Archbishop Aquila ordains five men to the priesthood

“I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves”

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Recalling the phrase Jesus told his disciples: “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Mt 10:16), Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila urged the new priests to shine amid a society where darkness and hostility against God abounds.

The prelate presided the priestly ordination at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver May 25. The new priests are Julio Cesar Amezcua, from Spain; Adam Bradshaw, born in Texas; Witold Kaczmarzyk and Mateusz Ratajczak, from Poland; and Thomas Scherer from Colorado.

The new priests were accompanied by their families, who came from Spain, Poland and around the United States. Dozens of people from the parishes where they served as deacons throughout the year were also present. The environment of the sunny spring morning was a joyful, prayerful one. The Mass readings were read in English, Spanish and Polish, honoring the diversity of nationalities of the new priests.

Called to bring the light

A young priest can only bring the light of Christ to a confused society through faith and hope in Jesus: “Open your heart to him, for it is he, and he alone, who gives life,” Archbishop Aquila said during his homily. “You are going into a world that has abandoned God and wants nothing to do with God.”

He then reminded them that this is not the first time the Church has experienced turbulent times. He recalled how the People of Israel adored false gods, even to the point of offering their children in sacrifice to them. He mentioned the dark times of the Middle Ages and the two World Wars of the 20th century and spoke of the challenges they will have to face in their ministry: “The world that loves false gods and believes in relativism, that lies about the dignity of the human person made in the image and likeness of God, made male and female…”

Five men were ordained to the priesthood at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver May 25.

He encouraged them to always proclaim the truth in charity: “Do not yell at people, do not scream, [due to] the lack of stability that we see so often today (…) Always proclaim the truth with charity and never let fear prevent you from proclaiming the truth.”

Thereafter, he invited all of those present to pray for the five new priests: “That they may be faithful, virtuous, holy men, whose hearts are formed by Christ.”

The archbishop asked parents to “be willing to offer your sons to Christ if He calls them. Never ever discourage a young man from the priesthood.” He also insisted: “Pray that the Lord may plant in the heart of young men the seed of the vocation of the priesthood, and he will provide them the grace and the fortitude to say ‘yes’ to that vocation no matter the cost.”

Intimacy with Jesus

Archbishop Aquila also gave them some recommendations to help them grow in fidelity to their priestly vocation. He assured them that the most important point is an “intimacy with Jesus,” which would make them “men of virtue and holiness.”

He also invited them to be “men of prayer,” which does not mean that “you hide away in the chapel for hours a day or you spend your life in prayer,” since that is a different calling, and added: “[In your ministry] you will see as a priority to serve others for the love of Christ,” always trusting in the power and grace of God, “because it is God’s power working for you, and you must open your hearts and souls to receive that grace from God and to radically depend on him and not on yourselves.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila gave the newly ordained priests tips on how to grow in fidelity to their vocation.

The archbishop reminded them of their mission “to bring people to encounter Jesus Christ” — and he highlighted Pope Francis’ constant invitation “to go out into the peripheries, go out to the lost sheep.”

“These men… have heard the call to the priesthood of Jesus Christ and opened their hearts to the call,” Archbishop Aquila said. “They have received that call from the Lord. Even in these times in which we live, the Lord continues to call men to the priesthood, he continues to call them to follow in his footsteps.”

Father Witold Kaczmarzyk

It was at the University of Technology in Poland as a student of the faculty of physics that Witold Kaczmarzyk would discover his vocation to the priesthood.

“While a student, I started reading the Bible, praying and attending meetings where I could talk with other students about my faith,” he said. “Due to them, my vocation ‘came to the surface,’ and I made a decision to study theology and develop my faith seriously.”

He informed his parents that he wanted to drop out of the university and study theology, and while surprised, they were supportive. In 2010, he began to study theology and, using his aptitude for science, taught math, English, physics and chemistry as a private tutor for a time.

After two years, he entered a seminary in his home diocese of Kalisz, Poland, and was transferred to Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Mich., which specializes in training Polish seminarians for the priesthood in the United States.

St. Sebastian has been important to Father Kaczmarsyk in his vocation, and as a new priest, he is most looking forward to celebrating the Eucharist and hearing confessions.

Father Mateusz Ratajczak

Mateusz Ratajczak grew up in a forgiving, Catholic family, and, surrounded by the examples of many holy priests, entertained the thought of being a priest as a boy growing up in Poland.

