PHOTO GALLERY: Priests urged to configure heart to Christ

Five new priests begin ministry at local parishes

Before five of Denver’s new priests lay prostrate before the altar of Christ, Archbishop Samuel Aquila reminded them the priesthood is a gift.

“It is not something you merit, it is not something that you work for, but rather it is a gift that is bestowed upon you,” Archbishop Aquila told the five seminarians during their priestly ordination Mass May 16. “It is precisely in the total gift of self that you are called to lay down your life as Christ has laid down his life.”

Family, friends and clergy packed the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception as five seminarians who served as deacons were ordained by the archbishop. Deacons Gregory Lesher, Joseph McLagan, Erik Vigil Reyes of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary; Deacon Franklin Anastacio Sequeira Treminio of Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary; and Deacon Tomasz Strzebonski of SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Michigan, entered the priesthood.

All five new priests began work at local parishes.

Onlookers watched as the men were ordained in a solemn rite and celebrated with joyful song by the Cathedral Basilica’s choir and music from the Redemptoris Mater seminary choir.

 

Archbishop Aquila encouraged the men during his homily to invite others to encounter Christ and minister to souls, but not to do it alone.

“It is in and with Christ that you are going to make a total gift of self,” he told the five men. “You can never do that on your own. If you do it, it will only be by white knuckles. And the Lord does not want white knuckles. What the Lord wants is your heart. And he wants your heart to be configured to his heart.”

He encouraged them to fall in love with Christ so that they could fulfill their priestly promises.

“But is only through your love of Jesus, and falling in love with Jesus, and staying in love with Jesus that you will live the promises you are making,” he said. “And that you will be continually configured to Christ, the head shepherd and spouse of the Church. And know, my dearest brothers and sons, should you fall, always pick-up and begin anew.”

Below are profiles of the five men ordinated for the Archdiocese of Denver.

 

Father Gregory Louis Lesher
Age: 30
Born and reared: Born in Chicago and raised in Bolingbrook, Ill.
Seminary: St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Denver
Most inspirational saint: St Thérèse of Lisieux

Father Gregory Lesher wanted to become a priest since the age of 10, but forgot about it by the time he entered high school. “It was when I was in college (at the University of Denver) that I had a very different idea of what I was going to do with my life. I was studying international development—I saw myself working abroad somewhere—but I knew that I wanted to be a servant.” Then a priest had asked him to pray for vocations and he felt a call. “And from that moment on, it started this two-month cycle where every day I found myself just daydreaming about being a priest, but I was very resistant.” He fought with the idea but gradually discerned a vocation by talking with family and priests. After his first year of graduate school, he left to enter the seminary. Father Lesher said he is most looking forward to the sacrament of confession. “I think it’s a really precious moment in which you can share and help people.”

 

Father Joseph Marc McLagan
Age: 29
Born and reared: Born in Kansas City, Mo.; reared in Grandview, Mo., and Littleton
Seminary: St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Denver
Most inspirational saint: St. Stephen

Father Joseph McLagan’s discernment to the priesthood occurred incrementally during his college years. When studying philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, he said he began to learn more about his faith and the importance of God. He joined Bible studies and taught Totus Tuus in the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo. Others suggested he had a vocation to the priesthood. “There was definitely an immediate feeling of fear,” he said, “but more and more as I trusted in this call, joy came about with that.” He asked his pastor, Father Rocco Porter, for insight and guidance. “I continued to pursue the thought that God might be calling me to be a priest. So after graduating from college in the fall of 2008, I applied to the seminary in the spring and entered spirituality year in August 2009.” Father McLagan said he most looks forward to confession.

 

Father Erik Vigil Reyes
Age: 26
Born and reared: Calvillo, Aguascalientes, Mexico
Seminary: St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Denver
Most inspirational saint: St. Paul and St. Augustine

When Father Erik Reyes was young, his father would tell him stories about the Cristero movement in 1920s Mexico. Thousands of Catholics started the movement in response to a government ban on public expressions of faith and a closure of churches. “So my father used to take me to 6 a.m. Mass every morning and tell me stories about the Cristeros,” Father Reyes said. “So I got involved with the Cristeros and the movement. I wanted to become a priest, because I had a good relationship with the priests who were at my parish.” He forgot about his interest in the priesthood until he returned to Mexico after high school. He entered minor seminary and then came to the United States to continue his studies. Father Reyes said he most looks forward to absolving in the sacrament of reconciliation.

 

Father Tomasz Strzebonski
Age: 30
Born and reared:
 near Krakow, Poland
Seminary: SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Mich.
Most inspirational saint: St. John Paul II and St. John the Apostle

The first time Father Tomasz Strzebonski thought about being a priest, he was 12. “It was mostly because of the good example of the priests I had in my home parish,” he said. But he didn’t pursue the thought of a vocation until he was studying physics in a college in Poland. Some of his professors were anti-clerical and asserted that physics was the answer to everything. “I was just burning inside to tell them they’re wrong. I just wanted to react to it,” he shared. Father Strzebonski said he also felt a growing need for spiritual formation and the need to spread the faith. “I wanted to be like the disciples, bringing the faith to all the nations,” he said. He entered a seminary in the Archdiocese of Krakow but left after two years feeling that he was called to serve elsewhere. He came to the United States in 2012 and continued his studies at the Polish American seminary in Michigan. After a visit to Denver, he knew he wanted to serve in Colorado. He said he is most looking forward to working with youth.

 

Father Franklin Anastacio Sequeira Treminio
Age: 34
Born and reared:  Born in Matagalpa, Nicaragua; reared in Ciudad Dario, Nicaragua
Seminary: Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary
Most inspirational saint: St. Francis of Assisi

As a young altar boy, Father Treminio admired the priests he assisted during Mass. But he said he was unsure about becoming a priest. Even when he felt a call, he hesitated. “I tried to forget about it. I wanted to get married, have a family, children,” he said. At the age of 15, he heard the call to the priesthood during a gathering of youth in the Neocatechumenal Way in Nicaragua. “I remember when someone said, ‘If there is anyone who feels called to the priesthood, please stand up,’ I felt someone speaking to my heart and telling me to stand up. I remember being very emotional, something which I could not even describe. It was an experience of the love of God, of the presence of God which filled my whole being with joy and happiness—something which I had never experienced before.” Then he stood up. At that point he was awakened to the call of the priesthood, he said.

 

Interviews by St. John Vianney seminarian Zachary Boazman, who contributed to this report.

 

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.”