Broken woman made whole again

Mental Illness Awareness Week is Oct. 5-11 and a National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding is Oct. 7.

Sue Berchied at Risen Christ in Denver Sept. 26.

Growing up in St. Louis, Sue Berchied felt she lived a pretty typical life: Catholic school, playing with friends, church on Sundays. That is, until she was 11.

“In middle school, a good friend of mine who was a neighbor, her father started molesting me,” Berchied told the Denver Catholic Register Sept. 25. “It rocks your world when you’re 11, 12. You don’t know what’s going on, you’re pretty much in denial.

It also rocked her faith because she “didn’t know how to put all these pieces together.” The abuse continued for a year. It was a secret she never shared.

“It was the 70s,” said Berchied, now 52 and living in southeast Denver, a parishioner at Risen Christ Church. “It just wasn’t a conversation that people had.”

After the abuse stopped, she tried to move on.

“I felt this split in myself: part of me happy-go-lucky, and there was this other side of me that had great pain,” she said. “I started experimenting with drugs, but the feelings the shame, sadness, humiliation and guilt plagued me. The drugs weren’t cutting it.”

She isolated herself and continued to look for an escape.

“I started to binge on food,” she said, “and that’s when I realized: this is the escape I was looking for, this is the comfort.”

As middle school, high school and college wore on, she became a master of binging and purging.

“In front of friends and family I would eat normal,” Berchied explained. “But inside my head was this obsession: Where can I get food? How can I hide it? When can I binge next? Where will I purge?”

A fixation and repulsion with her body continued to worsen, and she felt buried in shame and guilt.

At 19, she met her husband David. They married in 1984, but it wasn’t until two years later that she opened up about her struggles.

“I was so weary from hiding things, our marriage wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be,” she shared. “It was devastating to own up to that because I’d never spoken those words to anybody; I’d never told anyone about my eating disorder.”

David was and continues to be “the most wonderful and amazing man,” she said of his support, though the next few years were tough for her, for him and for their marriage. They had stopped attending Mass, which a source of contention.

“I didn’t want be a part of Church, I didn’t see that fitting in. How can Christ love me in all of this muck?” she wondered.

She lived and breathed therapy, she said, and after about three years began to feel she’d made progress. Because of that hope, well as the friction in their marriage caused by being away from the Church, she reached out to a priest at Most Precious Blood: Father Milton Ryan.

“I shared my story with him, finally acknowledging it in the context of my faith, acknowledging that humiliation and shame that was preventing me from going to Church,” she said.

His response was one she will treasure forever.

“He leaned in to me,” Berchied relayed. “If I could have Christ in front of me physically, it would be him incarnate through this man. He took my hands and said, ‘Sue, if everyone who felt shame and despair and sinfulness didn’t come to church, there wouldn’t be anyone there.

“The church is open, walk across the parking lot and walk in, because he’s waiting for you.”

That day she experienced a profound moment that brought Christ back into her life.

“I could feel the Holy Spirit wrapping his arms around me,” she said. She and David became active in the parish, including a small faith-sharing group.

“They were my family,” she said of the group that’s been together for more than 20 years. “They’ve had an impact on my life that will never leave me, and that healing and faith has continued to flourish.”

Renewed in faith, she continued counseling but still felt something was missing in her healing.

“I realized if I was serious about walking in my faith, I needed a professional therapist who knew my faith,” she said. It was then that she connected with St. Raphael Counseling, an apostolate that provides psychotherapy service incorporating Catholic philosophical tradition.

“(St. Raphael’s) has helped me realize that when I’m weary, have anxiety or panic, that the Lord’s grace is enough,” she said. “In him, I’m made new again. I’m made whole. I wish I had sought counseling from a Catholic counselor before.”

As she has continued to heal, she has also felt called to help other women, and this week began co-facilitating a support group for women with a counselor from St. Raphael’s.

“Is there a soft place for women to land?” she asked. “I want to support women in their faith and healing. I feel called to that, knowing from my journey that suffering can all be redeemed.”

St. Raphael Counseling is located at 1115 Grant St. in Denver. For more information, visit www.straphaelcounseling.com or call 720-675-7796.

Websites to help to find a Catholic counselor:
St. Raphael Counseling
Catholic Charities’ counseling services
Regina Caeli Clinical Services
Catholic Therapists

Mass for Catholic Psychotherapists:
When: 7-9 p.m., Oct. 2
Where: Mother of God Church, 475 Logan St., Denver
Concelebrants: Father Scott Bailey, Father Chris Hellstrom, Father Christopher Uhl
Oath: Catholic mental health professionals can take an oath of fidelity to the Church during Mass
Questions: Call 720-675-7796

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

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

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.”