However, as a teenager, Ratajczak rebelled and stopped seeing the Church as a place for him. It was through the Neocatechumenal Way that God called him back and “showed me strongly his mercy for me.

“I discovered the Church as a hospital for the weak, where [I experienced] the continuous discovery of the love of God in the context of the postbaptismal community,” Ratajczak said.

He entered Redemptoris Mater Seminary in October 2009. His time there has been “the best time of my life,” he said, especially the three years of missionary training he spent in different islands of the Pacific.

Upon his ordination, Father Ratajczak is grateful to God, Archbishop Aquila and the faithful of the Archdiocese of Denver for making it possible for him to be a priest.

“In becoming a priest, I am really hoping for being ever more conformed to Christ the Good Shepherd,” Father Ratajcazak said, “who lays down his life for the sheep, and who came to serve and not to be served.”

Father Tom Scherer

When Tom Scherer surrendered control of his life and learned to trust in God, the seed for the priesthood was planted in his heart.

It was at the 2011 priestly ordination in Denver where that seed was cultivated and blossomed into a vocation.

“God spoke to my heart, saying ‘This is what I want from you.’  I was quite alarmed, because I thought I had already discerned that priesthood was not for me, but the more I prayed about it, the more peace I had.

“The conviction of God’s call has grown steadily over the course of the past 7 years.”

Scherer studied at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, the most beautiful part of which was being “near the saints, to pray at their tombs and to be formed by their witness of faith and charity.” He’s also been able to experience firsthand the universality of Church, with classmates from all over the world.

Now, as a priest, Father Scherer continues to be open to the surprises God has in store for him.

“God has surprised me so much over this journey that I don’t even want to try to anticipate anything,” he said. “My one expectation is that God will continue to give his grace so that I may live this life well.”

Father Adam Bradshaw

Throughout his journey to the priesthood, Adam Bradshaw has been inspired by the words and witness of John the Baptist.

“He has been a constant companion, a guide and a model for how I should live my life as a priest,” he said.

Bradshaw was born in Austin, Texas but grew up in Houston. He entered the Church in 2009, and “knew I wanted to give my life to God in some way,” he said.

Although Bradshaw had always wanted to get married, he was drawn toward priestly ministry and “felt a lot of peace and certainty that this was what God wanted me to do.”

Now a soon-to-be priest, Bradshaw is most excited to celebrate Mass and hear confessions.

“These have been the hinges of my life all these years, and I am so excited that now I will be able to help in celebrating the sacraments and bringing the presence of Jesus to people,” he said.

Julio Cesar Amezcua

Julio Cesar Amezcua is originally from Madrid, Spain. He attended Catholic school and grew up playing soccer and riding horses.

At the age of 21, he moved to Denver to study psychology at Metropolitan State University of Denver. It was there he met Father Angel Perez-Lopez, who helped him grow in his faith and eventually led him to join a community of the Neocatechumenal Way in 2009.

After a discernment period of a few months, Amezcua felt the Lord was calling him to enter Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary. The missionary calling of his eventual priesthood is very appealing to him.

“This is what excites me the most,” he said. “It means that the Lord can take me anywhere in the world at any moment.”

Amezcua served in Boston during his mandatory year of mission outside of the seminary, and saw firsthand the challenges the Church in Boston is facing: intensifying secularization.

“This event opened my eyes to the difficulties that we can face in Denver if we don’t evangelize,” he said.

COMING UP: Machebeuf basketball star traded success playing hoops for a solitary life of prayer

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Shelly Pennefather led the Bishop Machebeuf High School girls’ basketball team to victory in every game she played in. It was not surprising to her friends and classmates that she would go on to play college ball for Villanova and then play professionally in Japan. It was not even surprising that she would have a religious vocation.

What was surprising was the order she chose. In 1991, Shelly Pennefather drove to Alexandria, Va., where she entered the Monastery of the Poor Clares. She would become a cloistered nun, living a radical life that included going barefoot out of penance and poverty and praying all of the hours of the Divine Office, even at 12:30 a.m.

This also meant she would not see her family except for twice a year from behind a transparent screen. She would not hug them until 25 years after her profession.

“I was shocked that she chose a cloistered order,” said Annie Mcbournie, graduate of Machebeuf in 1984 and a friend of Pennefather’s. “I was not at all shocked that she chose a vocation.”

