30-year deacons came to ministry via many paths

The following deacons serving the Archdiocese of Denver celebrating 30-year anniversaries this year.

Deacon Richard Baker
Behind Deacon Richard Baker’s years of diaconal ministry is a desire to serve Christ and to help others to encounter him.

Today, the Kansas City-native enjoys performing baptisms “to welcome little ones into the body of Christ and to be able to give them their first liturgical symbol—the Sign of the Cross on their forehead,” he said.

He also facilitates Scripture studies and preaches the good news.

Deacon Baker was ordained in June 1984. In the early days of his ministry, balancing family life with his wife, Theresa—to whom he’s been married for 52 years—and four children was a challenge. The now retired public accountant said his family always “accepted the fact that Dad had to go out at night,” Deacon Baker said. He has served at Spirit of Christ Parish in Arvada and at the Gardens of St. Elizabeth. He has 16 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Deacon Hugh Downey
Deacon Hugh Downey took a different path to the diaconate than most of his deacon brothers. Prior to his ordination in June 1984, he served as a lay missionary directing the Lalmba Association, a nonprofit humanitarian organization he helped found with his wife, Martha, in Africa. It is headquartered in Colorado.

“Ministering to the poor of Africa has always been a joy for me,” he said. “You know, after 50 years, I still feel a lot of that initial enthusiasm.”

One of his favorite aspects of ministry is bringing Christ to Africa, he said In the Archdiocese of Denver he’s ministered at the parishes of Spirit of Christ, Shrine of St. Anne and St. Joan of Arc, all in Arvada. Today, he and his wife live in a grass hut in a village with no road, he said.

“I walk to the market, walk to church.  I have no car. One challenge is language,” Deacon Downey said. “I’ve learned the language but still, when I’m preaching, I can hear children giggle. Health is a major issue. Living remotely as we do means we are not close to medical care.”

A life witnessing to needless suffering, AIDS, war and a lack of compassion can bring sadness to them, he said. When things get difficult, he and his wife recall the slogan “couragio,” meaning “have courage.”

“We practice that virtue and incorporate it into our daily lives,” he shared.

He’s started a museum in the village and collects artifacts to help demonstrate the lives of previous generations. He and Martha have been married for 49 years. Three of their children were in born in Africa.

“(It) seems that ministry and family weave together—into a beautiful fabric—if I do say so,” he said.

Deacon R. Paul Grimm
More than 30 years ago Deacon R. Paul Grimm had an opportunity to become vice president of an engineering group of some 300 people.

“It was a great opportunity,” he said. “I came to the conclusion I would only be working for money.  Simultaneously, I had the sense of a calling to serve the people of God.”

native was ordained a deacon. He came to Denver with his wife, Mary, his bride of 56 years. They have four children. His ministry became focused on pastoral care at parishes and care at medical and mental health facilities. He served at the parishes of St. Thomas More in Centennial, All Souls in Englewood, St. Frances Cabrini in Littleton and was active in hospital ministry at the Colorado Mental Health Institute of Fort Logan and Littleton Adventist Hospitals.

His wife “has always supported the activities related to the diaconate,” Deacon Grimm said. “My wife’s patience was the strength to the family.”

In their spare time, they have traveled to South Africa, Mexico, Central America, South America and across the United States. They have eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild. He is retired.

Deacon Joseph Tam Van Le
After Vietnam fell to communism in the ‘70s, Deacon Joseph Tam Van Le was a refugee living in various camps around the world before arriving in the United States. He met and married his wife of 38 years, Theresa, and they have four children. A Jesuit priest encouraged him to study in the diaconate in order to help minister to Vietnamese parishioners. Deacon Le was ordained in June 1984. At 92 today, he is the eldest deacon in the Archdiocese of Denver.

“My favorite aspect of diaconal ministry has been teaching marriage preparation classes,” he shared. “I enjoy seeing the joy of new couples and later on the happiness of the family when they welcome their children.”

His wife has always been supportive, watching their children when he was teaching classes or attending church activities, he said.

“She would always open the doors of our home to couples having marital problems or anyone in need. Her sacrifice has helped me strive to be a better husband and a better deacon,” he shared.

Now retired from ministry at Presentation of Our Lady Church, he prays the rosary, watches Mass on EWTN and reads the Denver Catholic Register as well as books and magazines. They are eager to welcome their first grandchild in September.

Deacon Warren Lybarger
After his conversion to the Catholic Church 61 years ago, Deacon Warren Lybarger, 80, “always had a deep desire, a calling to do more, to be more involved in the life of the Church.” That desire ultimately led to ordination June 16, 1984.

During the last 30 years, he has served at the parishes of St. John the Evangelist in Loveland and St. Joseph in Fort Collins, where he continues to minister a few hours a week doing marriage preparation and assisting with annulments. Working with young couples as they prepare to enter into the “great mystery of the sacrament of marriage” has been a highlight of his ministry. He also served as director of planned giving at the parish for two years before retiring from active ministry.

