A homework assignment led to 50 years of priesthood

Msgr. Bob Amundsen reflects on the 50th anniversary of his ordination

Monsignor Robert Amundsen found his vocation in an unlikely way — while working on a homework assignment in 4th grade. He was a student at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School in Denver and his assignment consisted in cutting out a picture of what he wanted to be when he grew up and writing a story about it.

“I wanted to be a paramedic, but I couldn’t find any pictures of doctors or paramedics,” Msgr. Amundsen recounted. “My mother told me, ‘Find a picture of something else that interests you and write a story about it.’ So, I came across a picture of a priest and said, ‘I want to be a priest.’”

Ever since, his desire was to become a priest. This year, he is celebrating his 50th anniversary of priestly ordination, and he is still taken back by the moments of joy he has experienced during his priesthood.

“What I love most about the priesthood is the fact that ordinary people allow me to enter into the most solemn, and sometimes most hidden, parts of their lives in order that I might somehow help them be healed,” he said. “Whether it’s in confession or at the point of sickness and death, the fact that I’m able to be part of the most intimate moments of people’s lives has given me some of my greatest joys.”

Msgr. Amundsen, who has served as pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish in Lafayette for 17 years, assured that community is one of the pillars that has helped him remain faithful to his calling. He has formed part of the same small community of priests as a member of the Jesus Caritas Fraternity of Priests since 1972, where he has found support and strength.

Msgr. Robert Amundsen in a file photo, circa 1970.

He has also found much inspiration from figures such as Father Damen McCaddon, founding priest at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, and Saint Pope Paul VI.

“One of my first role models was Father McCaddon. Growing up he was a man who really cared about people. He really built a community at Our Lady of Lourdes and reached out to the poor… Maybe it is his example that made me decide to become a priest,” he said.

“Meeting Pope Paul VI [was also very meaningful]. I had the opportunity to speak with him and see him in action on several occasions. I really found him to be a man of deep spiritual and emotional strength.”

Looking back at his time as a priest, he believes young priests should always try to make the Eucharist the center of their priesthood and listen to the people they are to serve.

“Part of the charism of Jesus Caritas is that we have an hour of adoration every day. I think time with the Lord in the Eucharist and saying Mass are critical to what the life of the priest is all about.

“But also, the most important thing for me has been to listen to the people. When you go into a new parish as pastor, it’s important to ask people: “What’s important in your life? What do you desire out of your faith life?’

“As Pope Francis has said: if you’re going to be a shepherd, you must smell like the sheep.”

COMING UP: Well done, good and faithful servants: Honoring our priests for their years of service

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25 years

Father James Goggins
Ordained 6/4/1994

Father James Goggins felt drawn to religious life when he was just a boy.

“We had wonderful priests and sisters at our parish and school, and I admired them a great deal,” he said.

Father Goggins was ordained a priest on June 4, 1994. He has served at parishes all around the archdiocese and is currently pastor of St. Mary in Greeley.

Father Goggins said he has discovered “a great joy in doing my duty and doing it one day at a time, and trying to connect people to the Lord.”

He believes that for a priest, “the most important thing is to connect people with Jesus, no matter what’s going on in their lives — whether it’s joy or suffering — and especially in the Eucharist,” he said.

He encourages young priests to “focus on Jesus,” he said. “Let him be the whole focus of your priesthood — nothing and no one else.”

Father Jerry Rohr
Ordained 6/4/1994

Father Jerry Rohr’s call to the priesthood was “an evolving” experience.

“It wasn’t a St. Paul moment,” he said. “It was a slow growing toward this need to give back somehow to what I believed Christ had given me.”

Father Rohr was ordained a priest on June 4, 1994. He currently serves as pastor of Christ the King in Haxtun, St. Patrick in Holyoke and St. Peter the Apostle in Fleming.

Because he didn’t enter seminary until he was 29, Father Rohr understands it can be challenging for older men who feel drawn to the priesthood to answer that call.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Anytime is the right time.”

His advice for young priests is to “remember that you do not bring Christ to your parish,” he said. “Your job is to discover the Christ that already exists in your parish and in your parishioners.”

Father Stephen Siebert
Ordained 7/2/1994

Father Stephen Siebert admits he wandered in his early adolescence before “Our Lord found me, and I heard the good news,” he said.

