Meet the men becoming priests this May

Denver Catholic Staff

On May 19, five men studying for the Archdiocese of Denver will be ordained to the priesthood. Interestingly enough, none of the men being ordained are from St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, and the average age of the five men is 41 years old.

Deacons Angel Perez-Brown, Roberto Rodríguez and Tomislav Tomic all hail from different parts of the world and have been studying for the priesthood at Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary. Deacons Darrick Leier and Shannon Thurman have been studying at St. John XXIII Seminary in Boston, Mass., a seminary specifically for men who discover a vocation to the priesthood later in life.

Get to know Denver’s newest priests, and pray for them as they prepare to be ordained next week.

 

Deacon Darrick Leier

Deacon Darrick Leier is 42 years old and spent several years working in the software and civil engineering fields before discovering his vocation. After college, he became a fallen-away Catholic, but that changed 6 years ago, when his mother Marvelyn died from cancer. “Through this sorrowful and life-changing event, the Lord pierced my heart and poured out his love an mercy upon me,” he hold the Denver Catholic. The Lord led him to join Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Northglenn, and after a year and a half of prayerful discernment, it became evident that he was being called to the priesthood. “Jesus has set my heart on fire, and as a priest, I most want to share that fire in others I meet,” he said. “The Lord has given me this great gift, and I can’t wait to be his alter Christus!”

 

Deacon Shannon Thurman

Deacon Shannon Thurman has spent most of his life in Colorado, and comes from a blended family. He was adopted by his stepfather at age 11 and had a pretty regular upbringing, he said. Throughout his life, he always felt tugs from the Lord that he was being called to the priesthood, but he largely ignored them up until 2012 when, after a period of absence from the Church, he felt the Lord calling him back and became an extraordinary minister of communion for the homebound. He finally answered the call of the Lord and entered St. John XXIII Seminary in Boston at the age of 43. When speaking about his vocation, Thurman cites St. Teresa of Calcutta’s famous line. “God draws straight with crooked lines. That would describe my journey to the priesthood,” he said.

 

Deacon Roberto Rodríguez

Deacon Roberto Rodriguez, originally from the Dominican Republic, has served at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Denver for a year, and will begin his priestly service at Ascension Parish upon ordination. Although he admits being “a bit nervous” before the big date, he is mostly excited for the mission he will undertake. “It will be a time of learning, adaptation and change,” he said. “I am looking forward to see how the Lord will ask me to serve him and his people.” Some of the biggest treasures he keeps from his time at St. Anthony of Padua Parish include “growing closer to parishioners, sharing in their joys and sorrows,” walking with grieving families and mostly, “growing closer to the Eucharist,” which he awaits to celebrate after his priestly ordination. Some of his favorite saints include Saint Therese of Lisieux, St. Theresa of Calcutta and St. John of Nepomuk.

 

Deacon Angel Perez-Brown

Deacon Angel Miguel Perez-Brown has served at St. John the Baptist in Johnstown and St. Nicholas in Platteville since his ordination in 2017. There he will continue his mission as parochial vicar upon priestly ordination. His pastoral work will focus on serving the immigrants who arrive to work on the fields. “I’m very excited. [There] I will find people who are thirsty, who want to encounter Christ,” he said. “They are like the people of Israel who left for Egypt, to an unknown land.” Originally from the Dominican Republic and a member of the Neocatecumenal Way, the deacon values the “warmth” of both parishes and communities, Hispanic and non-Hispanic. “I see the greatness of my vocation as something unattainable,” he said. “I went on a retreat two months ago and the Lord spoke to me clearly, saying that it is he who does all things.”

 

Deacon Tomislav Tomic

Deacon Tomislav Tomic was born and raised in a village in Bosnia. He is the youngest of nine children, and comes from a large family with several priests. Around the time he graduated high school, the Bosnian War had broken out. Four days after graduating, he enlisted in the military for a period of three years. After fulfilling his military duties, Tomic found himself feeling extremely isolated in his life. Around that time, the pastor of his parish invited him to a Neocatechumenal Way gathering. This had a profound effect on him. Tomic eventually submitted to the Lord’s call for him to the priesthood. Entering seminary was the biggest risk he’d taken in 34 years, Tomic said, and now, at 43, Deacon Tomic God has restored his human dignity and completely changed his life. “Now that I am here, I see that God transformed my life completely,” Deacon Tomic said. “God is incredible. What he doing with me is a miracle.”

