In the world, but not of it: Archbishop Aquila ordains six men to the priesthood

Six men answered the call to priesthood on May 15 and were ordained the newest priests of the Archdiocese of Denver at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

The six men ordained span four different seminaries and a variety of backgrounds. Fathers Tony Davis, John Stapleton and Sean Conroy all studied at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary; Father John Paul Almeida studied at Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary; Father John Croghan studied at St. John XXIII Seminary in Boston; and Father Peter Srsich studied at Pontifical North American College in Rome.

Addressing the men during his homily, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila referred to the first reading of the Mass, taken from the Book of Jeremiah, and how it relates to God’s call for them to be priests.

“Note for yourselves what the Lord speaks to Jeremiah and the action of the Lord in Jeremiah’s life even before he is born,” Archbishop Aquila told the men. “I formed you. I knew you. I dedicated you. I appointed you. And those words are spoken to you today, my sons, that in this time in history, the Lord has called you to serve and he has chosen you.”

From L-R, Deacons John Paul Almeida, Sean Conroy, John Croghan, Anthony Davis, John Stapleton IV and Peter Srsich stand before the congregation during their ordination to the priesthood at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on May 15, 2021, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

Having trust and confidence in God the Father and in Jesus Christ is essential, he told them, especially in the task of preaching and of carrying out the three munera of teaching, sanctifying and governing to act in the person of Christ. The archbishop also implored them to leave room for the Holy Spirit as they carry out their ministry.

“You will be configured to [Christ] by the power of the Holy Spirit so that the words and actions that you speak must always be conformed to Jesus Christ,” he said.

Prayer must also remain at the heart of their priesthood, Archbishop Aquila told the new priests.

“That does not mean that you spend 24/7 in prayer, but rather you give your heart to the Lord,” he said. “You open your heart up to Lord. And whether you are in the car or in front of the Eucharist, you can always be praying to the Lord and having an open heart to the Lord and having confidence that He will provide you with the words to speak.”

As the men prepare to begin their ministry as priests, Archbishop Aquila told them that while the world which they are being sent into will challenge them, they are called to rise above these challenges and remain faithful to Jesus Christ.

“My beloved sons, I am not going to paint a false picture of the world today or the Church today,” the archbishop said. “Things are in turmoil. We are living, as Pope Francis has stated, not at the end of an era, but in a change of an age. People have rejected Christ, people have rejected God, and people, including priests and bishops within the Church, have turned away from God and listening to his voice with much of what they propose.

“We are called to be those who are faithful to Jesus Christ, who belong to Christ,” he continued. “Jesus reminds us they do not belong to the world anymore than I belong to the world. And yes, the father loved the world to send his only son into the world for the gift of salvation. And you must have the same love for the world and for all humanity. But that does not mean that you become the world.”

Father Sean Conroy lies prostrate during his ordination to the priesthood at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on May 15, 2021, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

Once more, emphasizing the centrality of Christ in the priesthood, the archbishop implored the men to never forget where the Sacraments come from, especially the Eucharist and reconciliation, and reminded them to carry out their ministry with the utmost compassion and mercy.

“It is the risen Christ himself, and his risen body, who makes himself present in the ministry of priests,” Archbishop Aquila said. “It is his power and authority that you exercise and you must have confidence in that as you consecrate the Eucharist to become his body, blood, soul and divinity, as you forgive sins in hearing confession. Always remember in confession the importance of compassion, of mercy and also charity in proclaiming the truth and gently guiding people to the truth of Christ and to repentance. Yelling and screaming at people is not going to change their hearts; only inviting them into that deeper encounter with Jesus Christ changes their hearts.”

The new priests, as all Christians, are called to be in the world but not of it, and the archbishop offered parting words of encouragement and solace as the six are sent out into a world where they will be “hated,” just as Christ said.

“Just as Jesus speaks, ‘as you sent me into the world, I sent them into the world,’ you, my sons, are sent into the world. You are not sent into a cell. You are not sent into your rectory, but you are sent into the world to invite the world to come to know the love of Jesus Christ. And I assure you, in today’s world, you will be hated. You will hear people say things to you that you never expect. But there are also those who, when they see the collar, are immediately moved and come to you who desire to come to know Christ and who want to know Christ, and we must be courageous to offer that gift,” he concluded.

COMING UP: Responding to the call: Meet the Archdiocese of Denver’s newest priests

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On May 15, six men were ordained priests at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver. Get to know the archdiocese’s newest priests and where their first assignments will be. Rewatch the full ordination Mass at archden.org/livestream.