Deacon Lybarger was married to wife Edna for 61 years prior to her death last November. The couple has three sons, one daughter, 19 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. “The fact that we have always been a very close-knit family has been a great blessing for my ministry,” he said. “My family has been totally supportive of my ministry”

Deacon Lybarger served as a business manager for 21 years prior to retirement. In his free time, he exercises as much as possible, and spends time in prayer, reading and watching TV.

Deacon Daniel Marthe
Some might know Deacon Daniel Marthe, 86, as “Deacon Dan the Garden Man” for the gardening tip he writes each week for the bulletin at St. John Evangelist Parish in Loveland. “People tell me they copy them all the time,” he said.

In his years in the diaconate, he said the greatest challenge was actually answering the call. “I didn’t want to be there,” he said. But he did indeed respond to the call, encouraged by fellow parishioners at St. John the Evangelist and the late Father Roger Mollison—and he was ordained June 16, 1984.

In addition to serving at St. John’s, he was also assigned to St. Thérèse in Frederick, Guardian Angels in Mead, St. Scholastica in Erie and Holy Family in Fort Collins. One of his favorite aspects of ministry has been “helping prepare others to enter the Church.” Before the days of the formal Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program, he said he would have 14-15 people at his home nearly every night for catechesis.

Deacon Marthe has been married to his wife, Mary Frances, for 58 years; they have four daughters, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Retired from active ministry, he continues to help out at the parish and also enjoys playing golf.

Deacon Lloyd Quintana
Though retirement age for a deacon in the Denver Archdiocese is typically 75, at age 79, Deacon Lloyd Quintana said he “just doesn’t want to stop,” he wants to keep going. And that is what he’s doing: for the last 28 years of his 30 years in the diaconate, he has served at Holy Trinity Parish in Westminster, as well as Our Lady of Visitation Mission Church in Denver. “I enjoy being with people and being able to help them, it’s more like a family,” he said of the largely Spanish-speaking community. “You get attached to people.”

Deacon Quintana was ordained June 16, 1984. His first assignments included the parishes of St. William in Fort Lupton and Our Lady of Guadalupe. In 1956, he married his wife, Gerri, who passed away six years ago. The couple has three daughters, and one son who died four years ago. Gerri was thrilled when he said “yes” to the diaconate, Deacon Quintana said. The two worked in prison ministry together through the Kairos program at the women’s prison in Cañon City. They were also active in the Cursillo movement, along with their children. “I’ve been given so much,” he said. “I just want to give back.”

Deacon Gary Rogge
Deacon Gary Rogge, 72, met his wife of 48 years, Virginia, a Catholic, on a blind date at a Christmas party. That blind date ultimately led to their wedding in 1966 and his conversion to the Catholic faith.

During the spring of 1977, he began to feel a strong desire to serve God and the Church more. “My parish involvements were numerous but after a lot of prayer and discernment, my direction focused on the diaconate ministry,” he said. Responding to the call, thanks in part to encouragement from friend Deacon Dick Combs, he was ordained June 16, 1984. Deacon Rogge’s first assignment was Queen of Peace Parish in Aurora, following two years later by St. Thomas More Parish in Centennial, where he remains in active ministry.

His favorite aspect of ministry has been offering his time and service to those in need, he said. And one of the greatest challenges has been helping the loved ones of those who have died. “Hugs are more effective than words,” he said of those times.

Deacon Rogge and Virginia have one son, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. “God has been and continues to be generous and kind to me,” he said. “I am extremely grateful.” Now retired from a 30-year career with AT&T, the couple enjoys traveling in their free time.

COMING UP: Father and son, deacon and priest: Deacon dads and priest sons share special bond as both serve God’s people

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The bond between a father and son is one of God’s greatest designs; however, when father and son are both called to serve the Church as deacon and priest, that bond takes on a whole new meaning. Just ask these two dads and their sons, all of whom answered the call to serve the people of God at the altar.

Deacon Michael Magee serves at Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Foxfield, while his son Father Matthew Magee has worked as the priest secretary to Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila for the past several years and will soon be moved to a new assignment as parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Boulder. Deacon Darrell Nepil serves at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver, and his son, Father John Nepil, served at several parishes within the archdiocese before his current assignment as a professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

However different their journeys may have been, all four have something in common; mainly, that far from seeing their vocations as a reward from God, they have received them as an uncommon gift of grace that has blessed their families and individual relationships with each other abundantly, knowing that God acts in different ways to help us all get to Heaven.

Interwoven journeys

Deacon Michael Magee was ordained in May 2009, at the end of Father Matt’s first year of seminary. Little did they know that God would use both of their callings to encourage each other along the journey.

Deacon Michael’s journey began when a man from his parish was ordained a deacon.

“I simply felt like God was calling me to do something more than I was doing at the present time,” he said. “I had been volunteering for a number of different things and was involved in some ministry activities and in the Knights of Columbus. And I thought the idea of being a deacon would be simply another activity for which I could volunteer.”

He didn’t know what it entailed at the time. In fact, he believed it was something a man could simply sign up for. To his surprise, the diaconate was more serious – and it required five years of formation and discernment. Yet he was so drawn to it, that he decided to do it anyway. But as he learned more about the nature of the diaconate during his formation, he became more nervous and unsure about whether God was really calling him to that vocation. 

