Ernie Armstrong, longest tenured employee for the archdiocese, departs for exciting new role

After an illustrious and devoted 40-year career working for the Archdiocese of Denver, longtime Director of Parish Finance Ernie Armstrong bid farewell on April 1 to accept a new role as Chief Financial Officer for the Diocese of Salina, Kan.

Armstrong began his long tenure with the archdiocese in 1982 when he was hired as the Business Manager for St. Joseph’s Parish in Fort Collins. After a stint in the same position for Most Precious Blood Parish, he began working for the chancery as the Director of Parish Finance and Parish Controller in 1991, and remained in this role until his recent departure.

There’s not a single parish in the archdiocese that Armstrong hasn’t been involved with in some capacity, and he has earned a reputation among pastors and parish staff that precedes him. Despite his many accomplishments over the years, Armstrong remains humble.

“There’s lots of things I’ve done, but I think I can honestly say that just just being able to work with so many people in our Church that are working so hard to build the kingdom is really what drives me here,” Armstrong told the Denver Catholic.

Some of his more notable accomplishments include playing an instrumental role in producing the Pastoral Handbook for the archdiocese, which is a critically important guide for employment within the Archdiocese of Denver. Another major achievement of his career was taking the lead on the transition of all parishes to a standardized, all-digital accounting system. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Even so, Armstrong is the first to say that he couldn’t have done any of it without the team of people he’s been blessed to work with.

“I converted all the parishes from manual to a computerized accounting with the help of my team, my department,” Armstrong said. “I’ve always had great people on my team. I have always been able to find great, committed people that love this Church as much as I do.”

For many who work at the chancery, Armstrong has been a mentor and a constant colleague who possessed an invaluable depth of institutional knowledge.

“I am deeply grateful for my six years working with Ernie,” said Keith Parsons, Chief Operating Officer for the archdiocese. “He has mentored me in the operations and organization of the Church and taught me how to navigate various aspects of it.  Ernie is a man, a husband, a father who has given all his heart to serving the Church.”

Even those who haven’t had the pleasure of working with Armstrong for more than a year have been impacted by his dedicated service to the Church.

“It has been a distinct honor and privilege to work with Ernie during my short time as CFO,” said Brenda Cannella, Chief Financial Officer for the Archdiocese of Denver. “His love for the Church and for our parishes, priests and staff is evident in all that he does. Anyone who has met or worked with Ernie knows that he radiates joy and deeply cares for those he serves. We will miss him greatly on our team at the Pastoral Center.”

While the financials of Church ministry may not be the most glamorous job, it is an extremely important one, and it is a job which Armstrong carries out faithfully and with the utmost attention to stewardship. As Armstrong says, “the money is important, but it’s only important in terms of providing resources for us to accomplish something in the faith.”

“Even though I’m a finance guy and part of my goal is to make sure that our parishes manage their finances effectively and efficiently, it’s all about what we’re here to accomplish,” he continued. “It’s easy to talk about the Church in terms of money, but the money is there to accomplish something that we call our encounter with Christ. People want to talk about the money … but in the end, it’s what do we do with it that defines who we are and how we live our faith.”

Armstrong’s commitment to the Church over the past 40 years serves as an example of how each person is called to use their unique skills and talents in service to the Church, and how all the moving pieces of the Church’s operations should be oriented toward one end – an encounter with Christ.

“When we forget that every moment is a moment of evangelization, then we’ve lost touch with what we’re supposed to be doing, and that happens in the parish,” Armstrong shared. “Scripture doesn’t say, ‘wherever two or more of you exchanged email, there I am.’ And I think that’s what’s so important, is supporting our parishes to be able to help people with that encounter of Christ that occurs on the one on one basis. All the resources, the buildings, the money, the personnel – all of it has to be focused at that point in time.”

Armstrong said he is grateful to have been able to serve the parishes of the Archdiocese of Denver for the past 40 years, and is excited about his new role in the Diocese of Salina. However, there is much about the Archdiocese of Denver that he will miss dearly.

“The thing I’m going to miss is all the all the faithful people working so hard on behalf of this Church,” Armstrong concluded. “They’re so faithful, they’re so dedicated to his Church and they have such a love for God. That’s what inspires me, and that’s what keeps me motivated every day to come in and work hard on behalf of the Church. I can’t think of anything more important for us to be doing than trying to bring God’s love to our culture.”

Featured image by Brandon Ortega

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.”