A heroic choice

UNC student chooses life after finding dignity in Christ

Every weekend, Raquel Kato drank heavily and had one-night stands at college parties. Every weekend, she promised herself it’d be the last time.

“I would just feel so dirty and worthless and had tons of guilt. But I would lock it up and never tell anybody, because I didn’t want to be seen as that girl who goes out and gets drunk and hooks up,” she said.

Partying at Benedictine College in Kansas and later at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley was how the now-22-year-old Colorado native felt wanted. Her “perfect” life as the popular all-star athlete and academically-gifted student at Frontier Academy vanished in college.

“Once that was gone, I didn’t know where to find my sense of self-worth,” said Kato, who was raised Catholic. “That’s why I slipped into partying, because people would invite me and I sort of felt wanted there. It offered me a way to feel like I was important again because people knew me.”

Her 21st birthday was a blur.

She drank at bars and slept with a man who gave her a ride home. He told Kato to take the morning-after pill the next day since she wasn’t on the birth control pill, she said.

Kato said she took it a few days later, but a grocery store pregnancy test came up positive.

“My heart just stopped,” she said. “I never thought about being pregnant before. I didn’t think that could happen to me. I didn’t know what to do, and of course I didn’t tell anybody.”

She felt isolated and like she was living a nightmare.

“The devil started feeding me lies like, ‘This is so embarrassing and shameful. How could you let this happen, of all people? You used to be the straight-A student, the goodie-goodie, perfect girl. Now you’re the one getting pregnant.’”

Kato shared the story of the events that followed in a talk she gave last week during the Bearfoot for Babies pro-life initiative on the University of Northern Colorado campus.

After her 21st birthday, her parents and their church group took her to a wine-tasting event to celebrate.

“They were all so impressed with all that I was doing and my parents were so proud of me,” she told the Denver Catholic Register. “I just thought if they actually knew who I was, what my sins were and knew about my brokenness that there was no way they could love me anymore. It was at that moment I decided I had to get an abortion.”

She scheduled an abortion at the Planned Parenthood in Fort Collins on a weekend when her mother and friends would be out-of-town on retreat. She didn’t want to go to Mass until after her abortion. But she went anyway.

The church bulletin she grabbed announced 40 Days for Life had started. She decided to reschedule in case she crossed someone she knew praying outside the abortion clinic.

“That’s how sick my thinking was.”

She felt irritated until the consecration of the body and blood of Christ.

“I remember I looked up and saw Jesus Christ on the cross,” Kato described. “He was looking at me and I knew at that moment he was real and he forgave me. I heard him say to me, ‘Raquel, I love you and forgive you. It’s going to be OK.”

She felt he had pierced her heart, she said.

“I was convinced he was giving me all this grace,” she said. “I thought, ‘Maybe I can choose life, but I have to tell somebody.”

She called her mom and told her everything through tears.

“My mom just responded with, ‘I love you. I love you. I love you.’”

Kato said, “That was exactly what I needed to hear. She did still love me. If (my family) didn’t respond that way, I would have absolutely had an abortion because I was so afraid.”

Kato’s daughter, AvaMarie Rose, is turning 1 this month. She was named after Eve, meaning life, and Marie, after Mary.

“I could relate to Mary because of her unplanned pregnancy and her ‘yes’ to life,” said Kato, who prayed the rosary throughout her pregnancy.

She now works as a crisis pregnancy options advisor at the nonprofit Resource Center for Pregnancy and Personal Health in Greeley. She is earning her master’s degree in school counseling.

Kato said she believes women are driven to get abortions because they fear gossip, being disowned and unloved after getting pregnant.

“If we accepted them in their brokenness, similar to the story of the prodigal son, if they knew they would be accepted and loved once they turned back, then we could eliminate abortion so much easier,” she said.

Kato said her faith changed after she chose life.

“There’s just no way I could not believe in God’s redemption and forgiveness. I would have never been confronted with forgiving myself and receiving love unless my daughter came into the picture,” she said. “I love her so much and it gives me a little glimpse of how much God loves me. If I love her that much then I know God loves me even more than that. That’s a lot.”

Lighthouse Women’s Center

Services include free pregnancy testing, counseling, ultra-sound imaging and an extensive referral network. Lighthouse encourages and upholds Catholic teaching regarding human sexuality, reproductive health and medical referrals.

Phone: 303-320-8352
Address: 3894 Olive St., Denver
Website: www.lighthousedenver.org

COMING UP: Father and son, deacon and priest: Deacon dads and priest sons share special bond as both serve God’s people

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

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.”