While his doubts remained all the way up to his ordination, Deacon Michael was faithful to his studies, trusting that God would lead him in the right path. 

And God did — through the calling of his own son to the priesthood.

Deacon Michael didn’t realize that his son Matthew had paid close attention to his father’s faith journey and had found in it a light that gave him courage to discern the priesthood.

Father Matthew Magee (left) and his dad, Deacon Michael Magee (right), were both encouraging to one another as they each pursued their respective vocations. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

“Seeing my dad, as a father, growing in his relationship with the Lord was really influential for me on my own desire to follow Christ,” said Father Matt. “Looking at his courage to discern his own vocation and follow God’s plan in his life gave me the strength and courage to be open to the same thing in my life… He played a very important role, whether he knew it or not at the time, and whether I knew it or not at the time.”

On the other hand, Father Matt didn’t know that his dad was in turn encouraged by his own response to God’s calling. 

“As I went through all those doubts, I watched Matthew’s journey in seminary and listened to how he was dealing with that in his life. And, as he just articulated very well, I also saw those same qualities in him,” Deacon Michael said. “Seeing a young man in his 20s willing to consider following God for the rest of his life also gave me the courage to continue on in my own journey, to see it through.”

God’s way of uplifting them in their vocations through each other’s journey is something they are very grateful for. 

This unusual grace impacted Father Matt during his first Mass, when his dad, as deacon, approached him before the Gospel reading and asked for the traditional blessing by calling him “father.”

“It was a really special moment for me. He’s certainly my biological father and raised me. But then there’s something different when we’re at the altar in a clerical capacity — there’s a strange reversal of roles when we’re giving spiritual nourishment to the people — a father asks the new father for the blessing,” he said.

In both of their vocations, Deacon Michael and Father Matt see God’s Providence and the unique plan he has for all of us.

“We all have a vocation, even if it’s something we may not expect,” Deacon Michael concluded. “You may feel anxiety or worry about what it’s going to look like, but trust in God. He will take care of things as he always does.”

A bribe for Heaven

For Deacon Darell and Father John Nepil, the journey was different, but not any less providential.

While he grew up Catholic, Father John wasn’t interested in setting foot on any Church activity during his teenage years. His saving grace was perhaps what many parents have to do to get their teenagers to Church: bribe them.

“His mom and I basically bribed him to go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference,” Deacon Darell said with a laugh. “He didn’t want to go, but we’d heard so many good things about it, that we said, ‘We’re going to make this happen, whatever it takes.’”

So the Nepils came up with a creative idea.

“He owed me some money for a uniform that he had needed for a job in the summer. So, I said, ‘Listen, if you go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference, I’ll forgive your debt. And he did, he and his brother went. And John especially came back a different boy. He literally was converted with a lightning bolt at that retreat.”

To this day, Father John marks his conversion to Christ from the summer before his senior year in high school when he attended that conference. 

As it happens with stories worth telling, the details of how much money he owed his father have varied over the years, and it’s a matter of debate among them, but Father John remembers it was close to $500.

“That’s subject to each one,” Father John said laughingly. “But what matters is that they offered to forgive my debt if I went to this retreat – it was money well spent.”

Besides this important event, Father John said that his dad influenced him in many ways by the simple fact of who he was as a father.

“My dad’s faith and moral character were a rock for me during some difficult teenage years,” he said. “He’s a great example of a man who was always faithful and lived a really outstanding moral life, but then as he deepened in love with Christ, he decided to give of himself in a more profound service.”

Father John Nepil (left) and Deacon Darrell Nepil (right) both had rather roundabout ways to their respective vocations, but they both say serving God’s people together as brothers in Holy Orders is a great joy. (Photo provided)

Besides his desire to serve and follow God, the seed that would eventually lead Deacon Darell to the diaconate was planted by a coworker, who would also take holy orders: Deacon Joe Donohoe.

“One day he said to me, ‘You should be a deacon.’ And, of course, I laughed at him and said, ‘I don’t have time for that. My life is too busy.’ But it only took him to suggest it for the idea to keep coming back to my head, and God kept nudging me. Eventually I decided I really wanted to do that,” Deacon Darell said.

The ability to share at the altar during the Mass has deepened the natural relationship of father and son and given Deacon Darell and Father John new opportunities to grow closer to God. 

One of the most meaningful times came when Deacon Darell had a massive stroke in 2018. While he was in the hospital, Father John was able to visit and celebrate Mass at his bed and pray the rosary with him every day, as he had come back from Rome and was working on his dissertation.

“It was probably the most privileged and intimate time I’ve ever had with my father,” Father John said. “It was an amazing gift that really changed our relationship.”

“I feel like that’s a huge reason why I healed and why I am here today,” Deacon Darell added.

“It’s a real gift to have my dad as a deacon and a brother. It’s a tremendous honor. It’s one of the great joys of my life.” Father John concluded. “That’s really what has bonded our relationship together: the sheer desire to serve Jesus, especially in holy orders.”