Fashioning lives that flourish

Christina Lynch went from designer of clothes to guider of seminarians

Just out of college, Christina Lynch landed a job as a secretary at a men’s clothing company and quickly rose through the ranks in sales, marketing and design. Six years later, she was hired as the first female vice president of a national clothing corporation. For more than two decades she lived as a globe-trotting clothing designer.

Then, in a spiritually transformative moment, Lynch knew she was called to channel her creativity in a different direction. She wanted to help create not slacks or shirts but flourishing, God-centered lives.

That realization years ago led Lynch, now 64, on a circuitous path to a career in Catholic psychology and to her role as an educator and counselor for countless seminarians.

Change and conversion
An only child, Lynch was raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., by an Irish Catholic mother and nonreligious Protestant father. She grew up without a strong foundation in catechesis but was drawn to the faith as a young girl. “I always loved God; I knew that God loved me,” she said.

Following her graduation from Long Island University in New York, Lynch began a successful career in clothing design and eventually was named vice president of the sportswear division of Phillips-Van Heusen Corp., a large American clothing company.

A few years after moving to Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, Lynch felt pulled to attend a retreat at her parish titled “Change and Conversion.” The spiritual fruits of those three days would change everything from her career to her personal life.

“It was at that retreat that I had a profound experience with the Lord and knew my life was to be directed at ‘life,’” she said. “It was the most incredible thing.”

One week later, Lynch left the garment industry.

At the retreat she’d also met Patrick, the facilitator, and a few months later they married.

The couple moved to California’s San Bernardino County, and Lynch radically dedicated herself to life. The couple began praying in front of abortion clinics, and when they met women who had nowhere else to go, they welcomed them into their home.

“At one point we had five pregnant women and four young children living with us,” said Lynch.

They taught the women marketable skills and helped many gain sobriety.

Unable to have their own children, God “blessed us with a multitude of them,” said Lynch.
The first in their care was “a prison baby,” she said. The infant was born to a woman in prison, and they cared for the baby and took it for visits at the correctional facility until the mother was released.

Lynch served as a midwife at several births, and Patrick was the chauffeur for many doctors’ appointments.

“Each birth was a joy and a miracle,” said Lynch, who was asked to be a godmother to a number of babies.

They eventually turned their home into a full-time ministry called Veronica’s Home, which continues to provide long-term housing to pregnant women and their children.

One priest, a thousand lives
After the death of Lynch’s mother, the couple moved to the East Coast. There, Lynch continued her pro-life work with Human Life International in Front Royal and Priests for Life, based in New York.

One day while flipping through the Catholic Herald, she saw an advertisement for a new psychology program now known as the Institute for the Psychological Sciences (IPS), located in Arlington.

“I felt I was being called to work with women either in crisis counseling or post-abortion healing, but I knew I needed the psychological skills to really help them,” said Lynch.

So 30 years post-college, she enrolled in the IPS master’s degree program. Six years later, in 2005, she became the first graduate of the school’s doctoral program.

Before graduation, Lynch was recruited to teach a course and eventually begin a summer counseling program at the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. Each summer the program forms more than 170 diocesan seminarians from more than 65 dioceses.

“I always felt I would be helping women in crisis, but my husband kept saying, ‘You’re going to be working with priests, because one priest can help thousands of women who are struggling,’” she said.

He was right. Lynch just celebrated her 10th summer at the Omaha institute and has served for seven years as a teacher and director of psychological services at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, where she and Patrick currently live.

Just as she shared in the joy of many infant births, Lynch said she now celebrates seminarians’ human and spiritual rebirth as sons of the Father.

“No words can describe this joy,” she said.

Her work with priests has focused especially on the gift of celibacy — something misunderstood and discounted in the current culture. This is not surprising, said Lynch, given society is overly sexualized and undervalues the human person.

The goal is to help seminarians first understand the dignity of every life and to deepen their own self-knowledge; only then can they fully understand and value celibacy.

While many see the absence of sex as a sacrifice, “the church has always understood celibacy as a gift,” said Lynch. “Not all are called to it. But if you are singled out for something very unique, then it’s a gift.”

Accepting this gift does not mean living without intimacy.

“You can live without sex, but you can’t live without intimacy,” Lynch said. “Personal intimacy must first come from God. The men who are the happiest are those who have a close relationship with him.”

Intimacy also takes root in community. Seminarians and priests, like all humans, need to spend time sharing the joys and sorrows of life with others, she said.

Taking this to heart, Lynch and her husband open up their home to priests for retreats and welcome them on Sunday afternoons to socialize and relax.

Lynch said the Church has taken strides in the psychological care and formation of priests, including in response to the clergy sex abuse scandals. One example is the 2008 Vatican document entitled “Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood,” which affirms the need for physiological counseling in seminary formation.

Ever closer to God
In all her work, Lynch knows she must be an authentic witness to what she imparts.

“No education or catechesis is going to mean anything if the person delivering it is not a witness to it,” said Lynch. “I have to practice what I preach.”

To do so, she makes full use of the spiritual tools the church offers. She attends daily Mass and regular confession, prays the Liturgy of the Hours, and has a spiritual director.

“I intentionally practice my faith with my heart not with my head; it’s not a ritualistic faith,” she said.
“Ever since that retreat, I’ve been called by God into a deeper and deeper relationship with him and with Our Lady. I feel the Blessed Mother’s presence every time I’m in a counseling session.”

Along with her other responsibilities, Lynch serves as a spiritual adviser for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, known as FOCUS, and is an associate researcher in psychology and spirituality for the Sacred Story Institute, a Jesuit nonprofit whose mission is to research and develop evangelization resources.

Lynch also is part of a panel of experts on a new EWTN weekly news and commentary program called “Heroic Media.”

In 2013, she was named president of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association. Founded in 2007, the CPA supports the development of psychological theory and mental health practices that encompass a full understanding of the human person and society as taught by the Catholic Church.

“The goal is to educate each other in the beauty and teachings of the Catholic Church, so that we can witness to them and integrate them into our practice,” said Lynch.

This year’s annual CPA conference will be held in Arlington Oct. 23-25. With the theme “Witness to Hope: Catholic Anthropology as the Foundation of Psychological Practice,” the conference will honor St. John Paul II and include Mass with Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde. Lynch will offer opening remarks on Friday.

The seeming incongruity of Lynch’s early and latter careers surprises and delights her.
“Although we can’t see it at the time, I think God uses everything in our lives,” she said. “He is the giver. You can’t out-give God.”

At its heart, her work honors God’s greatest gift and the one she dedicated herself to years ago.
“Catholic psychology is all about life and living it to the full,” said Lynch. “The Lord wants us to flourish, and to flourish you have to be holistic and remove any human blocks that might be blocking our spiritual growth,” she said.

“I just want to help the men in seminary move closer to God in whatever way I can.”

 

 

 

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.”