Father Tony Davis 
Studied at St. John Vianney; Assigned to St. Stephen in Glenwood Springs 


What is one of the most valuable things you learned during your time in seminary? 
If you don’t intentionally set aside time to spend in prayer with the Lord, you will be swallowed up by the demands of life and neglect prayer. No one is exempt from that, not even a priest.  

What is one thing about the priesthood that you are most looking forward to? 
God told me to pursue the priesthood seven years ago. I have been in the seminary waiting for the day when I can ask God, “now what?” So, I am just overjoyed to be affirmed by the Church in my call to the priesthood, and to serve God’s people in charity and truth.  

Did the pandemic this past year influence your reflections during this final year of study? 
I think the pandemic affected every facet of our lives. However, I have been reflecting more and more about fear, doubt, and trust this year due to COVID. The world seemed to be preaching a gospel of fear this past year, but the Lord preaches a gospel of salvation. There is no need to fear things of this world. The Lord has revealed the path to the world to come, and that is what really matters.  

Would you characterize God’s call to the priesthood for you as a whisper or a roar? Why? 
Definitely a roar. When I was in college, I had an experience on a retreat that I often describe as God hitting me over the head with a baseball bat and then running me over with a train. After that experience, I could no longer deny God or turn away from him. My call to the priesthood was similar. During a 30-day silent retreat, I received the command to serve God with an undivided heart, especially serving the lost and forgotten sheep within His flock. Thankfully, God has given me the grace and clarity to pursue that call.  

Father Sean Conroy 
Studied at St. John Vianney; Assigned to Our Lady of Lourdes in Denver 

What is one of the most valuable things you learned during your time in seminary? 
One of the most valuable things that I learned in seminary is to prioritize God first in my life: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Mt 6:33). We have one choice in life: either let God be the God of my life, or I will be the god of my life. When we seek first his kingdom, all things will fall into their proper place. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be hard times or sufferings, but it does mean that we will live with a deep trust in God’s providence and he will take care of everything! 

What is one thing about the priesthood that you are most looking forward to? 
The thing I’m looking most forward to in priesthood is to be able to walk with people in the most intimate moments of their lives: birth, life, sickness, death, etc. How amazing it is to be a vessel of God’s love and mercy in these intimate times. 

Did the pandemic this past year influence your reflections during this final year of study? 
Finishing my last year of seminary during a pandemic has made me reflect on death. Memento mori. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:19-21). If we are afraid to die, then are our priorities really in the right order? 

Would you characterize God’s call to the priesthood for you as a whisper or a roar? Why? 
God’s call to the priesthood for me was very clear. I would call it a roar as opposed to a whisper. He made it very clear that he was calling me to be a priest. I couldn’t doubt or get confused. I am very thankful for this clarity as not everyone has this type of discernment, in fact, it might be the minority of men. 

Father John Stapleton  
Studied at St. John Vianney; Assigned to St. John the Baptist in Longmont 

What is one of the most valuable things you learned during your time in seminary? 
The most valuable thing I learned during my time in seminary would be the deepening of my prayer life, hearing God’s call, and discerning where he is inviting me to. Throughout the seven years of seminary, I have deepened my prayer life beginning in Spirituality Year and I understand how God speaks to me personally. I gain insight to God’s movement within my heart and where He is leading me to. This will be with me throughout my whole life in priesthood.     

What is one thing about the priesthood that you are most looking forward to? 
The one thing I am most looking forward to is celebrating the Mass, but I am really excited to see the life of a parish throughout the liturgical year.  I am also excited to hear confessions and how God will use me to bring healing in His children’s life. 

Did the pandemic this past year influence your reflections during this final year of study? 
The pandemic did influence my reflections during this final year of study by helping me understand deeper that God is in control.  There has been a lot of anxiety and fear in our world about COVID and how it will affect each person.  The Lord has invited me to surrender these fears and anxiety to Him and know that every day is a gift from Him, and He is the only one who decides if I see another day.  That has brought me a lot of peace throughout this turbulent year. 

Would you characterize God’s call to the priesthood for you as a whisper or a roar? Why? 
I would say it was both a roar and whisper.  When I was 20, God planted the seed of discerning the priesthood, which seemed like a roar and earth shattering because I had a different plan.  I did not enter seminary until I was 27, but I always remember God’s call when I was 20.  Every time I would pray a Rosary or Holy Hour, during those seven years, I was reminded of that call and that I would only be truly happy if I pursued God’s call for my life.  These moments in prayer were God’s whisper of reminding me my vocation and His plan for my life. 

