Two Pope Saints

John XXIII: Meek and gentle spiritual giant

Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was born in Sotto il Monte, in the Diocese of Bergamo, on Nov. 25, 1881. He entered the seminary of Bergamo when he was 11 years old. As a fourteen-year-old boy, he began drawing up the spiritual notes which he would keep in various ways until his death, and would later be collected in the Journal of a Soul.

He was ordained a priest in Rome on Aug. 10, 1904. Less than a year later, he was named secretary to the Bishop Giacomo Maria Radini Tedeschi of Bergamo. He served the bishop until 1914, taking part in numerous pastoral initiatives.

When Italy entered the war in 1915, he was called to military service as a sergeant medic, and later he was a military chaplain serving behind the lines. At the end of the war he opened a “Home for Students” and served as a chaplain for students. In 1919 he was appointed spiritual director of the seminary, and in 1921 he was named President for Italy of the central council of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

Then in 1925, he began his life of service as a bishop. He was ordained in 1925, choosing as his episcopal motto Obedientia et Pax (Obedience and Peace). That same year he was sent to be Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria. He also served as Apostolic Delegate in Turkey and Greece (1935), and Apostolic Nuncio in Paris (1944).

In 1953, he was created Cardinal and named Patriarch of Venice. Five years later, on Oct. 28, 1958, he was elected Pope, taking the name John XXIII. During his pontificate he appeared to the world as an authentic image of the Good Shepherd.

Meek and gentle, resourceful and courageous, simple and ever active, he undertook various corporal and spiritual works of mercy, visiting prisoners and the sick, welcoming people of all nations and religions, demonstrating an exquisite sense of fatherhood to everyone.

His social magisterium was contained in the Encyclicals Mater et Magistra (1961) and Pacem in Terris (1963), and he convened Vatican II.

He embodied, as the driving force behind a movement of renewal of the Church, the peace of one who trusts completely in the Lord. He advanced resolutely along the paths of evangelization, ecumenism and dialogue, and showed a paternal concern to reach
out to those of his children most in need.

He died the evening of June 3, 1963, the day after Pentecost, in a profound spirit of abandonment to Jesus, of longing for his embrace, and surrounded by the prayers of the entire world, which seemed to gathered at his bedside to breathe with him the love of the Father.

John XXIII was declared Blessed by Pope John Paul II on Sept. 3, 2000, in St. Peter’s Square, during the celebration of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

Based on the Booklet for the Celebration of the Canonization of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II, April 27, 2014

John Paul II: actor, scholar and pope

Karol Josef Wojtyla was born in Wadowice, Poland, on May 18, 1920. He was the third of three children born to Karol Wojtyła and Emilia Kaczorowska.

Karol lost his entire family before he was 21 years old. His older sister died before he was born, his mother died in 1929, and his brother Edmund died in 1932.

After completing high school, Karol and his father moved to Krakow in 1938 so he could attend the Jagellonian University of Krakow. His father died a few years later, in 1941. During World War II Karol worked in a quarry, and then in the Solvay chemical factory, to earn a living and to avoid deportation to Germany.

Feeling called to the priesthood, he began his studies in 1942 in the clandestine major seminary of Krakow. During that time, he was one of the organizers of the clandestine “Rhapsodic Theatre.”

After the war, Karol continued his studies and was ordained in Krakow in 1946. He was then sent to Rome to study for a doctorate in theology, which he completed in 1948.

Father Wojtyła returned to Poland to serve as pastor and university chaplain. He later became professor of moral theology and ethics in Krakow and Lublin.

In 1958, he was named auxiliary bishop of Krakow, and in 1964 appointed Archbishop of Krakow. Bishop Wojtyła took part in the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and made a significant contribution to the drafting of the Constitution Gaudium et Spes. He was created Cardinal in 1967.

Cardinal Wojtyła was elected Pope on Oct. 16, 1978, which marked the beginning of the Pontificate of the one of the most traveled Popes in history. Pope John Paul II made 146 pastoral visits in Italy, and 104 international apostolic journeys.

Pope John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals, 15 apostolic exhortations, 11 apostolic constitutions, 45 apostolic letters, and five books. He also celebrated 147 beatifications, during which he proclaimed 1,338 blesseds, and 51 canonizations, for a total of 482 saints.

On May 3, 1981, he was shot in St. Peter’s Square. Saved by the maternal hand of the Mother of God, and following a lengthy stay in the hospital, he forgave the attempted assassin.

He proclaimed the Year of Redemption, the Marian Year and the Year of the Eucharist as well as the Great Jubilee Year of 2000, in order to provide the People of God with particularly intense spiritual experiences. He also attracted young people by beginning the celebration of World Youth Day, and he promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

No other Pope met as many people as Pope John Paul II. More than 17.6 million pilgrims attended his Wednesday General Audiences, and he met more than 8 million pilgrims in the Great Jubilee Year of 2000 alone.

Pope John Paul II died in the Apostolic Palace at 9:37 p.m. on Saturday, April 2, 2005, and he was beatified in St. Peter’s Square on May 1, 2011.

Based on the Booklet for the Celebration of the Canonization of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II, 27 April 2014

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.”