At the heart of Christianity lies the call to become disciples. Discipleship doesn’t need to be glamorous or extravagant; oftentimes, true discipleship comes in the form of humble service and a willing heart. After all, this is what Christ calls us to – doing small things with great love.
All of us are called to be disciples and faithfully carry out Christ’s will for our lives. This looks different for everybody, but even the smallest spark of love can ignite an intense flame through which the Lord can shine as bright as the brightest star and create something new. The Archdiocese of Denver is home to a vibrant Church full of faithful disciples among us who are living out their calls in simple yet profound ways.
Each year, the Archdiocese of Denver hosts two regional youth conferences attended by thousands of kids and young adults: Mountain Madness and Steubenville of the Rockies. Anybody who’s been to either knows how much of a blast they are; far fewer understand the sheer amount of logistics and organization it takes to pull them off. For that, Michelle Peters is the one to thank. Peters is the Director of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministries for the archdiocese, a role she’s been in for over 17 years. She quietly works behind the scenes with an army of committed volunteers and staff to allow the Lord to encounter the youth at these conferences and kindle a flame deep inside their hearts. While the pandemic forced the cancellation of both conferences this year, Peters is neck-deep in planning a virtual Mountain Madness conference for 2021. Despite the challenges of the job, Peters cherishes the relationships she’s built with her volunteers, but ultimately, it’s the youth that bring her the most joy, and ultimately what keeps her around. “It’s really just that love of serving our young people and seeing our young people start to get it,” Peters said, “and seeing that moment when kids have that encounter.”
When someone needs help with renewing a driver’s license or state I.D., or even needs a new copy of their birth certificate, Robert Fisher at Holy Ghost Parish in Denver is the guy to call. A former missionary for Christ in the City, Fisher heads up the Social Ministry office at Holy Ghost. It might not be the most glamorous or extravagant way to serve those in need, but true discipleship doesn’t need to be extravagant in how we serve others. Fisher humbly carries out a quiet, unassuming and faithful discipleship through Holy Ghost’s social ministry, lending a helping hand to those who need it and a listening ear to people coming from all different walks of life. “So many times, I think I really find Christ in these situations,” Fisher said. “It’s just very humbling to listen to their stories and where they’ve came from. I find the most joy hearing from them and talking with them and just sitting with them, especially when they don’t need something, because then they’re searching and they’re open to sit down and talk. We can just have a conversation. And I think that’s what I love the most.”
On any given day during the week, you’ll find David Martinez outside of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, handing sandwiches or another meal out to some of the homeless folks of Denver. They know Dave by name, and he knows them. “There’s a bunch of my regulars here who, if I don’t have a hand, they always offer to help and say, ‘hey, can I pour coffee for you’ or whatever,” Martinez said. “They know me well.” Martinez has been the Outreach Coordinator at the Cathedral for five years now, where he oversees the pantry and prepares all the snacks and food to give out. He and his wife have been a “cornerstone of the Cathedral family for over 25 years,” said pastor Father Ron Cattany. Martinez is modest and insists he doesn’t have “much of a story,” but his servant’s heart and faithful service is something we can all learn from – a true mark of authentic discipleship. When the regulars who come for meals don’t show, he starts to worry. “All our regular guys who come here, they’re all really nice people, they are all very respectful,” he said. “I just like seeing them and helping them out.”
Before retirement, Geri Kelley worked as an administrator for many years. A parishioner of Holy Name Parish in Sheridan, she learned about the Society of St. Vincent de Paul six years ago and, newly retired at the time, decided to volunteer for it and fill a need at the parish. Little did she know how perfect of a fit it would be for her. Members of the Society are called Vincentians, and they help folks primarily in need of rent or utilities assistance. A key charism of Vincentians is face-to-face connection with the people they assist. “When you visit people, they’re amazed that you actually come to visit them rather than having to take all their children in the van down to the accounting office, sit in these uncomfortable chairs and wait for the number to be called,” Kelley said. Though Kelley works behind the scenes to ensure people get the help they need, she does so joyfully and with a disciple’s heart. “It’s an honor. When they express their gratitude, I’m quick to remind them that I am only the middle person and behind me there stands a whole parish of generous people that wish the best for you,” Kelley said. “I’m just here to help them help you.”
As a high school teacher, coach and youth minister at Cure D’Ars, Seneca Holmes sees working with young people as a mission from God. But the unique circumstances brought about by the pandemic threaten to put a stop to all the charitable and community activities that he used to organize with his youth group. Nonetheless, Holmes, with the help and generosity of Cure D’Ars parishioners, has taken this opportunity to be creative in the way he and his youth group serve the community. Holmes’ first response was to organize Zoom calls, but soon he noticed they grew tired of doing it for both school and youth group, so he started a Bible study and gave each youth a 30-day plan. They then started communicating by group text and phone calls. But the efforts didn’t end there. The youth who were available got together to make hundreds of health kits, with their own handmade masks, bottles of homemade sanitizer and a scripture passage or personalized message. With the help and generosity of the parish community, the youth group was also able to provide around 150 coats to people in need. “We wouldn’t be able to do all this without the involvement of parents and our church community – they have been so supportive of our youth,” Holmes said. “My main focus is to help our youth understand their own relationship with God, that’s what’s going to help them through life.”
