Eye doctor’s vision sharpened helping others

God blessed Highlands Ranch ophthalmologist Jim Conahan and his wife Molly with many miracles through their vision-restoring surgery clinic in Ixtapa, Mexico—once Conahan said ‘yes’ to God’s plan.

The couple along with their three children established the ministry, the Mission of Healing Eyes, in 2007 to serve the area’s impoverished blind.

“It’s immediate and it’s amazing, and you can imagine the incredible joy on both sides,” he said of the patients who come for healing, as well as the doctors and staff who provide it.

The joy is crystal clear once Conahan, a parishioner of St. Frances Cabrini in Littleton, removes blinding cataracts from patients’ eyes and replaces them with implants. When vision returns the next day, many see for the first time in years, such as “Juanito.”

“Juanito had cataracts in each eye and literally couldn’t see two feet in front of him,” Conahan said of the 47-year-old who had been blind for 10 years. Therefore Juanito had never seen his 6-year-old daughter Angelina, who was with him at the clinic.

“When Brian (my son) took his patch off, he didn’t look at Brian, he didn’t look at me; he looked over at his daughter and just whispered: ‘Muy bonita Angelina.’

“Meaning you’re just so beautiful,” he continued, “because he had never seen her.”

Conahan said with each mission trip, now 17, there is always one story like that.

“This (ministry) is really a group of dedicated volunteers whose spiritual inspirer is Mother Teresa,” he said, indicating it’s more than humanitarian work. “We use her model: that we would like to see the face of Jesus in these blinded poor.”

A core group of 12-15 volunteers travel to the clinic twice a year, every October and May. The next trip is scheduled for May 17. In seven years, they have seen some 7,000 patients, performed more than 1,700 cataract surgeries, and distributed more than 12,000 pairs of glasses.

“The amazing thing is the story behind it,” Conahan said. “This has nothing to do with Jim Conahan and everything to do with turning your ‘yes’ over to God and letting him navigate it.”

The seed was planted in March 2006 when the family: Jim, Molly and children: Megan, Matt and Brian were vacationing in Zihuantanejo, Mexico. Conahan had previously done cataract surgeries on the east side of Mexico with a group from Boulder County Hospital, and because his children had accompanied him on the trips, they were aware of cataract symptoms.

“I was sitting on the beach enjoying myself when Megan (then 14) came up and said: ‘We need to come down here and start seeing patients … everyone has cataracts, you can tell.’”

With good intentions, but not much optimism, he told his daughter they could look into it—knowing that obtaining government permission, finding space and purchasing supplies were huge undertakings.

“I don’t want to squelch your enthusiasm but it could take years,” he told Megan.

Piece after piece of the puzzle continued to fall into place until Conahan realized God was hitting him “over the head with a two-by-four”: permission was fast-tracked, clinic space was offered, supplies were sold to him at a significant discount, and medical staff volunteered to go. The following October they returned to Mexico—each hauling 50 pounds of supplies—and established the clinic.

“When we arrived there were 150 people waiting to be seen,” he said. “And it stayed that way consistently for the next four days.”

Word of their healing ministry has continued to grow through the years, and the Conahans and their team continue to respond.

“This is God’s plan,” he said. “In my humility what I had to realize is that it was really about my arrogance in the beginning. It was about me saying ‘yes’ to God and he just took care of the rest.”

For more information, visit www.healingeyes.webs.com.

Donate glasses
During Lent, St. Frances Cabrini Parish at 6673 W. Chatfield Ave. in Littleton will collect prescription and reading glasses and sunglasses for the Ministry of Healing Eyes in a basket outside the gathering space. To make a monetary donation, call the parish at 303-979-7688 or visit www.healingeyes.webs.com.

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.”