‘A free heart to be like Christ’

Archbishop Aquila ordains three seminarians to the diaconate

Three Archdiocese of Denver seminarians, ordained as deacons on March 1 as part of their journey to the priesthood, said society’s view of celibacy as a burden is far from the truth.

“Celibacy is a gift,” said Deacon Gregory Lesher, 29. “It is not the cost I pay to be a priest. It means saving the most intimate part of my heart for God alone and turning to him primarily for all of my needs.”

Fellow seminarian Deacon Joseph McLagan, 28, calls celibacy an important foundation of the priesthood.

“Many people I encounter have no clue as to what celibacy is or its gifts,” said Deacon McLagan, a 2004 graduate of Highlands Ranch High School. “So, I have reconciled this by not standing on the sands of this culture, which will waver and move in the storms that may come, but on a firm foundation rooted from the Lord through the many gifts he has given me in seminary.”

Deacon Franklin Treminio, a 33-year-old native of Nicaragua, is ready to give his whole life to God and is looking forward to being a deacon and eventually a priest.

“The way I’ve reconciled priestly celibacy is to live my life different from that of a married man so that I can fully give myself to Christ and, consequently, to the service of others,” Deacon Treminio said. “Contradiction from our society will always be there against celibacy, but we Catholics must be ready and have a firm attitude to defend it against the new currents of society that disregard priestly celibacy.”

Archbishop Samuel Aquila ordained the men to the diaconate during an ordination Mass March 1, at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Mass concelebrants included Father Scott Traynor, rector of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, and Father Tobias Rodriguez-Lasa, rector of Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary

The seminarians will serve as deacons for a year while continuing to study for the priesthood. They will assist parish priests with baptisms, weddings, wakes and funerals, preach and distribute holy Communion. The archbishop also encouraged them to work with the poor and marginalized in society.

The ordination rite included the men accepting the vow of celibacy, which Archbishop Aquila said forms a special friendship and intimacy with Jesus.

“You have a free heart to serve wherever you are called; a free heart to be like Christ,” Archbishop Aquila said.

The seminarians may face temptation and fear during their continued journey to the priesthood, the archbishop said. He urged them to turn to Christ and not let fear overtake them.

“Remember the words of John: ‘Perfect love casts out all fear,’” Archbishop Aquila said.

The men study together at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in south Denver where Deacons Lesher and McLagan are seminarians. Deacon Treminio attends Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary on the same campus, which also emphasizes missionary work under the direction of Archbishop Aquila.

During the ordination, the readings and songs were in English and Spanish to recognize the Spanish speaking seminarians at Redemptoris Mater, which includes seminarians from some 13 countries. The archbishop thanked the seminarians’ parents—including Deacon Treminio’s parents, Anastacio and Lidia, in Spanish—for raising their children in the Catholic faith and giving their sons to the Church. The couple from Nicaragua presented the gifts with fellow seminarian parents, Donald and Natlie Lesher, and Greg and Christie McLagan.

“In the way you formed them, you allowed their hearts to be open to the call,” the archbishop said to the parents.

Father Rodriguez-Lasa chanted the Gospel accompanied by a guitar player, and the choir from St. John Vianney Theological Seminary Schola provided music with cantor Marisa Walsh.

“Relying on the help of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ, we choose these, our brothers, for the order of the diaconate,” Archbishop Aquila prayed.

He encouraged them to rely on the Holy Spirit for the “gift of fortitude” while they preach and teach.

Receiving God’s call
The three seminarians recently shared their first calling to the priesthood with the Denver Catholic Register.

Deacon Gregory Louis Lesher, 29, was born in Chicago and raised in Bolingbrook, Ill., a southwest suburb of the city. He first felt a call to the priesthood at about 12 but “ran away” from the vocation. He felt God spoke to him again while attending graduate school at the University of Denver. “I still stubbornly tried to run away for another two years but God gradually convinced me to apply to seminary in my second year of graduate school,” he said.

Deacon Joseph Marc McLagan, 28, was born in Kansas City, Mo., and reared in Grandview, Mo., and Littleton. A graduate of the University of Northern Colorado, he began questioning his identity while in college and got involved in ministry and Bible studies on campus. “With my questions receiving answers and my prayer life growing, I began to trust in the Lord,” he said.

Deacon Franklin Anastacio Sequeira Treminio, 33, was born in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, and grew up in Ciudad Dario, Nicaragua. Before he entered the seminary, Treminio worked part-time as a taxi driver for his grandfather in Ciudad Dario and was studying business administration in the Universidad de las Americas. He was 15 when he first heard God calling him to the priesthood. “One of the aspects that influenced my calling to the priesthood is the fact of having been raised in a Catholic family that introduced me at 13 to an itinerary of Christian formation, the Neocatechumental Way,” he said.

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.”