New priestly assignments: an intricate process

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28: 19-20). These are the closing words of Jesus to his disciples prior to his Ascension into heaven, the great commissioning to go out and proclaim the Good News.

Jesus is still with his Church today as we bring the Gospel to the world! Each year at this time, pastors, parochial vicars and newly ordained priests receive their assignments that tell them where their mission field is. I am deeply grateful to all of our priests, who continue to fulfill the command of Jesus to bring others to him, to teach and to preach, and to celebrate the sacraments, most especially the Eucharist. Our priests tirelessly carry the Gospel throughout the vast expanse of our Archdiocese, which covers 39,000 square miles stretching from Rangeley on the Utah border to Julesburg on the Nebraska border. Altogether, our 149 locations include 124 parishes, 19 mission churches and 6 station churches.

As is evident, the archdiocese is vast, with many places that need the service of our priests, which makes the task of discerning how to serve the nearly 600,000 Catholics in our territory a complicated one. Since the announcement of the new assignments always brings letters to my office complaining about a priest being moved or others thanking me for moving the very same priest, I would like to explain what guides the changes and the many factors that are considered.

When a man is ordained a priest, his mission is to serve in the entire archdiocese, whether it be on the Western Slope, on the Eastern Plains, or along the I-25 corridor that ranges from County Line Road to the Wyoming border. The mission is the same for every priest: to bring others to encounter Jesus Christ, to be a shepherd after the heart of Christ, to love and walk with the people he serves as Christ in their midst. His mission is one of service on behalf of Christ and the local Church. And certainly, if a man has the heart of Christ and loves with Jesus’ love, there will always be sadness when he is moved to another parish, both on the priest’s part and that of the faithful. Yet one knows one’s mission is to serve where one is called to go, and it is important for the faithful to always welcome a new priest coming to their parish.

Parochial Vicars are assigned for a 2-3-year period to a parish to gain experience ministering in a parish setting. They are moved more frequently than pastors so they can have a variety of experiences. Pastors are assigned for a 6-year term, with a usual maximum of two terms in one parish. In some very rare cases, a pastor might be given a third 6-year term. All the faithful should be aware that when a pastor completes a 6-year term, he could be moved, and when a 12 or 18-year term is complete, it is most likely that he will have a new assignment. There are also times when a priest can be moved quickly to respond to a great need in a parish. I was moved from my first assignment to my second assignment with only a few weeks’ notice by the archbishop at that time.

The assignment of priests is not done lightly and is made in consultation with the personnel board, which presently consists of 13 priests who are the deans of their region (deanery), the Vicar General, the Vicar for Clergy, the Judicial Vicar, Bishop Rodriguez, and me. We begin to reflect on the assignments in the Fall of each year and try to complete them by the end of March. Sometimes a priest might request to be moved — even before his term is done — if he believes he has given all he can to a particular parish or if a need arises for his gifts and talents in another parish. Other factors involved in determining assignments are the size of the parish, whether a school is present, what ministries are operating, and what type of pastor or parochial vicar they need.

Most years we also have priests who retire from active ministry, and that means we need to find a priest to serve full-time in their place. It is true that we are blessed with a healthy number of vocations to the priesthood in our archdiocese, but our current numbers only keep pace with the number of priests who retire.

In closing, I encourage the faithful of the archdiocese to thank their priests who will be moving this year and to receive their new priests with open hearts. Hopefully, this column has helped you understand the mission of our priests, the geographical challenges of our territory, and the prayerful process behind each priestly assignment. May we all continue to pray for our priests, that they may have the heart of Christ the Good Shepherd, and for vocations, following the command of Jesus. “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Luke 10:2).

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.”