Two Denver women take the plunge into religious life

Teri Tolpa, 29, felt restless. Since graduating from college, she’d had jobs she enjoyed in pro-life ministries but she longed to get out from behind a desk to evangelize. Feeling she needed formation to do that, she left her job with Human Life International in Virginia and moved to Denver in 2011 to study at the Augustine Institute.

Two years later, she graduated with a master of arts in theology.

“It was a great place, a great experience,” she told the Register from Lighthouse Women’s Center where she serves as a missionary with Christ in the City.

But the restlessness in her heart remained.

“I was in a new place, a new environment and I still didn’t feel at peace,” she said.

A question that had been lingering in her mind and heart for years, one she hadn’t acknowledged, was growing stronger and couldn’t be ignored: “Am I being called to religious life?” she wondered.

“I had to answer the question once and for all,” she said. “I needed to figure it out.”

It was advice from a college friend, a recently ordained priest, that helped her take the next step.

“He told me, ‘Teri, sometimes you just need to cannonball into the deep end,'” she said. “You just need to trust and not be afraid of where the Lord’s calling you, and realize it’s been on your heart for a long time.”

Tolpa responded by visiting several religious orders including the Sisters of Life, a contemplative and active community founded in 1991 by Cardinal John O’Connor, then archbishop of New York, to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life. She was attracted to them not only because of their shared pro-life fervor, but because of their eucharistic prayer life.

As she opened her heart “more and more” to what God wanted her to do, the restlessness began to dissipate.

“God seems to work in my life in a gradual way, very gently,” Tolpa said. “His timing is infinitely more perfect that ours. It’s not always when we think it will be, but it’s when we need it.”

Tolpa applied to the Sisters of Life and was accepted. She will begin formation at the order’s convent in the Bronx in New York City in September.

Didn’t see it coming
Kate Sweeney’s call to religious life was unexpected.

“I didn’t see it coming, I didn’t really anticipate it,” she said. “It’s a gift of God, it’s pretty much that simple.”

Sweeney, 32, has spent the last seven years as director of programs for (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women). She’s been instrumental in helping thousands of women understand their God-given dignity through the apostolate’s series of studies, which now extends to 125 dioceses.

“I had a great gift to work at Endow,” she said from her Greenwood Village office. “The Holy Spirit’s always been working in my life, and in my heart, in regard to recognizing the dignity in persons, especially women.

“My heart was created for this mission.”

As she worked with women all over the country, she experienced a deepening desire to give her whole heart and life to the mission of the dignity of the person.

“I just always thought that would be at Endow,” she said.

Through her work she traveled to the Archdiocese of New York where she reconnected with a friend from college that was now a Sister of Life: Sister Virginia Joy Cotter. The two wrote letters, and Sweeney visited a few times.

“I was so impressed as she shared their charism and how they serve women, particularly those in vulnerable situations,” Sweeney said. “They give the entirety of their lives to the dignity of the human person and the gift of life.”

Sisters of Life, in addition to traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience,take a fourth vow to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.

“We had so much in common,” Sweeney said. “It was so much fun.”

A profound moment came one day in April 2013 as Sweeney and Sister Cotter were talking in the convent garden.

“As she described the charism, the movement of the Holy Spirit was tangible in an awareness of my own heart,” Sweeney said. “Even a year earlier I couldn’t have heard or understood what God was doing.”

A few months prior, her spiritual director had challenged her to deepen her personal prayer life by spending more time in silent prayer.

“This is really what set my heart in a place to discern in a way I never had in the past,” she explained. She was accepted last March to join the Sisters of Life.

“It’s who God made me to be,” Sweeney said. “It’s a joy that trumps everything else.”

Once joining the community as postulants Sept. 6, Sweeney and Tolpa will live and pray with the sisters, take classes, assist in the apostolates including serving pregnant women, hosting retreats, providing post-abortive healing and otherwise building a culture of life, while continuing to discern God’s will. There are currently 80 sisters in the community. For more information, visit

COMING UP: Colorado Catholic Conference 2021 Legislative Recap

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On June 8, the First Regular Session of the 73rd General Assembly adjourned. Over 600 bills were introduced this session. Policy primarily focused on transportation, agriculture, healthcare, fiscal policy, and the state budget. However, the legislature also considered and passed many bills that could impact the Catholic Church in Colorado.  

Some bills that were passed will uphold Catholic social teaching and protect the poor and vulnerable of our society while others pose potentially harmful consequences to the Catholic Church, its affiliated organizations, and Colorado citizens who wish to practice their well-founded convictions. There were also many bills that were considered by the legislature that did not pass, including two bills that would have upheld the sanctity of life and two that would have expanded education opportunity for K-12 students.  

The Colorado Catholic Conference (CCC), as the united voice of the four Colorado bishops, advocated for Catholic values at the Capitol and ensured that the Church’s voice was heard in the shaping of policy.  

Below is a recap of the CCC’s 19 priority bills from the 2021 legislative session. For a full list of the legislation the Conference worked on, please visit:  

For regular updates and other information, please sign-up for the CCC legislative network here.  

Six bills the CCC supported that were either passed or enacted

Note: Passed means the bill was approved by both chambers of the legislature and is pending the governor’s signature as of June 9, 2021. Enacted means the bill was signed by the governor and became law.  

HB 21-1011 Multilingual Ballot Access for Voters – Passed  
If enacted, counties where either 2,000 adults or 2.5% of the adult population primarily speak a language other than English will be required to provide a ballot in that language. 

