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: Should the Church talk about money? If we follow Christ’s teaching, yes.

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In Luke Chapter 3, three different groups asked John the Baptist what they should do to bear the fruit of repentance. John gives three answers: 1) Everyone should share clothes and food with the poor; 2) Tax collectors shouldn’t pocket extra money; and 3) Soldiers should be content with their wages and not extort money. Each answer John gives is related to money and possessions, but no one asked him about that! They only ask how to demonstrate the fruit of spiritual transformation. They don’t grasp John the Baptist’s perspective, that he could not talk about spirituality without talking about how to handle money and possessions.

Jesus puts some harsh words in God’s mouth in the “Parable of the Rich Fool.” In Luke 12:20, we hear: “But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong? Thus will it be for one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.”

Alternatively, Jesus provides some great promises on both sides of that parable. In Luke 11:41: “…give alms and behold, everything will be clean for you.” And in Luke 12:33: “…give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven.”

When my wife Cathy and I were experiencing our conversion to the Lord in the early 1990s, we decided we were going to try to live out our Catholic faith to the full: in our attending Mass every Sunday, in our family and in our checkbook.

So, despite four young kids and no way of knowing if we could afford to send them to Catholic school or college, we started tithing. One thing it dramatically did was contribute to our growth in faith and trust in God. We truly believed in God’s promise that He never will be outdone in generosity. And now, 25 years later, we can only rejoice that we still are doing fine despite paying for Catholic schools, colleges and three daughters’ weddings! So what, that we are driving two cars that have 365,000 miles between them!

When we created our will back then, we decided to leave 10% of our assets to the Church. After I became President of The Catholic Foundation in 2012, we became aware of the concept to “treat the Church like one of your children.” We thought that made a lot of sense, so we changed our will to do just that … such that our four children and The Catholic Foundation will each receive 20% of our estate.

Today, we are not sure how our kids will be able to do what we did; with Denver’s crazy housing market, how will they be able to afford Catholic school for their kids, future colleges and, someday, weddings? It looks daunting for them. Shouldn’t we leave them 100% instead of just 80%? For us, it was an easy decision—better to give them a portion with God’s blessing than to think they’d be better off with it all. Besides, they are helping themselves have the best chance possible.

How? By doing their own tithing! I remember years ago, when the business manager at our parish called me to ensure that it was okay that our daughter had made a large contribution to the parish. Cathy and I were unaware she had done so. What had she done? She had tithed her high school graduation gift money. You can imagine how proud we felt.

A “planned gift” through a will or another avenue is the easiest gift to make because it only gets made when we can’t use it anymore – at least, not in this world. Maybe it can be better used by God and his Church. Listen to Revelation 14:13: “I heard a voice from Heaven say, ‘write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, said the Spirit, let them find rest from their labors, for their works accompany them.’ ”

Cathy and I want our works to accompany us, as we are sure you do, too. We have been saved by Jesus for eternal life – let us make sure our faith in that is manifested in our living and in our giving.

Would you prayerfully discern how God is calling you to steward the assets He has entrusted to you? We hope we and you hear these words someday from Jesus (Matthew 25:34): “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

Deacon Steve Stemper is CEO & President of The Catholic Foundation. Please contact him at (303) 468-9885 if you would like a meeting to discuss how your planned giving can be used for God’s Kingdom.