The following priests are marking their 40th anniversary in the priesthood this year.
Father William Breslin
Before Father William Breslin became one of Denver’s priests, he was ordained in his hometown of Red Bank, N.J.
Father Breslin was born in Red Bank in 1948 and attended St. Charles College in Maryland before attending St. Mary’s Seminary. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the seminary and university and returned to New Jersey to be ordained in May 1974.
Father Breslin served as associate pastor in South Amboy, N.J., after ordination. He soon came to Denver in 1977 to serve as assistant pastor at St. Mary Magdalen Church and chaplain of Central Catholic High School before it closed. He became one of Denver’s own in 1978.
He went on to serve as pastor at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Northglenn for six years, Queen of Peace Church in Aurora for 14 years and Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Rita churches in Boulder and Nederland.
“I would call Immaculate Heart of Mary my first love,” he said. “At Queen of Peace, we got to build a church together. I would call that our masterpiece.”
In reflecting on his time at Sacred Heart of Jesus, he said, “it was my most difficult hour but my finest hour. At all the parishes, the people have been splendid.”
Father Breslin said he loves his current post as confessor for Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary, a ministry that allows him to focus on the pastoral care of seminarians.
Father Thomas Coyte
Father Thomas Coyte’s story begins in Fort Collins where he was born. He left Colorado to attend college in Indiana at the University of Notre Dame for a year when he realized his call to the priesthood. He then entered St. Thomas Seminary (now St. John Vianney Theological Seminary) and volunteered to minister to the deaf community.
“Some would say I was lucky and some would say it was the Holy Spirit,” he said. “The deaf have been such a blessing to me.”
He then attended Gallaudet College in Washington, D.C., for a summer program to learn about the hearing impaired and the University of Arizona to take courses in counseling.
He graduated with masters’ degrees and was ordained in May 1974 in Denver.
Father Coyte’s ministry began at St. Philomena Church where he simultaneously coordinated the deaf ministry for the archdiocese, which he’s done for 43 years.
“Certainly for me the major focus has been the deaf ministry. That has been a pure delight. It has been a blessing to me,” he said.
Father Coyte also served at St. Joseph Church in Fort Collins and Holy Cross Church in Thornton, where he served from 1989 to 2013.
He is now pastor at St. Bernadette Church in Lakewood.
Very Rev. James E. Fox, V.F.
Father James Fox, is a South Dakota man by birth.
He was born in Rapid City before attending the University of Wyoming for a year then entering St. Thomas College. He was ordained in December 1974 at All Saints Church.
Father Fox first served as assistant pastor at Divine Redeemer Church in Colorado Springs before ministering as a chaplain to Catholic youth in Denver.
He then became pastor of St. Mary Church in Rifle for seven years and was dean of the Glenwood Springs Deanery. During that time, the community hit hard economic times when ExxonMobil abruptly left after the oil shale bust.
“We formed at the time one of the first ecumenical nonprofits called Lift-Up to serve people who were experiencing financial hardship. That organization is still in existence,” he said.
He also worked with another priest to provide the first spiritual and academic formation of deacon candidates outside the Denver metro area.
Father Fox continued on to serve at St. John’s Church in Longmont for 12 years and St. Michael the Archangel in Aurora for 11 years. He was at St. John’s during major reconstruction efforts and he found great joy in the “tremendous diversity of people” who came together at St. Michael’s.
He was also the dean for the Aurora Deanery and of the East Denver Deanery. Father Fox is now pastor at Good Shepherd Church.
Father Christopher Popravak, O.F.M. Cap.
A New Jersey-native, Father Christopher Popravak served for many of his 40 years in the priesthood as a director and instructor for men in formation for the Capuchin-Franciscan life. He spent much time at St. Crispin Friary in St. Louis and St. Conrad Friary in Kansas City, Mo.
Father Popravak, born in Hackensack, N.J., in 1947, studied psychology at Marist College in New York. He earned his master’s at St. Bernard Seminary in Rochester and his doctorate at St. Louis University in Missouri. He was ordained a Capuchin in Hays, Kan., in 1974.
His first assignment was working as a theology teacher at a high school in Hays before coming to Denver to minister as an associate pastor at Annunciation Church and Holy Cross Church in Thornton. He also ministered at St. Joseph Church in Hays.
After receiving his doctoral degree in historical theology, he taught at The International Franciscan Study Centre in Canterbury, England, a Capuchin seminary in Modena, Italy, and at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo.
“I’ve been constantly surprised by the Lord in many ways in the different ministries I’ve been asked to be involved in,” he said. “Each ministry has been a blessing. My teaching experience and opportunities to preach have been the particular ways I’ve been enriched myself and, I believe, have been able to help other people to grow.”
Father Popravak ministered in various states before coming to Denver in 2007 to lead the post-novitiate formation at St. Francis of Assisi Fraternity. He is the provincial minister of the Province of St. Conrad and is assisting with prison ministry part time at the Denver County Jail.
Msgr. Bernard Schmitz
Msgr. Bernard Schmitz has served as the vicar for clergy and pastor of Mother of God Church since 2007.
“I am amazed that I have reached 40 years of ordination,” he said. “These 40 years have been much more than I expected and have years filled with many surprises as I have grown in my love of the Lord.”
Msgr. Schmitz was born in Denver and attended Bishop Machebeuf High School and Western State College before entering St. Thomas Seminary. He was ordained at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in May 1974.
His first parish ministry assignment was to St. John the Baptist Church in Longmont and subsequently Holy Apostles Church and St. Mary Church in Colorado Springs. He returned to Denver to be pastor at Our Lady Mother of the Church in Commerce City in 1982 and served as chaplain to the Knights of Columbus.
During the 80s, he also ministered to the congregation at St. Michael Church in Aurora and became the assistant vocations director as well as dean of the Aurora Deanery. He completed some mission work in Monteria, Colombia.
Msgr. Schmitz then ministered to a large Hispanic community at Our Lady of Peace Church in Greeley until his appointment as vicar for clergy and ministry at Mother of God Church.
He said that one of the greatest joys of the priesthood is the joy of praying with people and aiding them on their journey to know God.
“When, as St. Ignatius says, someone’s ‘eyes are opened just a little,’ it’s a great joy to see them discover the powerful love of God,” Msgr. Schmitz said.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI named him monsignor with the rank of chaplain in 2009.