Vincentian Father Christensen served archdiocese 27 years

Native Chicagoan ministered in parishes, celebrated TV Mass

Roxanne King

Father Lawrence P. Christensen, a Congregation of the Mission (Vincentian) priest who served the Denver Archdiocese for most of his 34-year priesthood, died Jan. 1. He was 82.

He was born in Chicago on June 11, 1935, to Helen (Kiebel) and Christian Christensen. He grew up in Chicago and graduated from DePaul Academy in 1954. He then entered St. Mary of the Barrens Seminary in Perryville, Mo., the historic seat of the Vincentian order in the United States. He professed vows on July 31, 1956, and served as a religious brother until he was ordained a deacon on June 4, 1976. After ministering in the diaconate eight years, he was ordained to the priesthood on Jan. 7, 1984.

“He was a very dedicated priest,” Deacon Tim Unger said about his longtime friend and, later, co-worker at Risen Christ Parish. “Some religious order priests come and go, but he really devoted his life to Denver. He loved it here. I think he felt this is where he was meant to be.”

Father Christensen loved to travel and had led a pilgrimage to Ireland just last year as well as took a cruise to Hawaii for the first time, Deacon Unger said.

“He could tell you anything about the British royal family, which was kind of funny,” Deacon Unger said. “And he had an avid affection for dogs. He had a dog named Charlie.”

As a religious brother and as a deacon, Father Christensen served as registrar of St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Lemont, Ill., and as provincial secretary in St. Louis, Mo. After his ordination to the priesthood, he ministered in a Perryville parish, then served three years as vocation director for his province before coming to Denver in 1991.

In Denver, he was director of admissions at St. Thomas Seminary for four years before it closed in 1995. He then ministered as a parochial vicar in many parishes, including Christ the King in Denver and St. John the Baptist in Longmont. He did the same for 10 years at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Fort Collins before ministering the last eight years at Risen Christ in Denver, where he was parochial vicar seven years and administrator one year.

Father Christensen also was a longtime celebrant of the Denver Archdiocese’s TV Mass.

Last July he was sent to the Vincentian’s retirement home, Apostle of Charity Residence in Perryville, with serious health issues. He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis commonly called ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“Father Larry served the (Vincentian’s western) province and the Church with energy and joy,” said Father Joseph Williams, CM, assistant provincial. “While his illness progressed rapidly, Father Larry maintained a joy of life and complete openness to the will of God. His trust and dependence on Divine Providence never faltered.”

A funeral Mass was celebrated on Jan. 4 at St. Mary of the Barrens Church. Burial was in the Vincentian Community Cemetery.

In Denver, a memorial Mass is set for 2 p.m. Friday, Jan. 19 at Risen Christ Church, followed by a reception.

COMING UP: Celebrate and support the sacred gift of life

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Editor’s Note: This column is adapted from Archbishop Aquila’s remarks to the 2018 Celebrate Life March, which took place on January 13th in front of the Colorado State Capitol building.

As we gather today to celebrate life, we must remember three things: 1) life is a gift, 2) life is sacred, and 3) rebuilding a culture of life requires joy.

We are here today to celebrate our joy over the gift of life. Every minute and every day we live presents us with an abundance of gifts that seem mundane and are often overlooked: our health, the gift of creation, or something as simple as having food on our plates. Above all, we should give thanks for the gift of life!

As people involved in protecting life at every stage, the challenge we face is not just one of providing resources to mothers and fathers in need or ensuring people battling a terminal illness have good palliative care. Our challenge is to also communicate to them that they are loved, that their unborn child or their own lives are gifts, no matter the circumstances.

Many of us fought in 2016 to prevent doctor-assisted suicide from becoming legal in Colorado, and one person who helped in that effort was a courageous man named J.J. Hanson. J.J. was a Marine veteran and father of two young children who was working for a real estate investment firm in Florida when he found out he had glioblastoma multiforme brain cancer. His doctors told him that it was a very aggressive cancer that meant he only had four months to live.

Despite his odds, J.J. resolved to fight. His motto was: “Every single day is a gift, and we can’t let that go.” What’s even more remarkable is the fact that J.J. dedicated his time and energy to fighting the legalization of assisted suicide around the country, all while undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments. There was hardly a speaking engagement or trip to testify before a legislature that J.J. turned down. His conviction that life was a gift propelled him to defend that gift however he could. As pro-life people, we need to have that same conviction.

Just about two weeks ago, on December 30th, J.J. was called home to the Father – three years beyond what doctors told him to expect. St. Anthony of Padua church in upstate New York, where his funeral was held, was filled with people who paid tribute to how J.J. inspired them to embrace every moment of life, no matter its difficulties as a gift, not something to be thrown away.

All of us are called to embrace life as J.J. did, and in doing so we will help recover the culture of life that is being neglected or forgotten as people cast God and truth aside.

I have said that life is a gift, and while that is true, it’s more than that. Life is also sacred. Life is sacred because it comes from God, the God who is love and who has loved us first. Our lives are also sacred because our beings are made in God’s image and likeness.

We are called to participate in the love of God and to see that every human being, from the moment of conception until natural death, is invited into relationship with God. We are called to ensure that life is set aside for God, that it is honored and recognized as sacred.

The struggle for so many today is that they do not even believe in a god; their only god is themselves. They truly do not believe in the God who is love. And because of this limited worldview, a person’s life can lose its value if their “quality of life” declines.

In the words of Pope Francis to participants in the 2013 Day for Life, “All life has inestimable value even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.”

When Jesus speaks about the Judgement of the Nations in Matthew 25, he tells us that life is always sacred by saying that when we love the weak and vulnerable, we are loving him.

The more that we can love the sacred gift of life and celebrate it with joy, the more we will contribute to building a true culture of life in the U.S.

A wonderful example of concretely loving the sacred gift of life is a story I recently heard about a 15-year-old Colorado teenager named Missy, who showed up with her parents at an abortion clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Missy was a sophomore in high school and was in her second trimester of pregnancy. As they approached the clinic, some pro-life volunteers who were parked nearby in a mobile crisis pregnancy van saw them and invited them inside. The volunteers learned that Missy wanted to complete high school and that this desire was pushing her to consider an abortion. One of the volunteers told Missy about how she was faced with the same choice as a teen and chose to keep her child. “It wasn’t easy, but it was amazing,” she reassured Missy.

Missy also worried about the father of the child not being around, to which her dad responded by taking her hand and saying, “I’ll be that man in your child’s life.”

This kind of accompaniment and willingness to heroically support the gift of life is vitally important to forming a culture that welcomes the unborn, the elderly, the disabled and the dying as a gift.

Building a culture of life begins by first receiving the love of the Father, who loves each of us as his sons and daughters. He never abandons us, even though we might abandon him or reject his love.

A culture of life grows when we share his love with others, helping them to embrace life as a gift and a joy, rather than a burden.

Life is a gift, it is sacred and our celebration of the joy of life helps build a culture of life.

I encourage you to be those who are unafraid to give witness to life. Be not afraid to give witness to life. Even though people might ridicule you, yell at you, or reject you, know that Jesus experienced it all so that you might have life, and life abundantly.

May God bless you and help you celebrate life in 2018!