PHOTO GALLERY: Priests urged to configure heart to Christ

Five new priests begin ministry at local parishes

Nissa LaPoint

Before five of Denver’s new priests lay prostrate before the altar of Christ, Archbishop Samuel Aquila reminded them the priesthood is a gift.

“It is not something you merit, it is not something that you work for, but rather it is a gift that is bestowed upon you,” Archbishop Aquila told the five seminarians during their priestly ordination Mass May 16. “It is precisely in the total gift of self that you are called to lay down your life as Christ has laid down his life.”

Family, friends and clergy packed the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception as five seminarians who served as deacons were ordained by the archbishop. Deacons Gregory Lesher, Joseph McLagan, Erik Vigil Reyes of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary; Deacon Franklin Anastacio Sequeira Treminio of Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary; and Deacon Tomasz Strzebonski of SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Michigan, entered the priesthood.

All five new priests began work at local parishes.

Onlookers watched as the men were ordained in a solemn rite and celebrated with joyful song by the Cathedral Basilica’s choir and music from the Redemptoris Mater seminary choir.


Archbishop Aquila encouraged the men during his homily to invite others to encounter Christ and minister to souls, but not to do it alone.

“It is in and with Christ that you are going to make a total gift of self,” he told the five men. “You can never do that on your own. If you do it, it will only be by white knuckles. And the Lord does not want white knuckles. What the Lord wants is your heart. And he wants your heart to be configured to his heart.”

He encouraged them to fall in love with Christ so that they could fulfill their priestly promises.

“But is only through your love of Jesus, and falling in love with Jesus, and staying in love with Jesus that you will live the promises you are making,” he said. “And that you will be continually configured to Christ, the head shepherd and spouse of the Church. And know, my dearest brothers and sons, should you fall, always pick-up and begin anew.”

Below are profiles of the five men ordinated for the Archdiocese of Denver.


Father Gregory Louis Lesher
Age: 30
Born and reared: Born in Chicago and raised in Bolingbrook, Ill.
Seminary: St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Denver
Most inspirational saint: St Thérèse of Lisieux

Father Gregory Lesher wanted to become a priest since the age of 10, but forgot about it by the time he entered high school. “It was when I was in college (at the University of Denver) that I had a very different idea of what I was going to do with my life. I was studying international development—I saw myself working abroad somewhere—but I knew that I wanted to be a servant.” Then a priest had asked him to pray for vocations and he felt a call. “And from that moment on, it started this two-month cycle where every day I found myself just daydreaming about being a priest, but I was very resistant.” He fought with the idea but gradually discerned a vocation by talking with family and priests. After his first year of graduate school, he left to enter the seminary. Father Lesher said he is most looking forward to the sacrament of confession. “I think it’s a really precious moment in which you can share and help people.”


Father Joseph Marc McLagan
Age: 29
Born and reared: Born in Kansas City, Mo.; reared in Grandview, Mo., and Littleton
Seminary: St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Denver
Most inspirational saint: St. Stephen

Father Joseph McLagan’s discernment to the priesthood occurred incrementally during his college years. When studying philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, he said he began to learn more about his faith and the importance of God. He joined Bible studies and taught Totus Tuus in the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo. Others suggested he had a vocation to the priesthood. “There was definitely an immediate feeling of fear,” he said, “but more and more as I trusted in this call, joy came about with that.” He asked his pastor, Father Rocco Porter, for insight and guidance. “I continued to pursue the thought that God might be calling me to be a priest. So after graduating from college in the fall of 2008, I applied to the seminary in the spring and entered spirituality year in August 2009.” Father McLagan said he most looks forward to confession.


Father Erik Vigil Reyes
Age: 26
Born and reared: Calvillo, Aguascalientes, Mexico
Seminary: St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Denver
Most inspirational saint: St. Paul and St. Augustine

When Father Erik Reyes was young, his father would tell him stories about the Cristero movement in 1920s Mexico. Thousands of Catholics started the movement in response to a government ban on public expressions of faith and a closure of churches. “So my father used to take me to 6 a.m. Mass every morning and tell me stories about the Cristeros,” Father Reyes said. “So I got involved with the Cristeros and the movement. I wanted to become a priest, because I had a good relationship with the priests who were at my parish.” He forgot about his interest in the priesthood until he returned to Mexico after high school. He entered minor seminary and then came to the United States to continue his studies. Father Reyes said he most looks forward to absolving in the sacrament of reconciliation.


Father Tomasz Strzebonski
Age: 30
Born and reared:
 near Krakow, Poland
Seminary: SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Mich.
Most inspirational saint: St. John Paul II and St. John the Apostle

The first time Father Tomasz Strzebonski thought about being a priest, he was 12. “It was mostly because of the good example of the priests I had in my home parish,” he said. But he didn’t pursue the thought of a vocation until he was studying physics in a college in Poland. Some of his professors were anti-clerical and asserted that physics was the answer to everything. “I was just burning inside to tell them they’re wrong. I just wanted to react to it,” he shared. Father Strzebonski said he also felt a growing need for spiritual formation and the need to spread the faith. “I wanted to be like the disciples, bringing the faith to all the nations,” he said. He entered a seminary in the Archdiocese of Krakow but left after two years feeling that he was called to serve elsewhere. He came to the United States in 2012 and continued his studies at the Polish American seminary in Michigan. After a visit to Denver, he knew he wanted to serve in Colorado. He said he is most looking forward to working with youth.


