Priestly ordination on Fatima centennial a reminder of Mary’s role in priesthood

Denver Catholic Staff

It’s not every year that a priestly ordination falls on the anniversary of one of the Church’s most celebrated events.

On May 13, the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima, eight men will be ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Denver. We caught up with each of them ahead of their big day and asked about the significance of being ordained on such a special day.

Peter Wojda

Deacon Peter Wojda came to realize his call to the priesthood after spending time as a missionary with The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). After several years of discernment, he realized that he had discerned as much as he could outside the seminary; the next step was to enter.

For Deacon Wojda, being ordained on the 100th anniversary of Fatima is a blessing.

“God has a particular plan for me as a priest. I did not choose this date but God did. He is calling me to grow in love of Mary, the Mother of God, and be guided by her in my priesthood,” Deacon Wojda said.

“I know that she also loves me and desires me to have that same love for all of her spiritual children as I serve them as their priest. I want to have a pure and sacrificial love like Mary has.”

Father Wojda’s first Mass will be at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Longmont.

Shaun Galvin

After experiencing an encounter with God at a CU Boulder Awakening retreat, Deacon Shaun Galvin started to get involved his faith, which then led him to discern his vocation and decide to become a priest.

“It is quite an honor to have my ordination day on such a special occasion as the 100th anniversary of Fatima,” Deacon Galvin said.

“I look forward to continuing to grow in my relationship with our Lady, particularly as a priest, as priests are honored with a special identification with her son.”

Father Galvin’s first Mass will be said at St. Joseph’s Parish in Fort Collins.

Daniel Ciucci

Deacon Daniel Ciucci recounted seven years ago when he and some of his classmates dreamt ahead of their ordination and would marvel at the idea of being ordained on the 100th Anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima.

“When we found out a few years ago that that was the date of the ordination, it was very thrilling,” Deacon Ciucci said. “I have gone through difficult moments throughout seminary and at each point I have re-offered my vocation to Our Lady of Fatima saying something to the effect of, “Mama, if you want me you’re going to have to work this out.”

In 2008, Deacon Ciucci was studying in Spain and made a pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal, which he said was very impactful, and especially reinvigorating for his devotion to the rosary.

“Our Lady is a powerful intercessor and is tenderhearted; she always leads us to Jesus,” he said.

Father Ciucci’s first Mass will be at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Boulder.

Nicholas Larkin

Deacon Nicholas Larkin was inspired to become a priest by St. John Paul II. After watching the broadcast of the saint’s visit to Denver in 1993, he decided that he wanted to become Pope — but family members pointed out that being a priest first was necessary. Now, his ordination to the priesthood takes place on the anniversary of one of St. John Paul’s greatest devotions: Our Lady of Fatima.

“I cannot but help but see the hand of Providence in being ordained on the 100th anniversary of Fatima. I entered seminary 9 years ago, right out of high school. And without a doubt I know that it has been Our Lady who has gotten me to this moment,” Deacon Larkin said. “Our Lady has played a vital role in forming my priestly heart and identity. She, more than anyone else, has taught me to ponder the mysteries of salvation prayerfully in my heart.”

“And Her purity has strengthened me in living out my celibacy joyfully,” he continued. “To be ordained on the 100th anniversary of Fatima is to be absolutely assured that She has me under Her mantle, and …that she will be watching over me in my own journey towards holiness. My priesthood will be consecrated to Her Immaculate Heart.”

Father Larkin’s first Mass will be said at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

John Mrozek

Seminary has been a long and difficult road for Deacon John Mrozek. Though he felt at times he wasn’t going to make it through, it was the constant guidance of Mary who he says gave him the strength and discipline to persevere.

“I do not think I would have made it past the first day without Mary,” Deacon Mrozek said. “It was by her that I received my foundational call to be ordained. My Mother and Queen was most important to my vocation.”

Deacon Mrozek said he tends to lean toward a Marian spirituality, and to that end, being ordained on the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima is the greatest ordination gift God could have given him, he said.

