Q&A: Juan Carlos Reyes, new Director of Centro San Juan Diego, a product of its services

As Centro San Juan Diego (CSJD) celebrates its 15th anniversary, its new director Juan Carlos Reyes shared his goals and aspirations for the archdiocesan organization that serves hundreds of Hispanics in Colorado every year.

After the relocation of the Hispanic Ministry team from CSJD to the John Paul II Center earlier this year, Reyes talked about the way CSJD still follows the footsteps of Jesus by putting love into action, as it ministers to the Hispanic community.

Denver Catholic: What is Centro San Juan Diego (CSJD) and what key services does it provide for the Hispanic community in Denver?

Juan Carlos Reyes: CSJD is a ministry of the Archdiocese of Denver. It exists because the Church in northern Colorado, starting with Archbishops Chaput and Gomez and now Archbishop Aquila, deem it crucial to respond to the needs of immigrants in a way that is holistic and integral to the person, especially when a very large group arrives. It is important that a community feels welcome and is embraced with love and care.

As of March 2018, CSJD no longer houses the Hispanic Ministry team, which has been relocated to the John Paul II Center as part of the Evangelization and Family Life Ministry Office. Yet, it continues to be the place where most of the team’s activities occur.

CSJD accompanies and guides the community on its integration journey. On a more practical way, it provides adult education, resources and referrals. Some of those services include: GED, ESL and computer classes; citizenship/naturalization preparation; financial literacy programs; free legal clinics; tax counselor training programs; free tax aide; bachelor’s degrees programs valid in the U.S. and more.

We offer a place of trust not only because we are part of the Church, but most importantly because we have always treated the community with respect. To the best of our ability, we have always strived to offer high-quality programs.

DC: What does it mean for you to be the new director of CSJD?

Reyes: I, in many ways, consider myself to be a product of CSJD. By CSJD, I mean the Church actively reaching out to me. I started coming to CSJD for faith formation when I was a teen until I eventually received my formal education through CSJD. In 2009, CSJD launched a bachelor’s degree virtual program in Catholic Studies through a partnership with Anahuac University in Mexico City, a Catholic University. I was part of the first class. The goal of integration was accomplished by CSJD when the first class of nine students graduated from the program. More than half of us are working or have worked for the Church and all of us are serving the Church in one capacity or another.

CSJD not only told me that I was capable of doing great things for others and that I had potential to develop, but also gave me the tools and formation to be able to do it. CSJD gave me the opportunity to reimagine my life and to redefine it.

While I have been working at CSJD for five years, becoming the director takes things to a whole new level. Much I have received, much I must give back.

DC: What are your goals as CSJD reaches its 15th anniversary?

Reyes: It is my desire to help CSJD move forward, to continue its great legacy thus far and to make sure CSJD continues to be a place of hope and opportunity.

Concretely, I would like to decentralize or replicate some of the CSJD services at other locations in the Denver metro area but also, I would very much like to reach out to the communities outside of the Metro area, such as those in the mountains (western slope), and in the north and on the eastern plains.

The mission of CSJD is now is with the young and U.S.-born generation of Hispanics. Integration is a generational process in upper mobility, if you will, but quite frankly is much more than that.

 

The generation of U.S. born Hispanics are facing a number of “adversities,” many times unknown to them and to their parents, that make it near impossible for them to fully develop their potential and truly live out the American Dream of becoming or doing anything you set yourself to. I humbly believe that CSJD’s next chapter is to take a holistic approach to the family, to continue to help the parents as it has been for the past 15 years but now with the focus on the new generation.

 

DC: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Reyes: What CSJD is truly made of is a team, mostly made up of immigrants, that are passionate about carrying out the mission of the Church. While we do not explicitly preach the Gospel to anyone or in any way proselytize, we are often told by participants that they have in fact experienced the love and care of Mother Church through Centro.

We believe that immigrants are a gift to the Church and to society. We believe our participants have much to offer. What we see in them is potential and opportunity. We truly believe they can achieve unimaginable heights and we try to communicate that through all we do.

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.”