said. “I went to God, asking him, ‘What is the meaning if my life? Why did I survive the war when my life is meaningless?’”
Around that time, the pastor of his parish invited him to a Neocatechumenal Way gathering. This had a profound effect on him; “It was the first time I actually connected all this knowledge that I [learned] from catechesis to my own life,” he said.
He began to see that the frustration and isolation he was feeling in his life were “very meaningful for God,” and that God would use them to fulfill his plan for Tomic’s life. After a brief relationship to see if he was called to married life, Tomic eventually submitted to the Lord’s call for him to the priesthood.
Tomic had never planned to move away from his village in Bosnia, but he ended up here, in Denver, where he feels at home. He said that entering seminary was the biggest risk he’d taken in 34 years, and now, at 43, Deacon Tomic God has restored his human dignity and completely changed his life.
“Now that I am here, I see that God transformed my life completely,” Deacon Tomic said. “God is incredible. What he doing with me is a miracle.”
Deacon Ángel Pérez
Deacon Ángel Pérez was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. His parents were not baptized, but thanks to the insistence of his godmother, he received the sacrament of baptism. He was educated, in his estimate, “like a pagan child.”
When he was 14, a group of missionaries from the Neocatechumenal Way knocked on his door and because of this visit, he and his mother decided to attend catechesis and join the Neocatechumenal Way. However, years later he had strong doubts about the existence of God and heaven and decided to leave the Church.
He returned to the faith later at his mother’s insistence. At the time he was finishing his degree in electrical engineering. In 2008, he went on pilgrimage to Nicaragua where he felt the call to be a priest. The following year he entered the seminary Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Santo Domingo and two year later he was transferred to Denver.
During his time in seminary he was sent on missions to Boston and then to Hawaii. After his ordination, Deacon Pérez thanked “the Church, my Neocatechumenal community, and the catechist who announced the Good News to me. Thanks to the brothers who pray for me.”
Deacon Roberto Rodríguez
Also of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Deacon Roberto Rodríguez and his parents were baptized in the Catholic Church, but he says that he only attended Mass on Palm Sunday, as well as funerals and weddings.
He attended a Catholic college and university, and he graduated as a lawyer in 2003. In 2007, he participated in a youth gathering organized by the Neocatechumenal Way, prior to World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia. It was there where he received the vocational call.
He left his family, his work and his country and was assigned to the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Denver, which he entered in 2008. Three years later, his compatriot Ángel Pérez — whom he did not know — arrived. They shared the rest of their formation time, and were both ordained deacons Feb. 25.
During his time as a seminarian, he was sent on missions to Guam, Florida and Missouri.
“The seminary has helped me grow as a person, [and] to begin to see the invitation that God makes for us [to serve others],” Deacon Rodríguez said.
For him, his priestly vocation is a sign that “the Lord wants to have an encounter with each of his children. I am not the one who guarantees that encounter, but I am an instrument to facilitate that encounter.”