A crowd of 3,100 spilled out the church doors and onto the parking lot and filled the basement at St. Cajetan Parish in west Denver March 26 to pay final respects to their beloved pastor, Theatine Father Tomás Fraile.
A father figure to the Hispanic Catholic community, Father Fraile, a priest of 51 years, died March 19, the feast of St. Joseph. A native of Spain and a priest of the Congregation of Clerics Regular (Theatine order), Father Fraile had served at St. Cajetan’s for more than four decades.
His funeral Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and concelebrated by some two dozen Theatine and diocesan priests.
Vested priests and casket
Archbishop Samuel Aquila
Archbishop Aquila told the congregation that Father Fraile “gave himself tirelessly for more than 40 years.” He gave thanks to Father Fraile for his dedication to the priesthood, and for his “love and unending surrender to the Hispanic community in northern Colorado.
“This was the only parish of the Archdiocese of Denver in which he served. In you all, and in your prayer, your songs, and in your faces we see the fruits of his donation and love for each one of you.”
St. Cajetan’s, founded in 1922 on what is now the Auraria campus in downtown Denver, is the archdiocese’s pioneer church serving Hispanic Catholics. Father Fraile helped oversee the move from the original site to its current location at 299 S. Stuart St.
The archbishop said the longtime pastor will be missed.
“The Hispanic community of San Cajetan’s will live their faith more deeply,” because of what they learned from their pastor, he said.
The archbishop also read a letter from former Denver archbishop, now Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, who resides in Rome. In it, Cardinal Stafford noted Father Fraile’s integrity and fidelity and called him “an exemplary son of the founder of the Theatines, St. Cajetan.”
In his homily, Theatine Father Lawrence Gallegos recalled the priest’s dedicated service.
“How many sacraments he celebrated for you!” Father Gallegos said. “Baptisms, first Communions, confessions. How many of the dying did he assist with last rites? We couldn’t count all this, only God knows and it will be God himself who will reward him.
“This is not the end, but the beginning of a new chapter, for Father Tomás and for all of you, because you are the seed of all that he sowed, you will be the ones who write a new history.”
“Today we say goodbye to Father Tomás, and from above he is responding, ‘with enthusiasm, go forth!’”
In an emotional goodbye, as the hearse carrying Father Fraile to his final resting place made its way through the multitude filling the parking lot, faithful expressed their gratitude by clapping and reaching out to touch the hearse.
Letter from Cardinal J. Francis Stafford on the death of Theatine Father Tomás Fraile
March 24, 2014
Thank you for your thoughtfulness in informing me of the death of Father Tomàs Fraile. I will pray for the repose of his soul tomorrow in the Eucharist and visit the Theatine Church in Rome, dedicated to St. Andrew, the brother of St. Peter the Prince of the Apostles. There in the Chapel of St. Cajetan I will give thanks to God for his priestly ministry to the people of the Archdiocese of Denver.
The better I came to know him, the more I admired him. Father Tomàs was a man of integrity, a mature man in Christ. He was known for fidelity. Many admired his quiet loyalty to Father (James) Prohens, his pastor for many years. It showed him to be an exemplary son of the founder of the Theatines, St. Cajetan. In his long and faithful ministry at St. Cajetan’s Parish Father Tomàs became “a huntsman of souls.” A good religious was once described as “one who never pursues what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else.” Day in and day out, Father Tomàs was such a religious.
Requiescat in pace.
Lara Montoya and Karna Swanson contributed to this report.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”