Last call for historic canonization pilgrimage to Rome

The Denver Archdiocese and its newspapers, the Denver Catholic Register and El Pueblo Católico, are co-sponsoring an April 25-May 3 pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi for the canonization of Blessed Popes John Paul II and John XXIII. Last week, the Register interviewed Timothy Mullner, director of program development for Faith Journeys, which is organizing the trip.

Q: Tell me about the sites pilgrims will be visiting on this canonization pilgrimage, what are the stand-outs?

A: I completed one of my doctoral residencies in Roma, so the “Eternal City” holds a special place in my heart.  Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Denver will return saying, “Roma, Roma, non basta una vita!” (“Rome, Rome, one lifetime is not enough!”)  The itinerary we have created is one highlight after another starting with the canonization of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II. I recall being amazed at previous papal Masses hearing fellow Christians praying in four, five, or six different languages and then a shiver down my spine as our Holy Father extended his arms in blessing those gathered.

Other highlights will include Assisi and the chance to pray in the spirit of St. Francis and St. Clare, along with a guided tour of Imperial Rome to view the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Pantheon and more.  The general audience with Pope Francis will be another special moment of grace as we continue to pray for a new evangelization around the world.  And on top of that, we will experience the rich history and art of the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica and the major basilicas of Rome.  We’ve even built in the option of an entire day of leisure and prayer in Roma or an excursion (additional cost) to Naples and Pompei.  We will come away with a deeper appreciation for our Catholic identity and the invitation to be good stewards of God’s gracious gifts in our lives.

Q: What is the historical significance of this particular pilgrimage to the canonization of two modern-day popes?

A: Blessed Pope John XXIII called history “the great teacher of life,” and we have lots to learn from this historic moment of grace in our Church. On this faith journey, pilgrims will experience (in Pope Francis) the first pope from outside Europe, the first from South America, the first Jesuit pontiff and the first pontiff to choose the name of the beloved “Saint of Assisi”!  And consider the unprecedented blessing of two popes being canonized at the same time. We will truly be watching the Holy Spirit in action as history is made before our eyes!  Like our Blessed Mother, Mary, we will ponder all these things in our hearts (Luke 2:19) as we return home to make a difference in our local communities.

Q: What is special about this particular pilgrimage?

A: We have just concluded a “Year of Faith.” This pilgrimage is a rare opportunity to make catechesis a “real world” experience of faith formation and ongoing conversion. We will learn about the pillars of our faith: creed, liturgy, morality and prayer by walking in the footsteps of the early Church and the saints who invite all of us to follow Jesus Christ.  It’s a chance to go deeper in our relationship with Christ and the Church by joining pilgrims from around the world.  I can’t think of a more special opportunity.

Q: Speak to the spiritual value of pilgrimage, which is an ancient tradition in the Church.

A: Our entire lives, from birth to death, are a pilgrimage—a holy journey to intimacy with our God. Spirituality is our response to God’s call (vocare) and the way we live our faith every day. By visiting these holy sites, we are making our Catholic faith a priority and witnessing to that truth. And when luggage and airlines are involved, each day is a chance to “Be still and know that I’m not God!”  On this journey to Italia we are not tourists, we are pilgrims seeking to practice (praxis) what we preach and teach by the way we treat each other and surrender all that we are to God.

Q: Is there anything you would like to add?

A: Every pilgrimage is a chance to practice radical hospitality. Any time we put our lives in a suitcase and travel, we are presented with numerous ways to serve others: lending a hand with luggage, deferring to others in a long TSA (Transportation Security Administration) line, praying for special intentions, or simply greeting others with a smile.  Having the mind and heart of a pilgrim will move us from being tourists to being evangelizers and good news to those we meet on this faith journey. Buon viaggio! (Good journey!)

Those interested in making the pilgrimage should register quickly as space is limited. Registration deadline is Jan. 25. Cost is $3,695 per person (land only cost $2,495). Optional one-day trip to Naples and Pompeii is an additional $85 per person. For more information, or to register, call Faith Journeys at 1-877-732-4845, ext. 100, or email


When: April 25-May 3

Where: Rome and Assisi for canonization of Blesseds John Paul II and John XXIII

Information: call 1-877-732-4845, ext. 100, or email



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.”