‘Well done, good and faithful servants’: Priests celebrate milestone anniversaries

65 years

Monsignor Edward Madden

Monsignor Edward Madden remembers hearing God’s call of him to the priesthood as young as three years old. While attending daily Mass at St. John’s Parish with his mother, he was inspired by the example the priests there and thought, “I could do that.” Now, 65 years after his ordination, Monsignor Madden remains grateful for the opportunity to serve. “It was a good life,” he said. “I never thought I’d last this long. Whatever the Lord wants, I’ll try to do what he says.” Monsignor Madden says the Mass is what has sustained him all of these years, and he feels blessed to still be able to concelebrate Mass each day at Mullen Home. “The Mass has been the center of everything. I’m greatly devoted to the Mass, so the privilege of offering Mass each day has been a wonderful support and strength for me.” Imparting valuable words of wisdom to younger priests, Monsignor Madden hopes they, too, realize the importance of the Mass, and prayer as well. “The main thing is to bring the Eucharist to the people,” he said.

60 years

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford

Celebrating his 60th anniversary, Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, Archbishop emeritus of Denver, who discovered his vocation in 1952 on a pilgrimage with friends, recalled 1993’s World Youth Day in Denver as one of his fondest memories. “The young people…were greeting Pope John Paul II. When I glanced at [him], he was in tears. They were tears of joy.” Cardinal Stafford, 85, said he considers himself a “blessed, ‘spiritual’ grandfather.” He also shared a word of advice to young priests: “Dear brothers in Christ Jesus! I think of you and turn often to Him on your behalf. I ask the intercession of St. John Paul II, whose influence on your generation has been remarkably fruitful. May he intercede before God that you may be consecrated. ‘Consecrate’ means to offer yourselves in sacrifice. May God consecrate you in truth and holiness. These are days when ‘saints are not enough…You have to keep climbing higher and higher, always climbing higher still. Up to the ultimate sanctity, the ultimate purity, the ultimate bea
uty…You must have the courage to tell the truth’” (Péguy).

Father Angelo Ossino

Though originally ordained in Missouri, Father Angelo Ossino has spent much of the past 60 years as a persist serving richly in the Archdiocese of Denver. He was incardinated into the archdiocese in 1975, and served as pastor and associate pastor at several of Denver’s most vibrant parishes, including St. Pius X, St. Joseph in Golden, and St. Jude in Lakewood. His ministry wasn’t just limited to the parish, however; he taught at various Catholic schools in Missouri and Louisiana, and earned his master’s in religious education from Loyola University in Chicago. His upbringing in an Italian neighborhood in Omaha, Neb., informed the way he lived his life. “Life has been God’s precious and loving gift to me,” Father Ossino recounted. I have learned so much about giving and receiving, about faith and prayer, and about treasuring good food, good friends and good wine! I have so much to celebrate.”

50 years

Father James Kleiner

Father James Kleiner, originally ordained in Canada, served as pastor at St. Joan of Arc and St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Now retired, he celebrates his 50th anniversary. He attributes his “initial thrust” into the vocation to priesthood to “Catholic education and the thrust for missionary work.” The anniversary marks a special time in his life: “It’s a time of memory of the many experiences and people over the years. Our whole faith is a question of memory. It is a milestone — I am thankful for the gift of perseverance. It’s amazing to look back over the 50 years and how the perceived problems have changed, and how the world has changed.” Father Kleiner notes that his sense of humor has helped him persevere in the vocation. “While the vocation is serious, we have to live too, and not take ourselves too seriously. I think wisdom-figures were very important to me, which in my old age, I feel the lack of, but I had outstanding mentors over the years. And they were the ones who encouraged me…I miss that very much.”

Father Michael Smith

Father Michael Smith was born in Missouri in 1936 and was ordained in 1967 in St. Louis. He taught at Regis Jesuit High School and later was involved in campus ministry at St. Louis University and Regis College in Denver. Later, he was appointed pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Paonia and later Sacred Heart Parish in Fruita, where he was known for his “inclusiveness and acceptance of people just as they are,” according to an article about his retirement in the Diocese of Pueblo. “I was appointed pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Fruita, Colo., and pastor of nearby Holy Family School in Grand Junction, Colo. These parishioners and school children taught me how to be a good pastor and a man for others for 14 years: for me, heaven had met earth,” Father Smith said. He currently lives in Denver with the Xavier Jesuit Center and is involved in pastoral ministry.

Monsignor Ken Leone

Monisgnor Ken Leone looks back on the past on the past 50 years as a priest fondly. “I think I am the luckiest person on the face of this earth because I have gotten to see God at work in so many situations,” the joyful priest said. “A lot of people think there are no longer miracles like there were in the time of Jesus; that is absolutely not true. God is at work, and I have seen God at work. It’s just amazing.” Monsignor Leone has had a very fruitful tenure as a priest and has remained active outside of parish life. He still, to this day, provides spiritual direction to seminarians at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and leads retreats frequently. “It’s amazing how you see God at work on those retreats,” he said. Overall, Monsignor Leone has no regrets and has loved every minute of being a priest. “It’s the greatest life you could ever live on the face of this earth,” he says proudly. “I would do it over again in a heartbeat.”