Father John Croghan 
Studied at St. John XXIII Seminary in Boston; Assigned to Northwest Colorado Tri-Parish, Sts. Michael, Ignatius, and Holy Family 

What is one of the most valuable things you learned during your time in seminary?   
I learned the importance and priority of prayer.  It is critical if one wants to lead a virtuous life to root themselves in regular prayer to our Lord and His Blessed Mother.  

What is one thing about the priesthood that you are most looking forward to?  
I am of course looking most forward to celebrating the sacraments and being with the people.  I am a regular parish guy and look forward to being back in that environment. 

Did the pandemic this past year influence your reflections during this final year of study? 
It really didn’t.  My seminary was pretty well isolated from the impacts of the pandemic, and if anything, it made for more time for prayer and study.   

Would you characterize God’s call to the priesthood for you as a whisper or a roar? Why? 
I think God’s call is a whisper.  I think it takes the form of a holy desire to lay down one’s life in service, just as Jesus did.  I think that there are a lot of people who are called (myself included) who got busy with work and life and didn’t respond to that gentle pull to serve Jesus in His Church.  I think if a single woman or man has a holy desire towards religious life, and it sticks with them a while, they should discuss it with a priest or the vocations office.  Entering seminary was hands down the best decision I ever made. 

Father John Paul Almeida 
Studied at Redemptoris Mater; Assigned to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Fort Collins 

What is one of the most valuable things you learned during your time in seminary?   
One of the most valuable things I learned in the seminary is how important it is to share life in communion and to have other brothers walking with you, serving each other and fighting with each other but asking for forgiveness, and the importance of obedience to my formators, which will help me be obedient to my bishop and the church. 

What is one thing about the priesthood that you are most looking forward to? 
The thing I am most looking forward to is being able to minister to people to take them out of their hell, their situation of suffering and give them consolation and hope. 

Did the pandemic this past year influence your reflections during this final year of study? 
Of course, the pandemic helped me to reflect in a deeper way on the meaning of life and the importance of my mission as a priest.  Now more than ever, I see the importance in looking for the lost sheep and bringing hope to those living in despair. Personally, it was a reminder of how precarious our existence is and what really matters in life. 

Would you characterize God’s call to the priesthood for you as a whisper or a roar? Why? 
As a ROAR! God has been very clear and loud in my life with strong signs that I was not able to miss. 

Father Peter Srsich 
Studied at Pontifical North American College Rome; Assigned to Sts. Peter and Paul in Wheatridge, then will return to Rome to continue studies 

What is one of the most valuable things you learned during your time in seminary? 
I have learned many valuable things during my time in seminary. Perhaps, one of the most valuable, is how to pray with the scriptures. Before seminary I had heard of Lectio Divina and contemplative prayer, but I had never really practiced either. During the Spirituality year at Saint John Vianney, I was given the time and space to really dive into scriptural prayer using different methods. Throughout my time in seminary God has used his word, which is truly living and effective, to reveal to me his own heart. It has encouraged, comforted, and strengthened me and throughout the past seven years I have grown to love God in new ways through meditation on his word.  

What is one thing about the priesthood that you are most looking forward to? 
One thing about the priesthood that I am most looking forward to is to be able to celebrate the Holy Mass. Throughout my life God has given me a great devotion to the Eucharist. It is incredibly humbling to think that soon, God will become present on the Altar in my hands and at my words. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith and I cannot wait to experience this new participation to which God has called me.  

Did the pandemic this past year influence your reflections during this final year of study? 
Before my ordination to the Diaconate last February, God had been inviting me to pray with the fact that I did not know what the future would hold. So often in scripture he speaks to people who are about to begin a new journey with him and says: “Be not afraid.” In getting ready to live out any vocation, we can only prepare so much, but we will never know everything that will come our way. This pandemic highlighted this in a new way for me. As with so many people throughout the world, I was able to learn how to trust in God in a new way. In the face of this my ministry, although very different than what I expected, has borne fruit thanks to the grace of God.  

Would you characterize God’s call to the priesthood for you as a whisper or a roar? Why? 
I don’t know if I could characterize God’s call to me as either a whisper or a roar. Of course, there have been certain aspects that more resembled one or the other, but I would describe it more as a conversation. God has known since before he formed me in the womb what he had planned for my life, but he has had to reveal it to me slowly. As my relationship with him grew deeper, so too did my understanding of his call to the priesthood. There was no room for doubt that this is what God had planned for me from the beginning. 


Featured image by Daniel Petty