Positively blessed 40 years

Three educators are marking four decades of service in Catholic schools of the Denver Archdiocese: Mary Ellen Bley, Kathy Shadel and Karen Tinius. Profiles of them follow.

Mary Ellen Bley_40Mary Ellen Bley
Most Precious Blood, Denver

During her 40-year teaching career, Mary Ellen Bley always tries to look at the bright side.

“When there are lots of difficult things to do,” said the Most Precious Blood School teacher, “I try to look at the positive.”

She instructs her third-grade class on having a positive outlook.

“One of the things we (reflected on) the other day is that every day is a new opportunity,” Bley said. “We talked about what that meant. Some students came up with good ideas.”

Serving in Catholic schools her entire career has given the 64-year-old Colorado native a place to find community and integrate her faith with teaching.

Bley’s own education began at St. John the Baptist School in Longmont and Longmont High School. She graduated from Chadron State College in Nebraska and the University of Phoenix with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in elementary education.

She returned to St. John the Baptist to teach for the first time. She worked her way to assistant principal and interim principal of the Longmont school before leading St. Louis School in Louisville as principal for 12 years.

Bley taught the third grade again at Assumption School before moving to Most Precious Blood School to teach third grade.

Catholic schools are the place Bley said she’s been able to share her faith.

“When something is wrong you can always go back to being able to have a strong sense that you are going to do this because God is right there with you, that you’re not alone,” she said. “In public school it’s difficult to say to some student who is having a hard time, ‘Let’s just stop and say a prayer.’”

Bley has also found community at the schools, especially through her friendship with colleague Karen Tinius of St. John the Baptist School, who is also celebrating her 40th anniversary.

“We started teaching in Nebraska, not far from each other, before we came to Longmont and started teaching for the Archdiocese of Denver,” Bley said.

As is their tradition, the pair will celebrate their anniversary with a special night out or trip.

“I thank all of the teachers I have worked side-by-side with over the years, as they helped me perfect my skills. … (They) allowed me to grow and learn as an educator,” she said.


Kathy ShadelKathy Shadel_40
Nativity of Our Lord, Broomfield

Nativity of Our Lord School principal Kathy Shadel has spent 40 years at the school, but each day is never the same.

“Working at the school is truly an experience every day; no two days are ever alike, and that’s one of the reasons that I have been at Nativity School for 40 years,” said 61-year-old Shadel. “I have met and worked with hundreds of wonderful people: teachers and staff, children, parents and pastors. Each person that we meet in life changes the way that we are, and, hopefully, I have changed many people’s lives for the better.”

Shadel has worked to make a difference in student’s lives by making the Broomfield grade school a place that fosters the whole person. Children always need a place where they feel “respected, safe, and are given opportunities to be themselves and to grow, as we say at Nativity in our mission statement, spiritually, intellectually, physically, socially and emotionally,” Shadel said.

Christ’s example is the foundation on which educators foster that growth, she said, and hold students to high expectations.

“It is so important that all children receive a quality education and can become productive, kind, responsible, positive and caring members of society,” she said.

Shadel, an Iowa native, graduated from Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Boulder along with her siblings. She later graduated from the University of Colorado with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education. She was first hired as a teacher in 1974 at Nativity School as a second-grade teacher. She taught second-grade and fifth-grade for 18 years, part of the time as a principal designee. In 1997, she became the assistant principal, a role she served in for 10 years before becoming the principal.

“She has been at Nativity every single day of her 40 years,” said assistant principal Johanna O’Connell. “I think she feels a special bond to all the students here. She’s so happy to see alumni bring their children back.”


Karen TiniusKaren_Tinius_40_St. John the Baptist
St. John the Baptist, Longmont

Karen Tinius, a 40-year veteran of Catholic schools, knew she would miss teaching second-graders after 16 years with that age group when she switched to kindergarten. But a colleague said something she’s never forgotten: “You’re going to love the ‘lightbulb effect.’”

She has continued to enjoy those lightbulb moments—”I can read! I can count!”—for 24 years, teaching kindergarten at St. John the Baptist School in Longmont.

“I just love what I do,” she said. “They’re just the sweetest things on earth, and I love helping these children bloom and grow.”

Tinius, who attended Catholic school while growing up in Lincoln, Neb., knew from a young age that she wanted to be a teacher. She also considered religious life, discerning a vocation for a year at Mount Marty College in Yankton, S.D.

“I was a poor student in school,” she said, “getting C’s and D’s … (I thought) maybe if I learned to teach it, it will become part of me.”

She graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1971 with a bachelor of science in elementary education.

“When I got into the part of my education that included working with the children,” she said, “that was my lightbulb moment.”

After teaching first grade in Genoa, Neb., she moved to Colorado in 1974. She went to St. John the Baptist Church for Mass and told the pastor she was looking for a job: he referred her to the principal, who hired her to teach second grade.

“I loved teaching about the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist,” she said.

This year, Tinius will also celebrate 40 years of marriage to her husband Mark. The couple has two grown children, both alumni of St. John’s, and one grandchild.

“I’m grateful to my husband and children for their support,” she said, “and all my family.”

Tinius, who turns 65 in April, will retire at the end of the school year.

“I’ll miss being nose-to-nose with those little ones every day,” she said. “It’s bittersweet.”

She also expressed gratitude to the archdiocese, parish, parents, staff and all her former students and their families.

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.”