Four men ordained to transitional diaconate

As is tradition in the Archdiocese of Denver, several men were ordained to the transitional diaconate Feb. 25, the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, moving one step closer toward the priesthood.

Three of the men – Angel Perez Brown, Roberto Rodrigiez and Tomislav Tomic – attend Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary here in Denver, while one man – Darrick Leier – attends Pope St. John XXIII Seminary in Boston.

In his homily to the men, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila reminded them that as deacons, they are called to follow in the example of Christ and live their lives as servants of the people. He cited one of the readings of the day from the book numbers, which describes the Lord setting aside the tribe of Levi to be assistants to Aaron the priest.

“With that, he charges [the Levites] with certain duties and responsibilities,” Archbishop Aquila explained. “We see the see the same in the diaconate, as we see the seven set aside in the Acts of the apostles. That tradition has carried on in the diaconate, as men who are set aside to serve.”

“You will be called as deacons in that service to be like Christ and to proclaim and give your life as servants – not to be served, but to serve,” Archbishop Aquila said.

Deacon Darrick Leier

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 25: Ordination to the Diaconate for Darrick Leier, Angel Miguel Perez-Brown, Roberto Jose Rodriguez-Cruz and Tomislav Tomic at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on February 25, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

Deacon Darrick Leier delivered his first homily as a deacon at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, the parish where his vocation began.

Deacon Leier was born and raised in a “loving, devout Catholic family,” he said, but abandoned his faith when he left to go to college.

“When I left home to go to college, I was one of those young people who didn’t go to church anymore,” he said. “I became secularized and everything that goes along with that.”

That all changed five years ago, though, after Leier lost his mother to a year-long battle with cancer. Before her death, Leier made a promise to his mother and to God that he would start going back to church.

“Through that sorrowful experience, the Lord gave me the grace to run to him,” he said.

After 18 years of being away from the Church, Leier was led to Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, where he received the sacrament of reconciliation. He dove back into his faith after that. He began attending Catholics Come Home classes, led by Deacon Jerome Durnford.

After 12 weeks of being in the classes, Deacon Durnford saw a change in Leier, and asked him if he’d ever considered the priesthood. While reluctant at first, Leier discerned for a year and a half and entered seminary in 2013.

The seed for Leier’s vocation to the priesthood was planted on his mother’s birthday. Last year, during a brief period of wrestling with whether or not the priesthood was really God’s will for his life, the Lord gave him a sign that he couldn’t deny.

“The Lord placed this thought in my head: ‘When is your ordination?’ I saw that it was Feb. 25,” he said. “I almost dropped my phone, my jaw probably hit the floor, because guess what day that is: my mother’s birthday.”

Leier was ordained to the transitional diaconate on his mother’s 80th birthday.

Deacon Tomislav Tomic

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 25: Ordination to the Diaconate for Darrick Leier, Angel Miguel Perez-Brown, Roberto Jose Rodriguez-Cruz and Tomislav Tomic at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on February 25, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

Deacon Tomislav Tomic was born and raised in a village in Bosnia. He is the youngest of nine children, and comes from a large family with several priests.

“I had access to the priesthood from my childhood,” he said.

Tomic was raised in a Catholic family, had a simple upbringing and lived a simple life. Around the time he graduated high school, the Bosnian War had broken out. Four days after graduating, he enlisted in the military for a period of three years. After fulfilling his military duties, Tomic found himself feeling extremely isolated in his life.

“I felt completely alone. Immense solitude,” he said. “I went to God, asking him, ‘What is the meaning if my life? Why did I survive the war when my life is meaningless?’”

Around that time, the pastor of his parish invited him to a Neocatechumenal Way gathering. This had a profound effect on him; “It was the first time I actually connected all this knowledge that I [learned] from catechesis to my own life,” he said.

He began to see that the frustration and isolation he was feeling in his life were “very meaningful for God,” and that God would use them to fulfill his plan for Tomic’s life. After a brief relationship to see if he was called to married life, Tomic eventually submitted to the Lord’s call for him to the priesthood.

Tomic had never planned to move away from his village in Bosnia, but he ended up here, in Denver, where he feels at home. He said that entering seminary was the biggest risk he’d taken in 34 years, and now, at 43, Deacon Tomic God has restored his human dignity and completely changed his life.

“Now that I am here, I see that God transformed my life completely,” Deacon Tomic said. “God is incredible. What he doing with me is a miracle.”

Deacon Ángel Pérez

Ordination of Deacons 2017 in the Archdiocese of DenverDeacon Ángel Pérez was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. His parents were not baptized, but thanks to the insistence of his godmother, he received the sacrament of baptism. He was educated, in his estimate, “like a pagan child.”

When he was 14, a group of missionaries from the Neocatechumenal Way knocked on his door and because of this visit, he and his mother decided to attend catechesis and join the Neocatechumenal Way. However, years later he had strong doubts about the existence of God and heaven and decided to leave the Church.

He returned to the faith later at his mother’s insistence. At the time he was finishing his degree in electrical engineering. In 2008, he went on pilgrimage to Nicaragua where he felt the call to be a priest. The following year he entered the seminary Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Santo Domingo and two year later he was transferred to Denver.

During his time in seminary he was sent on missions to Boston and then to Hawaii. After his ordination, Deacon Pérez thanked “the Church, my Neocatechumenal community, and the catechist who announced the Good News to me. Thanks to the brothers who pray for me.”