Father Edward Poehlmann

Not one to retire yet, even at 50 years, Father Edward Poehlmann serves as pastor of Presentation of Our Lady Parish in Denver. He’s served several extended assignments as a parish pastor throughout his priesthood, including St. Mary’s in Breckenridge and its missions for 18 years (he headed three building projects while there), St. Clare of Assisi for 12 years, and Presentation for the last 12 years (and just signed on for six more). He grew up attending Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver, where the seed for his priestly vocation was planted. When he was ordained in 1967, he taught religion and philosophy at a few of the local Catholic high schools alongside being a parish priest. Reflecting on the past 50 years, Father Poehlmann said he’s “grateful for a number of things: good health, wonderful parishioners … and opportunities to serve in all these other capacities.” To younger priests, he offers these words of advice: “They have to set up a lot of meaningful relationships in parishes. People demand that  today. You really have to be yourself.”

Father Roland Freeman

After finishing high school, Father Roland Freeman joined the Benedictines as a brother. During his formation, he reflected on the centrality of the Eucharist, the “front and apex” of the Christian life, and then he left the Benedictines to enter the seminary and become a priest. He was ordained on May 27, 1967. During his priesthood, he had a variety of ministries that involved sharing the sacraments, teaching children, adults, seminarians, giving retreats to priests and laity, and using his professional training in helping others with emotional disorders. He served as Director of a psychological services center. Currently, he lives at All Saints Parish in Denver and is the director of Social Religious Education for the archdiocese and Executive director of chaplains at Rose Medical Center, chaplain of the Sisters of Loretto Retirement Center, and assists in several parishes with sacramental ministries. For him, this anniversary is an occasion for “deep thanksgiving to God and profound wonder at God has accomplished, even in my life”. He says that the key to being faithful to his vocation is “fidelity to prayer, the prayer of the Eucharist, which is the gift that forms one into the profound and unsurpassable mystery of Christ’s selfless love for all.”

25 years

Father Andreas Hoeck

Father Andreas Hoeck was born into a Catholic family, and when he received the sacraments of confession, communion and confirmation as a child, the inner calling to the priesthood was confirmed. He joined the seminary and was ordained on April 4, 1992. Right after his ordination, he was sent to earn a doctorate in Catholic Exegesis (Bible Interpretation) at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. Since 2001, Father Hoeck has been teaching biblical science at Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary. He also helps in a variety of parishes, and preaches on several of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. For his 25th anniversary, Father Hoeck shares: “Looking back over these years, the heart is definitely filled with gratitude to God for having been given the grace of perseverance, of joy and inner peace.” But it is not just looking back: “One also realizes that the number of years ahead are rather counted, and one sets his sight on the eventual goal in the not too distant future. That powerful thought helps to steady the pace and ‘press on towards Christ’ (Philippians 3:14), as long as health and physical strength hold up.” He says that his priestly vocation “is sustained and fostered by the daily celebration of Holy Mass, daily personal prayer, the ever-deeper reflection on the word of God, and the dedication to one’s task at hand.”

Father Gregorie Vidal

Father Gregorie Vidal was born on January 25th, 1963, in Albi, in the South of France. Raised in a Catholic family, he met the Community of the Beatitudes when he was a teenager in the early 1980s through a prayer group his parents were attending, and he entered the Community in 1983. He then studied in Rome, and served the Lord in Africa for 2 years (Central Africa), where he learned to speak the native language Sango. He was ordained a Catholic priest on June 28th, 1992, in Cordes (Diocese of Albi, France), and served many years in France, and also as a Pastor in Nimes. He arrived in the US in 2009 and has been serving as a Pastor in the Parish St. Catherine of Siena (Denver) since then. He completed a Ph.D in Theology (Sacred Scriptures) in March 2012, about the “Divine sonship and universal brotherhood, in the Gospel of Saint Luke”. Father Gregorie is a man of many languages (French, Italian, English, Spanish, Sango), of many talents (soccer, marathon, nature and science) and even a ventriloquist!

Father Frank Maroney

Father Frank Maroney, ordained in Denver and current pastor of St. Francis of Assisi in Longmont, celebrates his 25th anniversary. He remembers how after a youth group meeting, the youth director asked him if he had ever thought about becoming a priest. “I replied that was not my cup of tea. And he responded profoundly, saying if I had any inkling at all, I had a responsibility to find out for sure. Well, I hadn’t had an inkling, until he asked me!” Father Maroney spent a few years discerning and eventually told the Lord, “Lord, I hope you know what you are doing this time!” before entering the seminary in Denver. Father Maroney said, “[Young priests probably] have words of advice for me! They seem to be so well rooted not only in Scripture…I appreciate their commitment and sense of zeal. It gives me a sense of hope for the Church.” The key to being faithful to the vocation, he said, is “The Lord, of course,” and the priests in his Caritas support group that meet monthly.

