‘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: Healing hatred and anger after Charlottesville

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The confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the nationwide reaction to it are clear signs of the tensions simmering just below the surface of our society. But we know as people of faith that these wounds can be healed if we follow Christ’s example, rather than the path of revenge.

It was with a heavy heart that I learned about the Aug. 12 clashes between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville that resulted in the injury of around 34 people and the death of Heather Heyer. It was an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” melee.

These events remind me of Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace message, in which he pointed out that “Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for ‘it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come’ (Mk. 7:21).”

What we witnessed in Charlottesville was an outward expression of hundreds of hearts, and as a shepherd of souls, I cannot stand by silently while people allow hatred toward others rule their hearts. Particularly reprehensible were the derogatory words the neo-Nazis and their white supremacist allies shouted toward African Americans, Jews and Latinos. This is not how God sees his children!

Every human being is bestowed from the moment of conception with the dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God, and we are all loved by him, even amid our sin and brokenness. Satan seeks every opportunity to twist these fundamental truths in the hearts of human beings and we can see the devastation it brings throughout history.

It can be tempting to respond to these attacks on our fellow man with violence, just as the members of the Anti-fascist movement (known as “Antifa”) did in Charlottesville. But this is not what Christ taught, since it allows hatred to gain a foothold through a different avenue. It is worth repeating: the human heart is the true battlefield.

Jesus’ response to violence and persecution stands in contrast with the way of hatred and anger. Instead, he taught his disciples to love their enemies (Mt. 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:39). Christ’s radical answer is only possible because God unconditionally loves every person and is ready to forgive us when we repent. God’s love is the only thing that can cut through the hatred that is bringing people to blows, heal the human heart and form it after his own. As people of faith, we are called to bring the truth of love to these festering wounds so that hearts may be healed by Christ.

Joseph Pearce, the Catholic convert and former white supremacist, is a perfect example of this. In a recent article for the National Catholic Register, he recalls how it was his encounter with the objective truths of the faith that demolished his race-centered identity and seeing his enemies love him when he confronted them with hatred that changed his heart. We must pray for the grace to love as Jesus loves, to love as the Father loves.

“The way out of this deadly spiral,” Pearce says, “is to go beyond the love of neighbor, as necessary as that is, and to begin to love our enemies. This is not simply good for us, freeing us from the bondage of hatred; it is good for our enemies also.”

May all of us follow the great example of Mark Heyer, the father of the woman who was killed after the white supremacist rally. His daughter’s death, Heyer told USA Today, made him think “about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.’”

Jesus desires that every person have a heart that is whole and free from hatred, anger and pride. He desires to form our hearts, and that only comes about when we are receptive to his unconditional love, for only in receiving his unconditional love will we be able to give it to others. I pray that all the faithful will be instruments of healing for our country by bringing Christ’s forgiveness to their neighbors and their enemies.