Finding the rhythm of contemplative life

Priest makes lifelong vow as Trappist monk

Father Edward Hoffman makes a solemn profession at St. Benedict Monastery in Snowmass March 25.

Father Edward Hoffman began to feel a call to something different after ministering in the Denver metro area for 37 years.

“It basically began with my desire to deepen my own spiritual life and my life of prayer,” Father Hoffman, 69, told the Denver Catholic. “It wasn’t that I didn’t have one in the parochial ministry, which I loved. But I did a series of discernments when I was still in pastoral work, reflecting on where I was in my life.”

It came to him gradually “that the Lord was asking something more, something different” of him. That discernment led him to St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass where he has lived since 2009. St. Benedict’s, situated on 3,500 acres in the Roaring Fork Valley about 15 miles from Aspen, is home to 15 brothers of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, also known as Trappist monks. The contemplative order is rooted in the Rule of St. Benedict written some 1,500 years ago.

Father Hoffman sought the counsel of many people including then-Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., archbishop of Denver 1997-2011, while discerning monastic life.

“I owed him obedience as a priest of the diocese and it was certainly a matter of his discernment, as well as my own,” he said. “(Archbishop Chaput) could have very easily said, ‘I need you in the diocese … it’s just not possible.’

“He was very understanding, very supportive,” he continued. “Otherwise I never would’ve begun monastic formation.”

Denver Catholic file photos by James Baca

Last month Father Hoffman took the final step in his formal six-year discernment process when making a solemn profession of vows with the Trappists. Adhering to the monastic life in accordance with the Rule of St. Benedict, his days are structured around prayer beginning with personal prayer at 3 a.m., followed by community prayer at 4:30 a.m., more private prayer such as lectio divina (prayerful reading of Scripture), then breakfast and 7:30 a.m. community prayer. One morning a week, the monks hold a chapter meeting where they share joys, difficulties or “whatever it might be,” Father Hoffman said.

The work day begins around 8 a.m. and continues until noon. The monastery’s principal means of support include a retreat house, gift shop, cookie-baking business and ranching.

“I’m involved primarily in ranch work,” he said. “There are two of us who are basically on duty year-round during the summer, when we’re raising hay and taking care of the cattle, and all the things you can imagine go on in a ranch.”

They raise grass and alfalfa hay to sell to horse owners, and from May through October provide for 400 head of cattle on a contract basis. In the winter, they repair all the things they broke during the summer, he said.

“There’s a lot of maintenance,” he said, which is his specialty.

The monks come together for lunch, which they take turns preparing, followed by afternoon free time for reading and prayer, before congregating in the chapel at 6 p.m. for contemplative prayer and meditation, followed by 7 p.m. evening prayer.

While the schedule may appear demanding, it’s not a burden at all, Father Hoffman said.

“The regular rhythm of monastic life really does sustain you, both physically and spiritually,” he said. “It sounds pretty rigorous if you’re just looking at it, arranged in a schedule, but your soul, spirit and body adapt to the rhythm of the life as St. Benedict created it.”

He also appreciates the silence and solitude of the pre-dawn hours.

“(It provides) the ability to free your spirit,” he said, “and ask the Lord to take you where he wants you to go.”

Father Hoffman expressed his gratitude to the people of the Archdiocese of Denver for their prayers during his discernment and vows. Eleven priests, along with about 50 people from the metro area attended the solemnity of his profession March 25. Following his 1972 ordination, Father Hoffman served in parishes including Risen Christ, Holy Name in Englewood, Nativity of our Lord and Spirit of Christ, as well as the role of chancellor, and at the seminary and tribunal. He holds a doctorate degree in moral theology from Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, and was named a monsignor by Pope John Paul in 1996.

During his profession, in addition to vowing obedience to the abbott, Father Joseph Boyle; and conversion and fidelity to the monastic way of life, he took a third vow of stability to the monastery.

“Stability to the monastery means that I am making my vows here in this house … to this community and to this group of men,” he said. “I have no intention of asking to go anywhere else—this is the place that I feel the Lord has sent me for the rest of my life.”

> For more about St. Benedict’s Monastery and the daily public liturgies celebrated, visit www.snowmass.org.

> For information about the retreat house, visit  www.stbenedictsretreat.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.”