Spreading God’s love, one blanket at a time

Growing up in the streets of Brooklyn, Patrick Lubrano knew what it was like to see people living on the streets and being cold in the winter months. You could see him taking an extra sandwich or a blanket on his way to school to give to a person in need. Years down the road, this intense call to help the poor developed into a ministry that now provides meals and clothing for many people in need in the Mile-High city.

“We were raised that way: you help when you can. We knew it was an essential part of our faith,” said Lubrano, parishioner at Assumption Parish in Denver and a fourth-degree Knight of Columbus. “We are all different, whether it’d be because of culture, nationality, religion or political views, but we are all human beings and need to help each other out, regardless of where you come from or your beliefs.”

Even though his personal ministry of bringing blankets and food to the poor was in a way present from his childhood, it was in 1994 when he started doing it more consistently and intentionally.

“I would find homeless people in the area, and every time I had extra money, I’d load up my car and bring them food and clothing,” he said.

He did it for five years until he moved to Arizona. But the ministry didn’t stop there, it only changed according to circumstances. The district where he worked bordered a complex with an impoverished community, and he knew he couldn’t keep his arms crossed.

He started bringing them food throughout the year, but especially for special dates, like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, with the help of other coworkers. He also organized parties for them three times a year. When he started working for the Phoenix Suns, the Suns and the Arizona Rattlers even started giving him toys and clothes for the children.

Yet after moving back to Brooklyn and returning to Arizona a year later, he found that the complex had been demolished and the people had been scattered.

When Lubrano and his family moved to Denver just over three years ago, he also brought his mission to this city, but had an encounter that pushed him to do more.

Patrick Lubrano’s desire to help the poor was planted by his parents, who taught him and his siblings that giving was an essential part of the Christian faith. (Photo provided)

“When I got here to Denver, I saw the growing population in the streets of Denver,” he said. “I saw a man freezing with a sign that read, ‘Anything helps.’ As I gave him a blanket, he noticed my Knights of Columbus baseball cap and asked me, ‘What council are you with?’, and then told me, ‘I’m a former priest.’”

Taken back by his response, Lubrano asked him to get in the car so he could help him, but the man replied, “It’s ok, I just love being Catholic, and I love what you’re doing right now. Thank you.” So Lubrano gave him two more blankets, $20 and his phone number before leaving.

“It just overwhelmed me to see one of my own suffer like that,” he said.

This experience prompted him to reach out to the Grand Knight of his Council and seek support to give blankets to the homeless in Denver. The council funded the first few hundred dollars to buy blankets, clothing and food.

Knowing he had to seek support from more people, he started a GoFundMe page and in a few months went from raising $500 to around $4,000, affording close to 500 blankets, plus food, shirts, socks and more.

“I’m compelled to do it because I see the need. I don’t give up on anyone, I believe in second and third chances,” Lubrano said. “I also want people to see that Catholics are good people and that the Knights of Columbus help so many.”

It’s mainly Lubrano himself who visits the homeless and hands out blankets, clothing and food. His experience as former law enforcement has helped him do it safely, since he acknowledges that, at times, the ministry requires him to put himself in vulnerable situations. Nonetheless, in his interactions, he has mainly seen people’s gratitude and amiability.

“Sometimes when I see someone on a bench or on the floor, I stop to see if they’re OK, and then I ask if it’s OK to give them a blanket or a pillow. The fear is that people are freezing to death in the streets,” he said.

During this winter, Lubrano’s ministry has allowed him to provide around 500 blankets, food and clothing to people in need in the city of Denver. (Photo provided)

“It’s overwhelming at times because I’m by myself, but my wife is so supportive. Sometimes I go out at 9 p.m. and my wife says, ‘But it’s freezing out!’ And I say, ‘That’s why I’m going out, because it’s freezing.’ And she’ll just smile and say, ‘Just be careful.’”

Lubrano knows that sometimes Catholics feel a deep longing to help but are overwhelmed because they don’t know how to do it or where to begin. But he added that it’s not always necessary to do it in person like he does.

“Start in your church to see if they’re collecting clothing or food. Help your food banks. There’s a lot of people struggling financially right now, help them in some way,” he added. “But to see the need of these people and to not do anything about it, that’s a tragedy if you have the ability to help.

“I would like people to know that the Catholic Church and the Knights of Columbus are solid, and we are here to help. If you need to reach out to us, then reach out to us. Reach out to the Knights of Columbus Council at your parish,” Lubrano concluded. “I say to all my fellow Catholics, if you see somebody struggling, find someone who can help them, send them to Church, shelters, food banks… If we did that as a whole community, we’d be helping everyone.”

Contact Patrick Lubrano: patricklubrano@yahoo.com

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.”