To this day, he remembers the exact dates he converted to Christ and eventually felt called to the priesthood.

“Love, peace and joy filled my life, and suddenly, vice fled,” he said. “Within a short time, my prayer became, ‘Lord, I want to serve you for the rest of my life.’”

Father Siebert was ordained to the priesthood on July 2, 1994 in Tijuana, Mexico as a member of the Missionaries of Charity Fathers. He served as a missionary in Mexico and Italy and helped in the missions Mother Teresa opened in Albania.

Father Siebert returned to diocesan parish life in the U.S. after 11 years with the mission and was received into the Archdiocese of Denver.

He currently serves as pastor of St. Mary in Breckenridge and Our Lady of Peace in Silverthorne.

Father Gerardo Puga
Ordained 7/25/1994

Father Gerardo Puga began to feel the call to the priesthood during his high school years, but “I was a little afraid,” he said.

Father Puga thought he wanted to get married one day, but his love for the sacraments eventually led him to say “yes” to God’s call to religious life.

“I think God was patient with me and remained calling me,” he said.

Father Puga was ordained a priest on July 25, 1994. He currently serves as pastor of Holy Family in Meeker, St. Ignatius of Antioch in Rangely and St. Michael in Craig.

Father Puga wants young priests to know that “the call is not just once in your life.

“Put your vocation, your life in the mercy of God, permit the Holy Spirit to change you, to convert your heart and go ahead every day. Because the call is not in the past — it’s in the present.”

Father Daniel Leonard
Ordained 11/25/1994

Growing up in Ireland, Father Daniel Leonard took his faith seriously and attended daily Mass with his family. His mom gave him, the youngest child, the responsibility to pray the Prayer of St. Francis at the end of Mass.

It instilled in Father Leonard a “desire to help people — to bring hope and faith and life,” and sparked his interest in the priesthood.

Father Leonard was ordained a priest on Nov. 25, 1994. He has served as a parish priest and seminary professor and is currently the Rector of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

Father Leonard imagines his ministry is similar to Jesus’ work of teaching his followers to spread the Gospel.

“I know that all of these future priests are going to touch the lives of literally thousands and thousands of people,” he said. “It gives a lot of hope.”

His advice to young priests is to “live a strong life of prayer.”

50 years

Monsignor Bob Amundsen
Ordained 12/19/1969

Monsignor Bob Amundsen was working on an assignment in fourth grade that required him to find a picture of what he wanted to be when he grew up.

But when he couldn’t find a photo of his dream job — a medical professional — his mom offered him a Catholic magazine.

“I cut out a picture of a priest saying Mass with my essay, ‘When I grow up I want to be a priest,’” he said. “And here I am 65 years later.”

Monsignor Amundsen was ordained a priest on Dec. 19, 1969. He is currently pastor of Immaculate Conception in Lafayette and enjoys celebrating Mass and confession, as well as offering spiritual direction to young adults.

His advice to young priests is “be a man of prayer and live in imitation of Jesus. Love the people you serve. Listen to their faith stories because the lay people will really enrich your understanding of the connection of life and faith.”

60 years

Father Thomas McCormick
Ordained 5/19/1959

After 60 years of priesthood, Father Thomas McCormick refers to himself as “God’s spoiled kid.”

“I’ve been spoiled with the gift of the priesthood, the gift of faith, the gift of health,” Father McCormick said with a smile. “I haven’t had a bad assignment in 60 years.”

Indeed, Father McCormick has had a variety of assignments throughout his priesthood, including pastor, junior high principal and missionary. He was even involved with the civil rights movement in the 1960s, when he marched on Selma with Martin Luther King Jr. Throughout his many experiences as a priest, Father McCormick fondly looks back at his time spent doing mission work in Colombia and Mexico. These experiences characterized his 60 years of priesthood and shape his advice to young priests.

“If we truly understand the Gospel, [we realize] that we need the poor more than the poor need us.”

Monsignor Raymond Jones
Ordained 6/6/1959

Msgr. Jones couldn’t be reached for an interview by press time.

65 years

Father James Purfield
Ordained 5/29/1954

Father Purfield couldn’t be reached for an interview by press time.