Meet the men becoming priests this May

On May 19, five men studying for the Archdiocese of Denver will be ordained to the priesthood. Interestingly enough, none of the men being ordained are from St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, and the average age of the five men is 41 years old.

Deacons Angel Perez-Brown, Roberto Rodríguez and Tomislav Tomic all hail from different parts of the world and have been studying for the priesthood at Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary. Deacons Darrick Leier and Shannon Thurman have been studying at St. John XXIII Seminary in Boston, Mass., a seminary specifically for men who discover a vocation to the priesthood later in life.

Get to know Denver’s newest priests, and pray for them as they prepare to be ordained next week.

 

Deacon Darrick Leier

Deacon Darrick Leier is 42 years old and spent several years working in the software and civil engineering fields before discovering his vocation. After college, he became a fallen-away Catholic, but that changed 6 years ago, when his mother Marvelyn died from cancer. “Through this sorrowful and life-changing event, the Lord pierced my heart and poured out his love an mercy upon me,” he hold the Denver Catholic. The Lord led him to join Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Northglenn, and after a year and a half of prayerful discernment, it became evident that he was being called to the priesthood. “Jesus has set my heart on fire, and as a priest, I most want to share that fire in others I meet,” he said. “The Lord has given me this great gift, and I can’t wait to be his alter Christus!”

 

Deacon Shannon Thurman

Deacon Shannon Thurman has spent most of his life in Colorado, and comes from a blended family. He was adopted by his stepfather at age 11 and had a pretty regular upbringing, he said. Throughout his life, he always felt tugs from the Lord that he was being called to the priesthood, but he largely ignored them up until 2012 when, after a period of absence from the Church, he felt the Lord calling him back and became an extraordinary minister of communion for the homebound. He finally answered the call of the Lord and entered St. John XXIII Seminary in Boston at the age of 43. When speaking about his vocation, Thurman cites St. Teresa of Calcutta’s famous line. “God draws straight with crooked lines. That would describe my journey to the priesthood,” he said.

 

Deacon Roberto Rodríguez

Deacon Roberto Rodriguez, originally from the Dominican Republic, has served at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Denver for a year, and will begin his priestly service at Ascension Parish upon ordination. Although he admits being “a bit nervous” before the big date, he is mostly excited for the mission he will undertake. “It will be a time of learning, adaptation and change,” he said. “I am looking forward to see how the Lord will ask me to serve him and his people.” Some of the biggest treasures he keeps from his time at St. Anthony of Padua Parish include “growing closer to parishioners, sharing in their joys and sorrows,” walking with grieving families and mostly, “growing closer to the Eucharist,” which he awaits to celebrate after his priestly ordination. Some of his favorite saints include Saint Therese of Lisieux, St. Theresa of Calcutta and St. John of Nepomuk.

 

Deacon Angel Perez-Brown

Deacon Angel Miguel Perez-Brown has served at St. John the Baptist in Johnstown and St. Nicholas in Platteville since his ordination in 2017. There he will continue his mission as parochial vicar upon priestly ordination. His pastoral work will focus on serving the immigrants who arrive to work on the fields. “I’m very excited. [There] I will find people who are thirsty, who want to encounter Christ,” he said. “They are like the people of Israel who left for Egypt, to an unknown land.” Originally from the Dominican Republic and a member of the Neocatecumenal Way, the deacon values the “warmth” of both parishes and communities, Hispanic and non-Hispanic. “I see the greatness of my vocation as something unattainable,” he said. “I went on a retreat two months ago and the Lord spoke to me clearly, saying that it is he who does all things.”

 

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. 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. Around that time, the pastor of his parish invited him to a Neocatechumenal Way gathering. This had a profound effect on him. Tomic eventually submitted to the Lord’s call for him to the priesthood. Entering seminary was the biggest risk he’d taken in 34 years, Tomic said, 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.”

