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: Forming mind and heart in faith

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“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

People tell me pretty regularly that we should not over-intellectualizing the faith — making the Church simply about ideas, doctrines, and rules. I agree that this can be a problem, but we also have to guard seriously against an opposite problem — emotionalizing and privatizing faith. We are blessed with a reasonable faith that can be studied in harmony with the truth of the natural world. Faith and reason strengthen one another, together leading our minds to conform to the mind of the God who is our Creator and Redeemer. In the midst of a secularism which pits science against the faith, it is important that we form our minds in the truth. Being rooted in the truth of our faith does not lead to abstract ideas, but to an encounter with the living God which sets our hearts on fire with His love.

The Dominicans have a long history of teaching the faith, founded originally to preach to those who had fallen into the dualistic heresy of Albigensian and producing the Common Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas. The papal theologian, who advised the pope, by tradition comes from St. Dominic’s Order. One of the most renown Dominicans teaching in the United States, Father Thomas Joseph White, has recently been called to Rome to teach at the Angelicum, the Pontifical University of the Dominicans. Father White, though a profound scholar, has produced a clear and accessible overview of the Catholic faith.

Father White’s book, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (Catholic University of America Press, 2017) offers a serious overview of the Catholic faith. It is not a scholarly work, but one that does challenge us to enter more deeply into the theological tradition of the Church, flowing from the Bible and Catechism, the Fathers, and especially the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. Part of the genius of the book is how it uses the theological tradition to address contemporary concerns such as evolution, sexual ethics, and relativism. The book contains seven major sections—Reason and Revelation, God and Trinity, Creation and the Human Person, Incarnation and Atonement, the Church, Social Doctrine, and the Last Things—as well as a robust epilogue on prayer.

Father White challenges us to “to be an intellectual. . . to seek to see into the depths of reality” (1). As intellectual beings, we have been created in the image of God and are called to enter into his truth and life. Therefore, White reminds us that “every person has to accept risk in truth’s call to us. Even religious indifference is a kind of risk, perhaps the greatest of all, for if nothing is ventured, nothing is gained. The mind is reason’s instrument, but the heart its seat” (5). Therefore, the ultimate questions lead the mind into prayerful contemplation of the truth. Theology cannot remain an intellectual enterprise alone, but must lead us to encounter God in prayer: “Prayer is grounded in our natural desire for the truth. When we pray we are trying to find God, to praise him, and to see all things realistically in light of him. In a sense, then, prayer stems from a search for perspective” (288).

Our faith forms us as a whole person and shapes our feelings and desires according to what is highest. Father White rightly points out that “heart and intelligence go together” (49). When it comes to God, intellectual theory is not enough, as he calls us to know him in a “concrete, personal, affective relationship” (48). This does not mean that we can dispense with theology. Quite to the contrary, “we want to get right who God is, and what the mystery of Christ is, so that we can be in living contact with divine love” (42). God speaks to us so that we may come to know him by exercising our minds to know the truth given us through the Church (36).

Knowing God is the work a lifetime and our eternal vocation. We can strengthen our faith by studying theological truths and deepening our capacity to contemplate divine things. Father White’s book will help us all to be theologians, entering into the practice of theology as faith seeking understanding. As we come to know God more, it should lead us to fall in love with him more deeply, strengthening our relationship with him and preparing us to see him face to face.