“I see this ordination date as a gift from my King and Queen, as reminder to be humble, and as [my] life’s mission ‘to do whatever He tells you.’”

Father Mrozek’s first Mass will be said at St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Littleton.

Daniel Eusterman

As a parishioner at Our Lady of Loreto, Deacon Daniel Eusterman had several great examples of the fruitfulness of the priesthood that plant the seed for his vocation. When he attended the ordination of one of those mentors, Father Matt Hartley, Deacon Eusterman felt the tug on his heart more than ever before.

“To witness his laying down of his life for the Church as a priest as someone who is happy, who is young and relatable, and who I thought was cool and still think is cool — his example especially not just made me interested or open to the idea of considering it, but it actually started making it pretty desirable,” he said.

Now, on the eve of his own ordination to the priesthood, fittingly on the 100th anniversary of Fatima, Deacon Eusterman is especially reminded of the role Mary has played in his own vocation.

“Having our ordinations on her feast frames and gives new meaning to the whole vocational project that seminary has been leading up to,” he said. “[Mary] has shown me who and what the Church, my bride, is, what it means to be attentive to the actions and desires of God, and what it means to be willing to walk with Christ in his mission in for the salvation of people.”

Father Eusterman’s first Mass will be at Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Foxfield.

Francesco Basso

Born and raised in Italy, Deacon Francesco Basso’s vocation to the priesthood was born and fostered upon joining the Neocatechumenal Way. His father was killed in the Bologna Massacre of 1980, and the suffering which his widowed mother and sisters was a source of pain for him.

However, his heart was softened as he grew in faith, and at the age of 35, he came to Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary in Denver to study to become a priest.

Deacon Basso’s May 23 ordination has significance to him not only because it is the 100th anniversary of Fatima, but also because it is his mother’s birthday.

“The Virgin has helped me through this journey of my vocation,” he said. “Being ordained on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima is also proof that my vocation is a miracle — like the dancing sun. My friends who knew me when I was young cannot believe that I will be ordained a priest.

Father Basso’s first Mass will be at St. James Parish in Denver.

Boguslaw Rebacz

Deacon Boguslaw Rebacz was ordained to the diaconate last year in the Italian chapel of the Divine Mercy Shrine, dedicated to St. Faustina. Originally from Poland, Deacon Rebacz studied for the priesthood at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Lake Orchard, Mich., which also has a location in Krakow. The seminary specializes in training young Polish seminarians who wish to become priests in the U.S.

After visiting four dioceses, Deacon Rebacz felt most called to serve in the Archdiocese of Denver. As he enters the priesthood on the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions, Deacon Rebacz said he is reminded of Mary’s message calling all mankind to prayer, penance and conversion, as well as her example of steadfast trust in the Father.

“This is the way to obtain God’s mercy,” he said. “As a priest I will accompany people on this journey of their encounter with Christ especially through the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. In Fatima, Mary pointed to the destroying power of evil; she also pointed to the means to overcome it.

“Mary is for me the perfect example of trust in God and fulfilling the will of God. She brought up Christ, the High Priest and she also has a special care for those who are called to Christ’s priesthood,” he said.

Father Rebacz’s first Mass will be said at Holy Name Parish in Steamboat Springs.

COMING UP: Opinion: There is cause for hope amid dire reports of clergy sexual abuse of minors

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By Vincent Carroll

This Dec. 13, 2019 opinion column was originally published by the Denver Post.

When will it end, many Catholics must wearily wonder. And not only Catholics. Anyone who reads or listens to the news must wonder when the Catholic church sex scandals will ever be over.

But in one major sense, the crisis already has passed and what we’re witnessing — and will continue to witness for years — is the aftermath.

To see what I mean, go to Appendix 4 in the report on sexual abuse of minors by clergy in Colorado issued in October by investigators led by former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer. There’s a bar graph highlighting the “number of victims by decade the abuse or misconduct began.” Towering above all other decades for the archdiocese of Denver is the bar for the 1960s, representing 74 victims. In second place is the 1970s with 25 victims, and the 1950s is third with 14. The 1990s had 11 victims and the 1980s three.

