Catholic woman dubbed ‘spiritual mother’ for local charity

Leading Denver Catholic Toni Armstead, known for always lending a helping hand, will be honored at an awards dinner next month through the Office of Black Catholic Ministry.

“Toni Armstead’s selfless dedication to serving the parish family has been extraordinary,” wrote Mary Leisring in an award nomination letter. “She deserves to be recognized for her invaluable work.”

The parishioner of St. Ignatius Loyola Church has earned the title of “spiritual mother” for her aid to children in the community and longtime involvement in the parish’s spiritual and charitable activities.

She will receive an award at the annual St. Josephine Bakhita and St. Katharine Drexel Award Dinner Sept. 12 at Bogey’s Golf Club House in Denver. She was selected for mirroring the steadfast witness and selfless service of the Catholic ministry’s patronesses.

The award is given to local Catholics who exemplify the 19th-century St. Bakhita of the Daughters of Charity of Canossa and St. Drexel, founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and Xavier University of Louisiana. The two saints were canonized Oct. 1, 2000.

“We wanted to do something to honor someone that has gone beyond their service to the Black and African Catholic community,” Leisring told the Denver Catholic Register about the award dinner. This is the sixth annual dinner.

Fellow Catholic Sharon Woodruff, who is Armstead’s sister nominated her for the award for promoting discipleship, witnessing to the faith, being a dedicated leader and building the kingdom of God.

Armstead has been a member of the parish since the 90s and has served on the pastoral council for many years. She’s also served for 12 years as the director of the religious education program.

“She has become an advocate for the children of the parish, especially the Sudanese and Nigerian community,” Woodruff wrote.

She would pick up children who did not have transportation to classes and would check in on families if they had not been to church in a while.

“She would direct the family to the correct persons when a family (was) in need of assistance, such as beds for their children, or help in keeping their lights on,” Woodruff explained. “Her most recent project was sharing a place for rent for a family that needed a larger home.”

She also organizes the Christmas giving tree and basket distribution for children and needy families of the community. Armstead is also active in Thanksgiving and Easter charitable activities and organizes the altar servers and Eucharistic ministers who need training and preparation.

Her charity also extends to those beyond the church, Woodruff shared.

“She and another church member drove around for hours on a Sunday trying to find a safe place for a homeless couple,” she wrote.

Leisring said Armstead’s contribution has been immeasurable over the years.

“From the time she came to the parish 20 years ago, she has been involved in every aspect of spiritual and charitable activity,” she said.

Armstead will be honored during the award dinner that will begin with a social hour and includes dinner. Tickets are available through the Office of Black Catholic Ministry.

St. Josephine Bakhita and St. Katharine Drexel Award DinnerThe Sts. Bakhita and Brexel award is given annually by the Office of Black Catholic Ministry.

Sponsored by the Office of Black Catholic Ministry
When: 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Sept. 12
Where: Bogey’s Golf Club House, 2600 York St., Denver
Cost: $35 per ticket
RSVP: by Aug. 25
Reservation: Mail check to the Office of Black Catholic Ministry, 1300 S. Steele St., Denver, CO 80210-2599
Information: Call 303-715-3165 or email
Book: “A Proud History”
Mary Leisring, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry, published a book to share with the community the richness, cultural values and spirituality of the history of African Americans and Black Catholics.
The book will be on sale at the award dinner.
Cost: $10. Money will be used to sponsor evangelization programs.
Email: or call 303-715-3165


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.”