COMING UP: Radical living and my friend Shelly

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I saw my friend Shelly the other day, for the first time in 28 years.

Back in the day, she was Shelly Pennefather, basketball phenomenon. She led Denver’s Bishop Machebeuf High School’s women’s basketball team to three undefeated seasons, a 70-0 record. In her senior year, her family moved to Utica, New York, where she led the Notre Dame High School team to a 26-0 season, giving her a no loss record for her entire high school career. She remains Villanova University’s all-time scorer — men’s and women’s — with a career total of 2408 points.  She also holds the women’s rebound record, at 1171. She is a three-time Big East Player of the Year, the first All-American out of the Big East, the 1987 National Player of the Year, and a winner of the prestigious Wade Trophy. She’s been inducted into the Philadelphia Women’s Big Five Hall of Fame, and Villanova has retired her jersey. After college, she played professional women’s basketball in Japan. She was making more money than anybody I knew.

She doesn’t go by Shelly anymore. These days, she is Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. She lives in the Poor Clares Monastery in Alexandria, Virginia. She joined their community in 1991 and took her final vows in 1997. They are cloistered, which means that they don’t leave the monastery, except for medical emergencies. Her only contact with the outside world is through letters, and very limited visits with family and friends. She’s never used the internet, doesn’t know what Facebook is, and when she saw a visitor answer a cell phone, she asked “What is that?”

Why? Why on God’s earth would a basketball star of this magnitude just walk away from the game and the fame, or go from being one of the world’s highest paid women’s basketball players to taking a vow of perpetual poverty? Why would an attractive, funny, vivacious 25-year-old woman renounce marriage and family to lock herself up in a monastery? Why would a loving daughter and sister embrace a religious discipline wherein she could only see her family — through a screen —a few times a year, and hug them only once every 25 years? Why would anybody voluntarily live a life in which they could own nothing, sleep no more than four hours at a time (on a straw mat), eat no more than one full meal a day, and use telephones, TV, radio, internet and newspapers — well, never?

It all boils down to this: We’re all gonna die. And when we do, all of the money and the prestige and the accomplishments and the basketball awards are going to fall away. All that will be left is us and God. If we play our cards right, we will spend eternity beholding his face and praising him. And, as St. Augustine says, that is where our truest happiness lies — in this life as well as in the next: “Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and will not rest until they rest in Thee.”

Cloistered sisters like the Poor Clares make the radical choice to live that way now — to begin their eternal life here on earth. As religious sisters, they are brides of Christ, and they focus their lives entirely on their bridegroom, without the distractions of all the stuff that’s going to fall away after death anyway. They spend their lives primarily in prayer — praying for you and for me and for this entire mixed up world and in deepening their own relationship with Christ.

This, it goes without saying, is a radical way to live. It is not for everyone, or even for most people. It is a free choice on the part of the sisters. But they do not take the initiative. God himself is the initiator. He calls them to this life, and they freely respond. Sister Rose Marie herself told her coach that this was not the life she would have chosen for herself, but it was very clear to her that it was the life God was calling her to.

I finally got to see Sister Rose Marie last weekend, as she celebrated the 25th anniversary of her solemn vows. I had the privilege of witnessing the once-every-25-year-hugs she gave her family. I spoke to her briefly, from behind the screen. She was always a cheerful person. But I saw a joy and a radiance in her that day that I have rarely seen ever, in anyone. It was beautiful.

The great gift these sisters give to us, aside from their prayers, is that they remind us that this life, and all its pleasures and distractions, will not last forever. And their dedication and their joy give us a small glimpse into the joy that is in store for us, if we can only imitate in some small way their singular focus on their Bridegroom.

Pray for them. And pray for the grace to do what they do — to rise above the distractions of this world and look toward the life that never ends.