Father Franklin Anastacio Sequeira Treminio
Age: 34
Born and reared:  Born in Matagalpa, Nicaragua; reared in Ciudad Dario, Nicaragua
Seminary: Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary
Most inspirational saint: St. Francis of Assisi

As a young altar boy, Father Treminio admired the priests he assisted during Mass. But he said he was unsure about becoming a priest. Even when he felt a call, he hesitated. “I tried to forget about it. I wanted to get married, have a family, children,” he said. At the age of 15, he heard the call to the priesthood during a gathering of youth in the Neocatechumenal Way in Nicaragua. “I remember when someone said, ‘If there is anyone who feels called to the priesthood, please stand up,’ I felt someone speaking to my heart and telling me to stand up. I remember being very emotional, something which I could not even describe. It was an experience of the love of God, of the presence of God which filled my whole being with joy and happiness—something which I had never experienced before.” Then he stood up. At that point he was awakened to the call of the priesthood, he said.


Interviews by St. John Vianney seminarian Zachary Boazman, who contributed to this report.


COMING UP: Strong temptations? Defeat them like the Desert Fathers

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The fact that we don’t do what we want but instead do what we hate is a problem as old as our first parents. Yet, we can interpret temptation either as that which is always keeping us away from God or as the very vehicle to grow closer to him.

The Desert Fathers believed it to be a necessary vehicle: “Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” St. Anthony of the Desert used to say. They saw the fight against these evil enticements as a step to love God in a deeper way.

Here’s how these radical followers of Christ – who fled to the Egyptian desert during the 3rd to 5th centuries to live a form of daily martyrdom in a land where being a Christian was no longer a risk – survived the strongest enticements of the flesh and the devil, as they sought to live out the Gospel and grow in perfection.

The sayings, teachings, maxims and stories they left behind, compiled and known as the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, show that a combination of three things: self-awareness, prayer and practicality, are key to battling the strongest disordered passions.

Alertness and action

“The early monks understood that temptations often come in the form of thoughts. We become attracted and have fantasies, whether that be in petty things, bodily appetites or social interactions,” explained Father Columba Stewart, O.S.B., expert on early monasticism, scholar and director of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn.

The first disposition they considered to be key, was self-awareness, “knowing what happens in our minds and hearts… how to recognize [bad thoughts] before we actually do a sinful action,” he said.

After this base, which requires continuous self-examination and attention to the inner impulses of the heart, the importance of prayer and practicality follow.

A hermit of the desert said to a young monk suffering from strong temptations, “This is the way to be strong: when temptations start to speak in your mind do not answer them but get up, pray, do penance, and say, ‘Son of God, have mercy upon me.’”

Prayer is not isolated from action. The hermit tells him to “get up,” “do penance” and “pray.”

Practicality can take on different forms, such as going in the opposite direction of the temptation or seeking help from another, Father Stewart pointed out.

“For example, when you’re angry with someone… thoughts of anger start emerging, and you replay in your imagination what made you angry. Then that turns into a mental video of how you’re going to get revenge. This is when self-awareness comes in and you realize that the thoughts you’re having are inappropriate,” Father Stewart said.

A first practical action would be to step away instead of going to find that person, he continued. “Then to use your mind and imagination to instead remember the times when your relationship [with that person] was better or think about the future and how great it will be when this passes.”

Light overcomes darkness

Also, this “get up” practicality consists in bringing to light one’s sins or temptations to someone else and not fighting alone.

“A common exhortation, attributed to many different monks, was that the Enemy, the devil, rejoices in nothing so much as unmanifested thoughts… A sin which is hidden begins to multiply,” Father Stewart wrote in an article.

He then explained that “If the devil was delighted by a monk’s self-imposed isolation, surely this was because the opposite of isolation, encounter with another, was the way to salvation.”

According to Father Stewart, this understanding led the Fathers to break from “the illusion of self-sufficiency, a pose which encourages self-absorption,” and find spiritual fathers.

“The desert tradition is universally insistent upon the young monk’s need for a discerning elder,” he explained. “The basic insight of the desert… was that one cannot grow towards perfection through isolated, solitary effort: grace is mediated through one’s neighbor, especially one’s abba [spiritual father].”

The way these early hermits fought temptations is one of many treasures that Father Stewart says they left behind. In fact, he encourages readers to look at the Sayings of the Desert Fathers as a source that is still “amazingly relevant.”

“[The Sayings of the Desert Fathers] have been very popular sources of wisdom and inspiration throughout history,” he said. “What sets [them] apart… is that they speak from and to experience rather than text or theory.”

“The tradition of Christian wisdom is great,” he concluded. “People only need to know where to find it.”