Native, foreign priests reach 60-year jubilees in archdiocese

During the Denver Archdiocese’s annual Chrism Mass in April, priests were honored for their jubilee years of service to the Church. Below are short profiles of four priests who are celebrating 60 years of priesthood ordination.

Father Thomas Dowd
Father Thomas DowdA native Nebraskan and longtime Denver priest, Father Thomas Dowd reached his 60 year anniversary in the priesthood this year.

He was trained in St. Thomas Seminary (now St. John Vianney Theological Seminary) and ordained May 1, 1954, in Grand Island, Neb. Father Dowd spent the beginning of his ministry as a pastor at parishes and a civilian chaplain for the Sioux Army Depot.

He did missionary work in Peru from 1964 to 1970 and became known for his love for Hispanics.

After returning for a short stint as a chaplain at a Nebraska hospital, Father Dowd ministered to migrant workers in Wattenberg and Fort Lupton, Colo.

The priest may be most known for his work at St. Patrick Parish.

Described as a “personable Irishman,” he was sent to begin restoring the church and its dwindling congregation in 1973. Father Dowd oversaw an interior and exterior restoration of the church and in 1997 the church achieved a landmark designation by the city. It was also placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Since leaving the parish in 1983, Father Dowd served as a facilitator between Latin America and the United States for four years. He became the director of Hispanic Ministry in Tulsa, Okla., until his retirement in 1993.

Father Dowd now lives in Wheat Ridge.

Father Daniel Flaherty
Father Daniel FlahertyA Denver native and Colorado resident for almost his entire life, Father Daniel Flaherty served at many parishes and in several capacities over his six decades as a priest.

He attended St. Catherine of Siena Grade School, the Colorado School of Mines in Golden and later St. Thomas Seminary. He was ordained a priest May 29, 1954.

Father Dowd’s first assignment was working for the Denver Catholic Register, and for a period as its editor and business manager. During this time he also served in residence at St. Anthony of Padua and Holy Family parishes.

After serving as associate pastor at St. Vincent de Paul in 1972, Father Flaherty became the pastor at Our Lady of the Mountain in Estes Park.

He then conceived the idea for a small, nontraditional parish called Spirit of Peace Parish in Longmont. It shared facilities with a Presbyterian church, allowing more parish funds to be directed to ministries and outreach efforts while developing a respect for Christian brothers and sisters of a different faith.

He left the parish and lived in residence at St. Mark Church in Westminster and Sacred Heart of Jesus in Boulder until he was reappointed to Spirit of Peace from 1993 to 1999.

He is retired and in residence at St. Louis Parish in Louisville.

Father Jan Mucha
Father Jan MuchaFather Jan Mucha, who hails from Poland, spent much of his 60 years as priest as a missionary and teacher across the country.

He attended seminary in Tarnow, Poland, and was ordained Dec. 19, 1954. He then taught Latin at Sacred Heart House in Mszana Dolna, Poland, and was an assistant pastor at St. Teresa Church in Lublin. He continued missionary work through 1970 in Krakow and other Polish cities.

When he came to the United States in the early 1970s, Father Mucha was assigned to serve at St. Joseph Polish Church and was eventually named pastor. At the time the parish was in danger of closing but now boasts of crowded pews.

Father Mucha served for almost four decades before retiring in 2010. He was officially incardinated into the Archdiocese of Denver in 1978.

He now lives at the Little Sisters’ Mullen Home for the Aged.

Father James Purfield
Father Jamrs PurfieldA Colorado native, Father James Purfield served much of his 60 years of priestly ministry at parishes across the Front Range.

Born in Colorado Springs, Father Purfield studied at colleges in Wyoming, Louisiana and California before attending St. Thomas Seminary in Denver. He later earned a master’s degree in religion from the Catholic University of America.

After he was ordained May 29, 1954, he served as assistant pastor at St. Patrick Parish and pastor at St. Peter Parish in Fleming, making him the eighth pastor of the church. He also served at Holy Cross Church in Thornton before becoming a missionary in Mexico in the mid-1970s.

He returned to Colorado and became pastor at St. Augustine Church in Brighton and also at parishes in Hugo and Limon.

Father Purfield then served at All Souls Parish in Englewood in 1983 and then All Saints Parish in 1984, from where he will retire this month.


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.”