Her story was recently featured on ESPN, who recounted how Pennefather gave up being the highest-paid women’s basketball player in the world in 1991 to live a life in service to the Lord as a Poor Clare.

Pennefather took the name Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. This past June, Sister Rose Marie celebrated her 25th anniversary of her solemn profession: the long-awaited moment to greet her family from outside the screen, not to happen again for another 25 years.

Villanova teammates, friends, Machebeuf classmates, and family were all in attendance. She hugged her 78-year-old mom for what will probably be the last time.

Mcbournie was not able to make it but will visit Sister Rose Marie this fall. Since she’s kept up with her via letters, she is permitted to visit the monastery.

Pennefather attended Bishop Machebeuf High School in Denver from 1980 to 1983 before transferring for her senior year due to her dad’s military job. She left Machebeuf with a 70-0 record.

“Her entire high school career, she never lost a basketball game,” Mcbournie said.

Mcbournie was a cheerleader and friend of Sister Rose Marie in high school, but a deeper friendship began 10 years after graduation. Sister Rose Marie’s brother Dick called Mcbournie before World Youth Day in Denver in 1993 since Mcbournie was still in the area.

Sister Rose Marie had just joined the Poor Clares and Dick and McBournie met up and spoke about the mourning process the family was going through, McBournie said. Dick mentioned to her that they could write Sister Rose Marie as many letters as they wanted, and one day a year, on the Feast of the Epiphany, she could write back.

Shelly Pennefather, pictured here in this photo from the Archdiocese of Denver archives, always exuded a deep spiritual life, her former Bishop Machebeuf classmates said. (Photo by James Baca)

“From that year on, I have been writing her every year,” McBournie said. She gives Sister Rose Marie updates on life, pictures from their high school reunions, and prayer requests.

“I have witnessed her journey through these letters,” McBournie said.

When Sister Rose Marie’s dad passed away shortly after entering, she was not able to leave the monastery to go to the funeral. McBournie saw how difficult these sacrifices were for her, especially in the early years of her vocation. But the letters show Sister Rose Marie’s joy.

“The last 5 to 10 years, I could just see her say, ‘I’m so blessed to be able to do this’,” McBournie said. “She’s so joyful.”

A fellow Machebeuf classmate asked McBournie for Sister Rose Marie’s address in order to have a little fun. He sent her a $20 bill with a note saying he thought she could use a smoke and a bottle of wine.

Sister Rose Marie did not miss a beat and in her yearly letter, she responded, “I bought incense, and I drank from the chalice,” McBournie recounted.

Shelly Pennefather (#15) had a 70-0 record playing basketball for Bishop Machebeuf in the 1980s, and went on to play for Villanova and then professionally in Japan. (Photo courtesy of Villanova Athletics)

But this letter sparked a friendship. This classmate has continued to write letters and even attended the 25-anniversary jubilee.

“Her letters are still hilarious, still very sarcastic,” McBournie said.

She remembers Sister Rose Marie being reserved and quiet in high school, focused more on school and basketball than anything else. Her father was in the military and the family was very disciplined, but they had a good sense of humor and quick wit, McBournie said.
“Her spirituality permeated her existence from the time she was young,” McBournie said.

David Dominguez was a few years ahead of Sister Rose Marie at Machebeuf but remembers her discipline and her talent. He called himself her cheerleader.’

“If it was really tight, we would start yelling, ‘Shelly, Shelly!’” Dominguez said. “It was one of my favorite cheers.”

Dominguez exercised at the Air Force base gym where Sister Rose Marie would train and play basketball with her dad and brother.

“I knew she had incredible skills,” Dominguez said. “It was kind of magical to watch.”

Sister Rose Marie recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of her profession of vows with the Poor Clares. She was able to hug her friends and family for the first time in 25 years. ESPN was there to cover the occasion. (Photo courtesy of Mary Beth Bonacci)

Dominguez also knew she was different.

“She was living for a different purpose than everyone else,” he said.

Sister Rose Marie’s devotion and personality remain the same, though she has traded in her jersey for a habit.
Although Sister Rose Marie can only write one letter a year, and can seldom have visitors, her friendship and influence reach far beyond the monastery walls.

Mcbournie said that their yearly letters have brought them even closer than they were in high school.

“I look forward to her letter every year,” Mcbournie said.