HB 21-1075 Replace The Term Illegal Alien – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1075, the term “illegal alien” was replaced with the term “worker without authorization” as it relates to public contracts for services.  

SB 21-027 Emergency Supplies for Colorado Babies and Families – Passed  
If enacted, the state government will allocate much-needed funding for nonprofit organizations to provide diapers and other childcare necessities to families in need, including Catholic Charities.  

SB 21-077 Remove Lawful Presence Verification Credentialing – Enacted    
With the enactment of SB 77, verification of lawful presence will no longer be required for any applicant for a license, certificate, or registration, particularly in the job fields of education and childcare.  

SB 21-146 Improve Prison Release Outcomes – Passed  
If enacted, SB 146 will establish practices that ease the transition back into society for formerly incarcerated persons.  

SB 21-158 Increase Medical Providers for Senior Citizens – Passed  
If enacted, SB 158 will allocate more funding for senior citizen care, which is currently understaffed and underfunded.  

Eight bills the CCC opposed that were passed 

HB 21-1072 Equal Access Services For Out-of-home Placements – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1072, Colorado law now prohibits organizations that receive state funding for placing children with adoptive or foster parents from discriminating on, among other things, the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or marital status. This new law will likely to be impacted by the imminent Fulton v. City of Philadelphia U.S. Supreme Court decision. 

HB 21-1108 Gender Identity Expression Anti-Discrimination – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1108, “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression” are now recognized as protected classes in Colorado nondiscrimination code. This may have serious religious liberty implications for individuals and organizations that wish to practice their well-founded convictions on marriage and human sexuality. 

SB21-006 Human Remains Natural Reduction Soil – Enacted 
With the enactment of SB 006, human remains can now be converted to soil using a container that accelerates the process of biological decomposition, also known as “natural reduction.” 

SB 21-009 Reproductive Health Care Program – Passed 
If enacted, SB 009 will create a taxpayer funded state program to increase access to contraceptives.  

SB 21-016 Protecting Preventive Health Care Coverage – Passed 
If enacted, the definition of “family planning services” and “family planning-related services” will not be clearly defined in law and could potentially include abortion. Furthermore, SB 16 removes the requirement that a provider obtain parental consent before providing family planning services to a minor.  

SB 21-025 Family Planning Services for Eligible Individuals– Passed 
If enacted, SB 025 low-income women to be given state-funded contraception, “preventing, delaying, or planning pregnancy” services, which includes cessation services and sterilization services.  

SB 21-142 Health Care Access in Cases of Rape or Incest– Enacted  
The enactment of SB 142 removes the requirement that, if public funds are being used, a physician must perform an abortion at a hospital, and instead allows for abortions to be performed by any “licensed provider.”   

SB21-193 Protection of Pregnant People in Perinatal Period– Passed 
If enacted, SB 193 will eliminate an important protection in Colorado law for a preborn and viable baby when a woman is on life support.  

Five bills the CCC supported that failed  

HB21-1017 Protect Human Life at Conception – Failed 
HB 1017 would have prohibited terminating the life of an unborn child and made it a violation a class 1 felony.  

HB 21-1080 Nonpublic Education and COVID-19 Relief Act – Failed 
HB 1080 would have established a private school and home-based education income tax credit for families who either enroll their child in private school or educate their child at home, thereby expanding education opportunities for families during and after the pandemic.  

HB 21-1183 Induced Termination of Pregnancy State Registrar – Failed 
HB 1183 would have required health-care providers that perform abortions to report specified information concerning the women who obtain the procedure to the state registrar of vital statistics, thereby increasing transparency in the abortion industry.   

HB 21-1191 Prohibit Discrimination COVID-19 Vaccine Status– Failed  
HB 1191 would have prevented individuals from being coerced to take the COVID-19 vaccine by either the state or by employers.  

HB 21-1210 Modifications to Qualified State Tuition Programs – Failed 
HB 1210 would have allowed families to use some of their private 529 savings account funds for private K-12 school tuition for their children, including at Catholic schools.   

One bill the CCC opposed that failed 

SB 21-031 Limits on Governmental Responses to Protests– Failed 
SB 031 would have made it more difficult for law enforcement to protect innocent lives when protests turn violent.  

Two bills the CCC was in an “Amend” position that passed  

SB 21-073 Civil Action Statute of Limitations Sexual Assault – Enacted  
With the enactment of SB 073, the statute of limitations on bringing a civil claim based on sexual misconduct will be removed as of January 1, 2022. Under this law, victims of sexual abuse can pursue a civil cause of action if the statute of limitations has not expired, the abuse happened in Colorado, and the abuse could be considered a felony or Class 1 misdemeanor if it was a criminal case. 

SB 21-088 Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act– Passed  
If enacted, SB 88 will allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue public and private institutions for abuse that occurred between 1960-2022. Victims would have three years to bring a historical claim, starting from January 1, 2022. Claims brought during this window would be capped at $387,000 for public institutions and at $500,000 for private institutions, with the ability of a judge to double the damages depending on how the private institution handled the situation. Despite unanswered constitutional concerns regarding SB 88, the Colorado Catholic dioceses will also continue to offer opportunities for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to receive support in a non-litigious setting.   

While the legislature has adjourned the 2021 legislative session, there is still the possibility that they will reconvene later this year. To stay up-to-date on Colorado legislative issues and their impact on the Catholic Church in Colorado, be sure to sign up for the CCC legislative network HERE.