As the report observes, “Roman Catholic clergy child sex abuse in Colorado peaked in the 1960s and appears to have declined since. In fact, the last of the Colorado child sex abuse incidents we saw in the files were 1 in July 1990 and 4 in May 1998.”

In other words, nearly 70 percent of all the abuse documented in the attorney general’s report within the Denver archdiocese occurred a half-century or more ago.

Denver’s history differs somewhat from the national experience, but not wildly so. Researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice concluded in 2004 after examining the national data on accusations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy between 1950 and 2002 that “more abuse occurred in the 1970s than any other decade.” The 1960s were also atrocious years for Catholic youth and so was the first half or so of the 1980s.

It appears that accusations in the years since have held to the same chronological profile. Mark Gray, a survey researcher at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, reported recently that CARA has analyzed 8,694 accusations of abuse made between 2004 and 2017 (compared to 10,667 earlier allegations studied by John Jay researchers). The result: The distribution of cases is “nearly identical to the distribution of cases, over time, in John Jay’s results.”

In other words, a large majority of the accusations of abuse that have surfaced in this century are also dated to the horrible era of 1960 to 1985.

This pattern even holds for incidents in last year’s Pennsylvania grand jury report, although news coverage often left the impression that it recounted a fresh flood of new incidents. The report’s scope and details were certainly new and devastating, but most (not all) of the incidents and perpetrators were old (or dead). Those accused of abuse in the Pennsylvania report, for example, were on average “ordained as priests in 1961,” according to Gray.

Given this context, it’s hardly surprising that “the most prolific clergy child sex abuser in Colorado history,” according to the special investigator’s report, namely Father Harold Robert White, was also ordained in 1961.  His depredations “continued for at least 21 years,” the heyday of sexual abuse and church complacency, during which time he “sexually abused at least 63 children.”

Chilling.

I am perfectly aware that the Colorado investigation hardly exhausts the number of victims of clergy sexual abuse. It covers diocesan priests but not those who served in religious orders. Records are likely incomplete and some perhaps destroyed. And the actual number of victims certainly exceeds the number who have come forward.

There is also the question of a reporting time lag — the fact that victims often don’t muster the courage to come forward for years. But if this had been a major factor in the reduced number of incidents after 1985 at the time of John Jay College’s 2004 report, that number would surely have seen a disproportionate surge by now. And yet it has not.

The authors of the state investigation emphasize that they are unable to reliably say that “no clergy child sex abuse has occurred in Colorado since 1998,” and warn against concluding that clergy child sexual abuse is “solved” given ongoing weaknesses they outline regarding how the church handles allegations.

Their caution is understandable given the church’s history in the past century (in the report’s words) of “silence, self-protection and secrecy empowered by euphemism,” and their recommendations to strengthen the diocese’s procedures are for the most part on point. But it is also true that child sexual abuse will never be “solved” in the sense of it being eradicated — not in religious denominations, and not in schools, daycare centers, scout troops, youth sports, and juvenile social service and detention facilities, to cite just some of the venues that predators unfortunately exploit and where an accounting for the lax standards of the past has not been undertaken.

John Jay College researchers also released a followup study in 2011 in which they noted, “the available evidence suggests that sexual abuse in institutional settings . . .  is a serious and underestimated problem, although it is substantially understudied.” Meanwhile, “no other institution has undertaken a public study of sexual abuse and, as a result, there are no comparable data to those collected and reported by the Catholic Church.”

Early this month, Bishop Richard J. Malone resigned from the Buffalo Diocese over gross mishandling of sexual abuse claims. He likely won’t be the last. Meanwhile, Catholics still await the Vatican’s promised explanation for how defrocked former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who allegedly preyed on seminarians for decades, could have been promoted time and again. Is there any credible defense?

So the bad news hasn’t stopped. But behavior in the priestly trenches actually is much improved, and that is surely cause for hope.

Email Vincent Carroll at [email protected]