Arvada parish marks half-century of Christian love, community

Pastor says hallmark of vibrant St. Joan of Arc Church is devotion

On the feast of St. Joan of Arc, May 30, the only church in the Denver Archdiocese named after the 15th century French peasant girl turned soldier marked it’s 50th anniversary.

A mystic known for her devotion and courage, St. Joan is remembered on the day she was burned at the stake in Rouen, condemned as a witch and heretic. A quarter century later, the verdict that led to her death at 19 was nullified. She was canonized a saint in 1920.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila was the main celebrant of the Arvada parish’s anniversary Mass.

“As we celebrate this anniversary today…and as we celebrate the solemnity of St. Joan of Arc, it is a reminder of what it means to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus,” the archbishop said in his homily. “To be those willing to deny ourselves in the steps of Jesus. That is the invitation that Jesus gives us…to heed the Gospel and to live it no matter what the cost.”

Father Nathan Goebel, the pastor, was a concelebrant of the Mass, as were three former pastors—Father Joseph Cao, Father Timothy Gaines and Father James Kleiner—and former parochial vicars: Msgr. David Croak, Msgr. Anthony McDaid and honorary parochial vicar Dominican Father Robert Staes. The parish’s assisting priest, Father James Cuneo, was unable to attend.

Charter members of the parish were recognized at the Mass.

“The parishioners are the lifeblood of every parish,” Archbishop Aquila said in his closing remarks. “The pastors and parochial vicars come and go but it is you, the people who are so dedicated and faithful to Christ and to the parish, that keep it sustained. So thank you to all of you for your great witness.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila greets parishioners following the 50th Anniversary Mass at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church on May 30, 2017, in Arvada, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

At a festive, sumptuous reception after the Mass, a video and still photos honored the priests, deacons, laity and history of the parish.

“We’ve been blessed with an extremely devout community, one centered in Christ and in community,” Father Goebel told the Denver Catholic. Pastor for about a year, the 34-year-old priest added, “As soon I came in, I was impressed with the number of ministries here, especially spiritual ministries.”

The vibrant parish life is in keeping with the spirit of the saint it honors, Father Goebel said.

“St. Joan of Arc is known for her devotion,” he said. “She received a word from the saints inspired by God to be a witness for the world, which at the time was living in fear and resignation. If our parish emulates anything from her it would be that devotion: not only can they receive the word (of God) in their hearts but they live it out in their lives.”

The 50-plus parish ministries range from the parish preschool to sandwich line to perpetual adoration. Faith formation includes youth ministry, RCIA and the Neocatechumenal Way. Social groups range from Pint with a Priest for young adults to Seniors Club.

“I would put our Senior Club up against any [other] in the diocese,” Father Goebel said, only half-joking. “The Knights of Columbus council in our parish has earned the [organization’s] highest award in the state a number of times and even just this year, the [Knight’s] pro-life family of the year was from our parish, Dan and Jackie Murphy.”

Growth in Arvada led to the founding of the city’s second Catholic parish on Aug. 22, 1967. The pioneer pastor, the late Msgr. James Rasby, named it after St. Joan of Arc because of his special devotion to her.

Archbishop Aquila receives the gifts during the 50th Anniversary Mass at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church on May 30, 2017, in Arvada, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

Before the church was built in 1968, daily Masses were held in the rectory chapel at 58th Avenue and Oak Street, while Sunday Masses were held at Arvada West High School. Holy day liturgies were held at King of Glory Lutheran Church.

Today the modern, 800-seat sanctuary located at 12735 W. 58th Avenue, serves 2,200 households, said Deacon Rex Pilger, director of business and adult formation.

“This year we’ll probably increase to 2,300 households,” he said, citing rapid growth in west Arvada and the north Jefferson County area.

The parish’s anniversary logo features the message: St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, 1967-2017, “50 Years of Love.” The motto aims to highlight the years of Christian love and charity the parish is celebrating similar to the half-century anniversary of a married couple, Father Goebel said.

“It’s not meant to be an epitaph,” he said with his characteristic good humor. “I’m very blessed to be here in the 50th anniversary. It’s humbling because you realize you’re standing on the shoulders of a lot of other people who have sacrificed greatly to make this parish what it is.

“I don’t feel like I’m a custodian or curator of a museum,” he added. “We’re still developing, still growing. I think our parish is going to be here a long time.”

Parish Trivia

A few fun facts about St. Joan of Arc Parish:

  • Current pastor Father Goebel is part of a popular weekly podcast with three other young priests called, “Catholic Stuff You Should Know.”
  • At the time he served as the parish’s founding priest in 1967, Msgr. Rasby, who was then Father Rasby, was the youngest pastor in the archdiocese.
  • The parish has four deacons, one of which is retired Deacon Hugh Downey, founder of a ministry in Africa. Because of his apostolate, Deacon Downey lives in Africa half the year.
  • Director of Music and Liturgy Andi Weber was once a country singer.
  • Besides Msgr. Rasby, previous pastors include: Father Robert Durrie, Father Michael Walsh, Father James Kleiner, Father Timothy Gaines and Father Joseph Cao.

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.”