COMING UP: Punishing the poor and needy

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Every afternoon in downtown Denver, homeless men, women and children are given shelter, food and a place to wash themselves. Not far away, hundreds of people are receiving high quality medical care at one of our Catholic hospitals or Marisol Health. Some local parishes also distribute food, clothing, or help with rent. Whether you are on the Eastern Plains, the Western Slope or along the Front Range, people of faith are contributing their skills and resources to your community and making it a better place to live, and especially for the less fortunate.

Since we celebrated our nation’s independence about a week ago, the ability of people of faith to make a positive contribution to our society has been on my mind. People of faith make our society a better place as they seek the good and the true, and the right to live our faith in the public square is guaranteed by the Constitution. Unfortunately, there are forces at work trying to change that, and if they succeed it will be the vulnerable who are hurt the most.

Many people are familiar with Jack Phillips’ case because he recently received a favorable verdict from the U.S. Supreme Court. In brief, Jack was sued by a gay couple for refusing to make them a wedding cake, since doing so would contradict his belief that God created marriage to be between a man and a woman. His case – and others around the country – clearly show that there are people who want to silence Christian people and use the force of law to make them act against their faith or be punished.

Tim Gill, the multimillionaire who is funding and directing many of these efforts, plainly stated his intentions in a June 2017 Rolling Stone interview. “We’re going into the hardest states in the country,” he said. “We’re going to punish the wicked.” According to Gill, people of faith are “wicked” when their views do not agree with his. In this worldview, there is no room for differences on matters of prudence or conscience.

What you won’t hear from activists like Tim Gill is that the people who will suffer the most from his campaign against faith and the freedom of conscience are the homeless, children waiting to be adopted, or those needing hospital care. In short, the people who will be hurt are those who rely on the charitable activity of people of faith.

Take, for example, the Catholic Charities adoption programs in Boston, Illinois, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. that have been forced to shut down because they believe it’s not in children’s best interest to be placed with a same-sex couple. In Illinois, Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Springfield estimates that about 3,000 children were impacted by their closure. As was predicted, the state is now experiencing a shortage of quality foster families. Surely, this does not benefit society.

It is unexpected, but homeless men and women are also being impacted by changes to regulations. In Sept. 2016 the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development finalized rules that require homeless shelters to accommodate transgender people by placing them according to whatever gender they present themselves as, rather than their biological sex. Most often, it is men identifying themselves as women who approach the shelters, and this frightens the women, especially since many of them have been victimized by men on the streets.

Religious freedom can seem like an abstract concept, but when you look at the fruits of this basic liberty, its importance becomes clear. Moved by their faith, Catholics and others in the Archdiocese of Denver spent 2017 providing over 212,000 nights of shelter, emergency assistance to 28,000 households, 714 job placements, and almost 73,000 volunteer hours through Catholic Charities.

Further, hundreds of immigrants are assisted with English as a Second Language classes, business training, and faith formation through Centro San Juan Diego. In the name of Jesus, tens of thousands of sick people receive medical care at Catholic hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. This list doesn’t include other Christian, Jewish, or Muslim charitable endeavors, nor does it include individuals whose faith guides the way they run their small business or their work for their employer.

It is a convenient and worn-out argument to accuse people of discrimination to pressure them into giving up their beliefs, but this tactic ignores the people who suffer the most from the intolerance of those insisting people of faith give up their beliefs. Our country has long recognized and benefited from the gifts of faithful people, and restricting this spirit of generosity will make our society poorer.

I am grateful that the Supreme Court recognized that Jack Phillips’ right to religious freedom was infringed, but his case will certainly not be the last. As Christians, we must respond to this pressure with the joy that is born from faith, with loving, persistent resistance and forgiveness. Let us respond to Pope Francis’ appeal that he made as he spoke in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. “Let us preserve freedom. Let us cherish freedom. Freedom of conscience, religious freedom, the freedom of each person, each family, each people, which is what gives rise to rights.”