Deacon Roberto Rodríguez

Ordination of Deacons 2017 in the Archdiocese of DenverAlso of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Deacon Roberto Rodríguez and his parents were baptized in the Catholic Church, but he says that he only attended Mass on Palm Sunday, as well as funerals and weddings.

He attended a Catholic college and university, and he graduated as a lawyer in 2003. In 2007, he participated in a youth gathering organized by the Neocatechumenal Way, prior to World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia. It was there where he received the vocational call.

He left his family, his work and his country and was assigned to the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Denver, which he entered in 2008. Three years later, his compatriot Ángel Pérez — whom he did not know — arrived. They shared the rest of their formation time, and were both ordained deacons Feb. 25.

During his time as a seminarian, he was sent on missions to Guam, Florida and Missouri.

“The seminary has helped me grow as a person, [and] to begin to see the invitation that God makes for us [to serve others],” Deacon Rodríguez said.

For him, his priestly vocation is a sign that “the Lord wants to have an encounter with each of his children. I am not the one who guarantees that encounter, but I am an instrument to facilitate that encounter.”

COMING UP: PHOTO ALBUM: Archbishop ordains four new deacons

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During last week’s deacon ordination, Archbishop Samuel Aquila told ordinands their new ministry must be “rooted in humility” and they should strive to serve with “the heart of Christ the Servant.”

“You will be configured to Christ the Servant,” he said during his homily Feb. 14 at the Mass of holy orders at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. “Pray for the grace of humility to receive that gift.”  > Story continues below photo album

Photos by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic

The four men ordained—Brother James Claver, S.C.J.; Mason Fraley, Salvador Sánchez Gasca and Matthew Magee—are studying for the priesthood at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. Ordination to the diaconate is a step in their formation to ultimately being ordained to the priesthood.

Drawing on the liturgy’s Gospel (Mt 20: 25-28), Archbishop Aquila reminded the men that they have been called by the Lord to serve, not to be served

“You are saying, ‘I am not choosing what I want, but what God wants because it will bring me the greatest joy and happiness,’” the archbishop said. “Pray for the heart of Christ, you must desire it and cooperate with it. Pray to be like Jesus and make yourself a total self-gift.”

Below are profiles of the men that were ordained.

Deacon James Claver, S.C.J.
Age: 30
Hometown: Austin, Texas
Most inspirational saint: St. Ignatius Loyola
Deacon James Claver once doubted his faith as a child. He was sent to a Protestant middle school where he had a difficult time. But after a freshman-year retreat at a Catholic high school, Claver said, “I met the Lord in a really profound way, and as a result, I started to get really active in my parish and my youth group.” Immediately, a vocation to the priesthood was suggested to Claver, but he was opposed to the idea. Over time, he opened himself to God’s will. “I said, ‘OK, Lord, even my calculus teacher in high school can recognize that I have a vocation, and I don’t quite see this, but I will be open to your will.” He discerned his vocation while studying at Franciscan University of Steubenville and while doing missionary work in Honduras. Deacon Claver is a professed member of the Servants of Christ Jesus community.

Deacon Mason Donald Fraley
Age: 25
Home parish: St. Francis de Sales, Denver
Most inspirational saint: Sts. Josemaria Escriva and Luigi Giussani
Growing up in Denver, Deacon Mason Fraley didn’t really have any interest in the priesthood. “I was really resistant to it, because it struck me as such a radical lifestyle that was scary,” he said. But as his relationship with Christ grew, in part due to his experience attending Bishop Machebeuf High School, he began to appreciate the unique role priests have in sharing Christ with others. “(Because of) the happiness I had in relationship with Christ,” he said, “I wanted an opportunity to spend my whole life sharing him with others. Then I applied to seminary my senior year.” Prior to his ordination, the word foremost of his mind, he said, was “joyful.”

Deacon Salvador Sánchez Gasca
Age: 31
Hometown: León, Guanajuato, Mexico
Most inspirational saint: St. John Bosco
Deacon Salvador Sanchez said he had always thought about being a priest. One of his pastors encouraged him as a child, but he forgot until years later when he was prompted by God. “One day, I received the call again and then I said, ‘Yes.’” He was further inspired when he arrived in the United States. “I saw the necessity of the people, the Spanish-speaking people—they didn’t have a lot of priests who speak Spanish,” he shared. He applied to the seminary and was accepted 10 years ago. In anticipation of his ordination, Deacon Gasca said he was feeling “hopeful.”

Deacon Matthew David Magee
Age: 25
Home parish: Our Lady of Loreto, Foxfield
Most inspirational saint: St. John Paul II
The diaconate will be family affair for the Magees, as Deacon Matt Magee’s father, Michael Magee, is also an ordained deacon, serving at Our Lady of Loreto. “[My dad] started formation when I was in my sophomore year of high school,” he said. “He was ordained my first year of seminary.” Priesthood was always in the back of Deacon Matt Magee’s mind, but he didn’t take it seriously until high school. “My pastor growing up was always really influential, but I always put priesthood in the back,” he said. After discerning the last two years of high school and his first year in college, he felt God call him to enter seminary and “just had this great peace come over me,” he said.

Interviews by St. John Vianney seminarian Zachary Boazman contributed to this report.

View an additional photo album by Boazman here.