Mother Teresa’s gift to Denver continues

Missionaries of Charity reach 25 years of service

The gift Mother Teresa sent to Colorado 25 years ago keeps on giving.

A handful of meek and humble Missionaries of Charity nuns continue to pray, comfort and care for the poorest of the poor in Denver after their mother sent them in the 1990s.

“I have a gift for you,” Mother Teresa told a crowd in Denver’s old McNichols Sports Arena May 20, 1989. “I will give you my sisters and I hope that, together, we are going to do something beautiful for God.”

Much to then-Archbishop J. Francis Stafford’s surprise, the small nun from Calcutta, India announced to thousands during a prayer service she wanted to send nuns from the order she founded to serve in the Archdiocese of Denver.

Her gift was the story of the day for the media that heavily covered Mother Teresa’s Denver visit and seemingly-spontaneous announcement.

Reflecting back, Sister Damascene and the three other nuns running A Gift of Mary Shelter adjoining St. Joseph Church suggest there was no mystery to Mother Teresa’s decision—it was God’s will.

“It’s as God wants,” Sister Damascene, the superior, told the Denver Catholic inside the shelter. “We are missionaries so we are sent. We cannot choose where we want to go. There is no questioning.”

The first group of sisters sent to Denver in Jan. 1990 moved into the Seton House, which had been renovated and dedicated for housing AIDS patients. Mother Teresa received honors for making use of the former Cathedral High School and convent and founding the house.

By 2003, the order had cared for more than 490 patients. But improved treatment for AIDS and changing city requirements on the Seton House forced the sisters to relocate.

“We had to stop that work because they had better medication and the city requirement was more and more (patients), but we were getting less and less patients,” Sister Damascene explained.

They received permission to run a shelter for single, homeless women and began to look for a smaller space.

“That’s why we came over here,” she said of the shelter on Fox Street and 6th Avenue, where the sisters also live.

In Jan. 1990, the shelter began and the sisters open the doors at night to some 100 women over the course of a year.

“We do talk with them and pray with them and listen to them,” Sister Damascene said. “Many people here do change their life. They find much peace and prayer. There are times when they want to come back to the sacraments.”

During the day the sisters, who wear the order’s recognizable blue-boarded white sari, visit families and nursing home residents. They also visit the downtown jail weekly.

“When we go to the prison, we bring and present Jesus in the blessed sacrament. It’s also an opportunity for prayer,” she shared. “The most important thing is to be with them, to listen to them—sometimes they have a lot of sufferings and want to share things.”


The sisters thank God for the poor’s acceptance of their service. For in each person they serve, they see Christ.

“If we are not doing it for Jesus, if we are not seeing Jesus in them, we would not be able to do the work,” Sister Damascene said. “What we doing to them, we are doing it to Jesus.”

The sisters describe it as joy-filled work with occasional struggles only overcome by prayer.

“Prayer is important because otherwise we would not be able to do the work that we do,” the superior said. “The prayer gives us the strength.”

The sisters spend more than four hours of their day in prayer, waking up before 5 a.m. for morning prayer and Mass. They also say prayers with the shelter residents, spend 30 minutes of spiritual reading, dedicate one hour to eucharistic adoration and conclude with the Liturgy of the Hour’s evening and night prayer.

The sisters’ work and pray in the shelter that is one of 760 houses run by the order’s 5,100 nuns across the world. The future is unknown, but the Denver sisters are content with surrendering to wherever God sends them.

“We are happy. I am happy,” Sister Damascene said.

World Day of Consecrated Life Mass

Mass 10:30 a.m. Feb. 8
Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, 1530 Logan St., Denver.


By the Numbers
4 Missionaries of Charity sisters care for 8 homeless women at night at the Gift of Mary Shelter
5,100 professed sisters in the world run 760 houses in 139 countries

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.”