Other anniversaries

5 years

Rev. Juan Bonilla
Rev. Wojiech Gierasimczyk
Rev. Samuel Morehead
Rev. Ryan O’Neill

10 years

Very Rev. Randy Dollins, V.G.
Rev. Timothy Hjelstrom
Rev. Mark Kovacik

20 years

Rev. Jorge Aguera
Rev. Daniel Norick
Very Rev. Rocco Porter, V.F.
Rev. Daniel Zimmerschied

30 years

Rev. Timothy Gaines – 30
Very Rev. Michael Pavlakovich, V.F.
Most Rev. Jorge Rodriguez, S.T.D.

35 years

Rev. Msgr. Edward Buelt
Rev. John Hilton

COMING UP: 500 years later, who was Luther?

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Hero, villain, heretic, saint, reformer, corrupter, man of integrity, bombastic glutton. Which image of Luther should we believe? Because Luther primarily sought not to reform abuses in the Church but to reform the Church’s beliefs, Catholics cannot recognize him as a true reformer or a holy man. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that Luther played a major role in shaping the modern world. With the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant movement he initiated approaching on October 31st, we have been given a number of new books to assess his legacy.

Paul Hacker, Luther’s Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion, preface by Pope Benedict XVI (Emmaus, 2017).

Hacker’s book provides an in-depth, theological analysis of the issue that stands at the heart of the Reformation: Luther’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. Pope Benedict’s preface tells us that the Reformation dispute fundamentally concerned Luther’s “turning away from the center of the Gospel” (xxii). Emmaus released a new edition of Hacker’s book for the anniversary this year. It was published originally in 1970 (in English translation), the fruit of Hacker’s own intense study of Luther’s teaching on faith that led him into the Catholic Church from German Lutheranism.

Catholics agree with Protestants that salvation comes only through faith. The key issue of dispute, which Hacker reveals, is Luther’s subjective emphasis of absolute, personal certainty, which cannot be undermined even by serious sin. Hacker describes Luther’s faith as reflexive, that is turned back on oneself, by emphasizing subjective experience and personal surety more than anything else. He describes how Luther differs from the Catholic position: “Faith is the way to, or the perquisite of, salvation, but Luther makes it coincide with salvation itself. This becomes possible because he has first identified salvation with the consciousness of being saved or the certitude of salvation, and then he equates this consciousness with faith” (71). Hacker shows us how this view of faith negated the Church’s authority, the sacraments, and even the need to love God.

Brad Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017).

For those looking for a more general and accessible book, Brad Gregory gives us a broader narrative of how Luther’s troubled conscience exploded into the crisis that tore Christendom in two. The first section looks at Luther’s own story, tracing step by step his conflict with Church authority. The second section explains how Luther’s teaching spawned a multitude of new sects and divisions, all interpreting the Bible in their own fashion. Greggory explains: “What the early Reformation shows so clearly is that scripture and the Spirt can be interpreted and applied in radically divergent ways. Once the papacy and the Catholic Church are thrown off, there are no shared authorities to adjudicate disagreements” (137). The final section looks at how the Reformation set the tone for the development of a secular culture. Though not intending these consequences, Gregory argues that the Protestant Reformers “led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies. The religious disagreements and conflicts that followed the Reformation set the stage for religion’s eventual separation from the rest of life” (2).

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017).

Metaxas, who wrote a monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provides us with a different perspective on Luther. His book seems poised to capture the largest audience for the anniversary this year. While I can’t agree with his view of Luther as a hero of faith, I can appreciate his presentation of a more sympathetic and thorough look at a man who has inspired many Protestant Christians. It is helpful to recognize why Luther is such an important figure for so many people. This book definitely provides many more details on the life of Luther (with over 450 pages). However, I would exercise caution, because it unfortunately also contains many gross misrepresentations of the state of the Church at the time of the Reformation.

For instance, even though Metaxas shows us many ways that Luther encountered the Bible in his early life, he still claims that the Bible and Church had no connection in the early 1500s and that “the study of the Bible per se was simply unheard of” (52). Luther himself was a theology professor and throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was the primary text for teaching theology. Brad Gregory makes clear in his book on Luther that there were even “twenty-two editions of the complete vernacular Bible . . . published in German . . . by 1518” (29). Metaxas presents a false picture of Catholics as ignorant, afraid to pray to Christ, and thinking they must earn their salvation through works. Good historical research could easily dispel these myths, such as the books of Eamon Duffy, but we see Protestants continue to project Luther’s own scruples (hating God and spending six hours in Confession, 47) onto the Church of his time.

Jerome K. Williams, True Reformers: Saints of the Catholic Reformation (Augustine Institute, 2017).

What could have Luther been if he had chosen faithful reform? The answer is a saint. There is no doubt that the Church was in need of serious reform in the 1500s. We have a number of great saints who show us that fidelity to God does not contradict fidelity to His Church. They stood against corruption and initiated deep and abiding reform. The Augustine Institute has release both a book and video series on true reformers, who boldly spoke out against abuses and led to a deeper realization of the truth found in the Bible, read in harmony with the Church. These figures—Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Charles Borromeo, for instance—continue to inspire us to take up the task of genuine reform today.