Mary is coming to see you

Parishes, Catholic schools invited to host a visit of new diocesan statue

The Church has dedicated the month of October to the rosary since 1883, when “the rosary pope” Pope Leo XIII directed it. Pope Francis reiterated this call last month, when he invited all the faithful to recite it every day in October.

This month also marked two significant Marian dates. On Oct. 7, the Church observed the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, which recalls the outmanned Holy League’s 16th century victory over Turkish invaders at the Battle of Lepanto, which St. Pius V attributed to mass recitation of the prayer. Oct. 13 marked the 101st anniversary of the 1917 “miracle of the sun” in the last apparition of Mary at Fatima, Portugal. Our Lady of Fatima urged praying the rosary.

Fittingly, the Archdiocese of Denver’s new statue of Our Lady of Fatima is now on pilgrimage throughout the diocese to encourage the faithful to recite the rosary. The rosary is a centuries-old Scriptural prayer focused on events in the lives of Jesus and Mary.

“The statue was two years in the making,” said Sam Perry, founder of the Prayer in the Square campaign, which serves to promote the rosary and commissioned the statue. Prayer in the Square partners include The Catholic Foundation, the Knights of Columbus and Catholic Charities.

The Our Lady of Fatima statue was commissioned in Portugal in 2016 as a gift to the archdiocese to mark the then-upcoming 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions. Unfortunately, those who carve the statues were overwhelmed with centennial orders and Denver’s didn’t arrive until this spring.

The exquisite five-foot tall statue is made from a single piece of African wood. It depicts Mary in bright white garments with gold trim, holding a rosary and wearing a gleaming gold crown. Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila blessed it in May. Such statues are believed to carry the moral presence of Mary.

“We wanted the statue so it could visit schools and parishes where time could be set aside to pray the rosary,” said Tom Morroni, a member of the Prayer in the Square Committee. “This is meant to pass the rosary on to the next generation.”

Catholic schools and parishes are invited to host the statue for a two-week period. It arrives with rosaries made in the Holy Land and pocket-sized blue-covered books (in English and in Spanish) on how to recite it that are given away for free.

Organizers encourage parishes to offer special events related to the visit to foster devotion to the rosary, such as a time for daily public recitation of it. A film about the Fatima apparitions is also available for parishes to offer a movie night for families.

The statue’s pilgrimage started in June. It is currently at Queen of Peace Church in Aurora. The first parish to host it was Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Foxfield. Our Lady Mother of the Church in Commerce City soon followed.

“I wanted to have it because our parish is dedicated to Mary,” said Msgr. Jorge de los Santos, Pastor of the predominately Hispanic parish. “It’s good to have devotion to Our Mother [Mary], the Mother of God. She is the first disciple, our mother and our model of discipleship.”

As a result of the visit, he said, the parish has continued to pray the rosary as a community before each Mass on Sundays.

Father Michael Freihofer, Pastor of Our Lady of the Snow in Granby and Spiritual Director for the World Apostolate of Fatima’s Denver Division, recently hosted a visit.

“We will accept a life-size statue of Mary at our churches (he oversees five) any time we can get her!” he said. “We get to see how powerful her intercession is. … I get to hear the stories of healing.”

Father Freihofer credits the Blessed Mother with protecting him from falling into mortal sin at age 21.

“The Blessed Virgin beckoned me not to fall into it,” he said. “By God’s grace, I avoided it. My whole path in life could have gone astray if I would have committed that sin.”

He also credits Mary with his vocation to the priesthood.

“In 1995, I felt I wasn’t a very holy person, even though I was going to Mass every Sunday and going to confession bi-monthly. I determined to pray the rosary every day beginning on January 1, 1996. … By August 1999, I was in the seminary.”

His devotion to Mary is summarized in one statement.

“The quickest way to holiness is having Mary at your side,” he asserted.

Schedule the Our Lady of Fatima statue to come to your parish or school  

Go to ccdenver.org/fatimastatue/

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.”