Men to be ordained find freedom, grace in answering God’s call

During a 10 a.m. Mass May 17 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Denver, Archbishop Samuel Aquila will ordain four men to the priesthood. Short bios of the men, who have served as deacons since March 2013 in their final year of priesthood formation, follow.

Deacon Warli de Araujo Castro
Deacon Warli de Araujo Castro, 33, has a missioner’s heart.

He said he entered the seminary to give his life entirely to God “and especially (to answer) the missionary call to go anywhere in the world bringing the good news of Christ.”

Born in Campina Grande in northeast Brazil and reared in Brasilia, the capital, Deacon Castro has been in formation at the international Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary, located at the St. John Paul II Center. While the men at Redemptoris Mater are in formation to serve the Denver Archdiocese, they also receive missionary training and are willing to be sent anywhere in the world at the archbishop’s discretion.

“I want to serve the people and look for the lost sheep,” Deacon Castro said. “As Pope Francis said, we have to go out and look for the lost ones and announce the love of God.”

Before entering the seminary, Deacon Castro earned a degree in electronics in Brasilia in 2003 and worked in telecommunications. He likes to read, play the guitar and listen to Gregorian chant, classical and Brazilian music.

A member of the Neocatechumenal Way, a parish-based catechumenate that aims to bring people to mature Christian faith, he found support for his call to the priesthood from his parents and his Way community.

He said he felt a call to the priesthood as a child.

“Since a young age, I saw how priests give their entire lives to the service of the Lord, and I was very much attracted to that,” he said. “I feel a great sense of gratefulness toward the Lord and to his Church for this great gift.”

Deacon Joseph Daniel Doman
Deacon Joseph “Joe” Doman, 29, found freedom in giving his life to Christ.

“There is a tremendous freedom and joy that comes from giving your life away irrevocably, from not having any more options,” he said. “Giving your life away irrevocably seems to be the opposite of freedom: being chained to one something until death. But the reality is that this gift of self is the fulfillment of freedom. I’ve never felt more free in my life.”

Born in Collegeville, Pa., Deacon Doman grew up in Collegeville and New Jersey. In 2007 he earned a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. His first job brought him to Denver to serve as director of student activities at Bishop Machebeuf High School. He has been in formation at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary at the St. John Paul II Center since 2008.

He enjoys playing sports, especially basketball, and playing the guitar and piano.

Deacon Doman said he’s thrilled to finally be approaching his priesthood ordination.

“I have been in seminary for six years, which is longer than I have been anywhere since I was in high school. But God didn’t call me to be a seminarian. He called me to be a priest. So I am excited to be finally entering into that vocation and to serve the people of God in that way.”

Deacon Nathan Andrew Goebel
What Deacon Nathan Goebel, 31, is most looking forward to about the priesthood is … being a priest.

“Not just doing priestly things but being a priest,” he said. “I’m sure that many people would echo that in married life … there is a lot that they are looking forward to but I think the best part would be just being with someone. Being with Christ, being Christ in the priesthood … yeah, probably that.”

Born in Mount Zion, Ill., Deacon Goebel earned a degree in political science from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign in 2005. He then served as a FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) campus missionary two years before entering the Denver Archdiocese’s St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

He likes “chewing the fat” with friends and fly-fishing. He’s also been a popular podcaster with Denver priest Father John Nepil for “Catholic Stuff You Should Know,” which they’ve also presented for Theology on Tap lectures.

What kept him close to God growing up, was being an altar server at Mass.

“Having closeness to the Mass has kept me close to the Lord’s heart in good times and in bad,” he asserted.

So how does he feel now that he’ll soon be celebrating the Mass as a priest?

“In short, pretty nervous,” he said. “I guess that is the way I always feel before going on a roller coaster. There is the long line, the anticipation, you see other people before you in line go first; you have an idea of what its going to be like. Then suddenly I’m next in line and I’m a little tense. This moment in time, the ordination, is the beginning of a new kind of ministry; yet, the adventure of following Christ began at baptism. This is just another twist and turn in the wonder that is the will of God.”

Deacon Jason Frederick Wunsch
Convert to Catholicism Deacon Jason Frederick Wunsch, 36, sees his upcoming priesthood ordination as the fulfillment of God’s vision for him conceived when he was but a thought in the Almighty’s mind.

“I believe that God has, in a certain sense, called me to be a priest from before I was born,” he said. “So, to only definitively discern that call at age 28 and then to have to wait over seven years (in seminary formation) to seal that calling, makes me deeply content and amazed that an end and a beginning are actually here.”

Born and reared in Boulder, Deacon Wunsch earned two bachelor’s degrees—in Spanish and history—from his hometown’s University of Colorado. He entered the Catholic Church at age 20.

A spiritual director had told him that if he was radically open to whatever God would call him to and were living a life of prayer, God could speak a definitive word and change his life. During Lent 2006 he felt God might be calling him to the priesthood, so he asked God for confirmation and got it the next day both in prayer and at Mass.

“It certainly does not take God long to act when he wants to!” Deacon Wunsch said.

A runner, he speaks Spanish and loves Latino culture.

Although he was somewhat fearful prior to his ordination to the diaconate to make a lifelong commitment of prayer, obedience, simplicity and celibacy, his diaconal experience the last year has him confident and eager for his upcoming priestly ministry.

“I am more excited to have the ability to minister in a new way through hearing confessions and celebrating Mass,” Deacon Wunsch said. “I know this is an incredible responsibility, but having also experienced the providence of God through ministering as a deacon when I have trusted him, I fully believe that he who has called me, will provide everything I need to respond to his calling by his grace.”

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.”