Growing a charism of life: Meet Denver’s new sisters
Sisters of Life arrive in Denver
September 25, 2015
Ask almost any Denver Catholic why this archdiocese contains so many powerhouse ministries and disciples, and you will hear the same answer repeated: Pope Saint John Paul II came here for World Youth Day. The theme of his 1993 visit was John 10:10– “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” Amongst the hundreds of thousands who came to see him was Cardinal John J. O’Connor, who had just founded a fledgling group of religious sisters called the Sisters of Life, and a 17-year-old teenager from Maine. Now, in the wake of another pope’s visit to the US, the Sister of Life have arrived in Denver, and that teenager is their local superior.
The Sister of Life were founded on June 1, 1991. In addition to the traditional religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the Sisters of Life take a fourth vow to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life. They are a contemplative-active community, spending about four and half hours a day in prayer, and the rest in serving mothers in crisis pregnancies, post-abortive parents, and running retreat houses.
However, their mission in Denver is going to be a little different. Although Archbishop Aquila has expressed interest in having the Sisters join his diocese since he was in Fargo, it was only this year that the sisters decided to move west.
“We were discerning as a community where to go next. The Holy Spirit then inspired Curtis Martin to invite us into a partnership with FOCUS (the Fellowship of Catholic University Students),” Sister Mary Concepta, SV said.
The sisters will work with college students at CU Boulder, CSU, and UNC. They will also occasionally work with Colorado school of mines.
“We’ll spend on week each month at each of the campuses,” said Sister Maris Stella, SV. “Our desire is to bring them a charism of life. We want them to know that their lives are something sacred, beautiful and good. We also know that young women in college are especially vulnerable to the abortion industry.”
“We want to form relationships with them and be a witness,” said Sister Mary Concepta.
Unlike their other missions, the Denver sisters will not operate a crisis pregnancy shelter. Instead, they will be focused on full-time evangelization to college students. However, they ask that the people of Denver pray for their mission to expand.
“We want the people of Denver to know that we’re praying for them. We expect the Holy Spirit will develop this mission, even in ways we could never expect. Please pray that we remain docile to the Spirit’s instructions on how to grow the charism of life in this archdiocese,” Sister Maris Stella said.
Meet the sisters
Sister Mary Concepta, SV
Sister Mary Concepta is the local superior for the order. She first came into contact with the Sisters of Life through a college friend who became unexpectedly pregranat, and who recieved help from the sisters of life.
“Her life had been so transformed by the sisters, that when I was open to religious life, I was naturally drawn to them,” Sister Concepta said.
She said that she has been overwhelmed by the generosity of the faithful in Denver, who have provided everything the sisters needed “down to the last spatula.” She also says she marvels that so many years after hearing Pope Saint John Paul II speak at World Youth Day, she is now tasked with bringing the charism of life to Denver.
“It’s beyond what I could have imagined God doing in my life,” Sister Mary Concepta said.
Sister Maris Stella, SV
Sister Maris Stella graduated from the Naval Academy and was stationed in Naples. It was there that she first heard about the Sisters of Life, from seminarians. When she came back to the United States, she decided to look them up.
“I was kind of hesitant to visit, because I couldn’t believe they existed in the world. It was a discovery of my own heart, discovering them, because the seed of the charism of life was already there within me,” Sister Maris Stella said.
She said she is also thrilled to be in Denver.
“It’s a new adventure. The spirit is definitely at work. I hope we can be docile instruments,” Sister Maris Stella said.
Sister Maria Anne Michela
Sister Maria Anne Michela was studying for her graduate degree in biochemistry at the University of Madison-Wisconsin when decided to answer the call to religious life.
“I had though about a vocation for years. I’ve heard people compare vocations to a dripping faucet–gentle, yet persistent,” Sister Maria Anne Michela said.
She prayed about Peter walking on water in Matthew 14. She said she was filled with conviction that she needed to step out of her boat. Shortly after, she found the Sisters of Life online.
“As I read through the website, I couldn’t believe it existed. It resonated with my heart,” she said.
Sister Maria Anne Michela said she humbled and honored to be called to serve in Denver.
“[The Lord] doesn’t need us to do his work, but he let’s us participate. I marvel that he let me be a part of this,” she said.
Sister Fiat Marie
Sister Fiat Marie said her vocation was almost a response to the culture of death. Although she had been involved in various pro-life activities, she said she had her wake-up moment when she accidentally stumbled across a pro-choice group. As she read through their materials, specifically Planned Parenthood cartoons targeted at youth, she became convicted that she needed to act. A few months after graduation, she answered the call to religious life.
“When I went to bed that night, I really felt that invite from the Lord. There was a great joy in being able to respond,” she said.
Sister Fiat Marie worked for five years at Holy Respite in Manhattan, serving mothers during and after unexpected pregnancies. Shes said she was inspired by the women’s heroicism, but also looks forward to serving college students.
“College is such a pivotal moment,” she said. “When healing comes into those broken areas of life and love, that’s what brings people back to the Lord. It’s a privilege to be able to witness that.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”