In and outside of the classroom, Bishop Machebeuf High School math teacher Owen Tuite often reminds himself that Jesus was not just a teacher, a prophet and a healer, but someone who ministered to the entire person. “This inspires me to get involved in my students’ lives in nonacademic ways,” he said. Besides getting involved as a cross country coach, the math teacher has sought to do it in diverse ways. A recent example took place during the lockdown in March. Seeing the need and desire of many of his students for community and company, he decided to host virtual movie watch parties with some of them over Zoom. This commitment to minister to the entire person has allowed him opportunities to be present with his students in unexpected circumstances. On one occasion, after one of his students had to go to the hospital following a cross country meet, he spent most of the Friday night with the student in the ER. He also seeks to support many of his students that come from poorer backgrounds by frequenting their family businesses. “My faith motivates me to help students who are struggling,” he said, whether that be with math or any other personal situation.
When Dustin Crouse and his wife decided to start a virtual Bible study at their parish and announced it after Mass, they didn’t expect such a positive response. “We found a lot of young adults who moved to Denver in the midst of the coronavirus and they wanted to get involved,” Crouse said. They now have a consistent group of around 30 participants who connect weekly. Crouse was originally involved in the Cathedral’s young adult group, in which he helped organize many of its activities. But as soon as the pandemic hit, he and his wife knew there was a void to fill. Being involved with the Knights of Columbus is part of what has helped him serve the Church and the community better and take initiative. “I see a lot of young adults waiting around to be told what to do. But I’d say: if you find a need that you think you can fill, probably other people are thinking the same thing, so go talk to your pastor,” Crouse said. “They want people to take initiative and handle situations themselves. It’s better than throwing an idea at your pastor and expecting him to do everything – they’re already really busy.”
As communications director and IT support at Spirit of Christ Parish in Arvada, Patti Hayes has directly worked to solve the numerous challenges that have arisen in light of the pandemic. She believes it has been an opportunity to help parishes have a greater digital presence. The first challenge had involved communicating with all the parishioners. “We had a population who relied heavily on the bulletin, and all of a sudden we can’t have people in the church,” she said. So she started using different channels to try to better communicate with parishioners. She decided to send frequent emails and Flocknote messages, keep the website updated and be available to help parishioners. “Elderly parishioners call me saying they can’t read an email or open a PDF file, so I sit there on the phone with them and make sure they get everything they need,” she said. Besides the communications challenges, she has also helped develop new ways of carrying out current ministries by creating online forms and pick-up schedules, and livestreaming masses and events. “We want to be able to keep feeding our parishioners, but how do you do that if you can’t communicate with them? That’s why technology has been wonderful,” she concluded.
Kevin Davies was asked on several occasions to become a safe environment trainer, but he immediately rejected the offer. It would take a few years and a clear need in his parish for him to give a reluctant “yes.” Thirteen years later, he’s trained close to 1,000 people on how to protect children from abuse and neglect. “The reward is that it’s quite likely that through this training and process, we have stopped a few molesters – and even if it was just one, these 13 years would be worth it,” he said. Even the pandemic has not stopped him from communicating this important knowledge to people. His passion becomes evident in-person and during his recent virtual classes: “Each of you here have the power to change a child’s future, you can stop abuse form happening,” he tells the participants. Although the fruits of his labor may not always be tangible, he has encountered people who have confided much in him and the work he does is of the utmost importance in ensuring that the Church remains a welcoming and safe environment for everybody, and especially for our children. “The Church has done so much to stop the abuse and neglect of children,” he said. “I believe that if we really looked at the statistics, we’d say we’re having a huge effect.”
Giovanna Carriero didn’t know she had been nominated to receive the 2020 Bill Daniels Ethical Leader of the Year, but when the Cure d’Ars parishioner and businesswoman found out, she joyfully received it as a sign from God telling her she was on the right path. “This award is the most meaningful to me because ethics is something that speaks to the person you are and the values you have,” she said. And in fact, her faith is not alien to Cesco Linguistic Services, the business she founded. “The advantage being an owner of a new business is that you are the one who creates the culture,” she said. This has been an opportunity for Carriero to practice her faith by emphasizing integrity, respect, clarity and transparency. “We always think of our work as a service,” she said. While she employs people of different backgrounds and religions, her employees know the strong role that her faith plays in her life, so much that they now say they have the “God Factor,” which comes into play whenever they needed a miracle. “I started talking with clients about God,” she said. “I don’t want to lecture anyone. I just want to show others that God exists and that he does provide.”