The priest I know

Denver Catholic Staff

No one is perfect. No one has every gift. Nonetheless, some offer what they do have for everyone else in the name of Jesus Christ. These men are our priests. They humbly serve the people of God, offering the sacraments and acting as a constant loving presence in each of our lives. We asked some of the faithful of Denver to share how priests have positively impacted their lives, or how they’ve witnessed them serving faithfully. This is what they said.

In medical school, I was struggling with how I could authentically live my Catholic faith as a doctor.  I met Father Jeffrey and shared some of the challenges. He offered to be my spiritual director and over the next several years provided supportive guidance, prayers, and book recommendations to deepen my faith and strengthen my formation.   At different stages in my medical training and now professional work, he has been available and present to help steer me towards the path of holiness. Around that same time when I met Father Jeffrey, my younger brother told my family that he felt called to be a priest.  Father Jeffrey gave me guidance on how best to support my brother and his vocation.  Eight years later, Father traveled across the country and joined my family in joy in concelebrating my brother’s ordination Mass!
– Natalie

Two years ago, I unexpectedly lost a job that I loved and experienced a career path that I had been on for 15 years coming to an end. Father Michael reached out to me during this time, and provide encouragement, guidance and just someone to talk to you. As I navigated making a huge life change, Father Michael was there for me, and he is a big reason I am working for the Catholic Church today.
– Mark

I was fortunate to enjoy the friendship of a Catholic priest for many years. We met while I was an altar boy and after a while, he became a close friend to all of us in our rather large Irish household. As is the life of a diocesan priest, he moved from parish to parish and even though he was only our local priest for a short time, he made it a point to remain close to our family, performing our marriages, baptizing our children and burying our father. During troubling times, he was always available, regardless of time and distance. I sought his guidance many times over the years, not only as a religious advisor, but most importantly as my good friend. We lost him to cancer in 2006. I miss his wise counsel to this day. – Mike

Growing up I remember my parish priest was passionate about sharing the faith with the younger generations. It always stood out to me that he regularly attended the local high school athletic events. I was a cross country runner in high school and fair to say we didn’t always have the support that other sports teams sometimes have at their competitions. Often times, our cross-country meets were in far and in other cities. But, I remember I regularly saw my parish priest at the cross country meets, cheering us on to the finish line. While I don’t recall many of the runners going to my parish, I look back and see his attendance showed the love a priest has for his parishioners and community. Truly, he was a shepherd willing to devote his time and energy to lead and support his flock. – Brandon

There’s a priest I’ve been friends with for almost 20 years, since ninth grade. We attended college together for two years, when he would invite me to attend daily Mass with him. During his seven years of formation at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, he stayed in contact with me as best as he could. He always showed love for me, my family, and our friends in small but profound ways. He assisted as a deacon at my grandfather’s funeral Mass; he concelebrated at my grandmother’s funeral Mass; he has patiently and lovingly heard my confession countless times. He’s the rare type of dear friend who has become as close as family. He’s heard and seen the dark corners of my heart, joyfully bringing me the grace of the Sacraments and loving me as Jesus does. He answered God’s call to be His priest, and because of that yes, my dear friend can love us all so much more deeply.
– Adrienne

I had a difficult adolescence, and depression was a big part of it.  When I transferred from my local public school to a Jesuit college prep school, I had to say goodbye to all my childhood friends.  I was incredibly lonely, desperate to drop out, and suicidal thoughts began creeping into my mind.  A priest who taught at the school recognized the path I was on and made a point to be extra kind, going out of his way to lend a listening ear before classes.  He was incredibly smart, with multiple masters’ degrees including one in clinical psychology.  Father Rice pulled me out of the dark hole I was in and helped make my high school memories some of the best.  His dedication to his students enabled him to earn the informal title of “oldest teaching Jesuit in North America”, before retiring in his 80s.
– Nathan

Recently, during a time of overwhelming personal grief, I landed – quite involuntarily – in a priest-led retreat. I felt I was not in the best emotional place for this event. But, as often happens when we are at our most resistant, it was actually a moment of pure grace in my life. The priest led our group on a guided prayer experience. In those few moments, my grief and anger dropped away as I followed his voice leading me along … up the side of a mountain in the footsteps of Christ. That prayer is with me every day now. He gifted us with this simple practice, but it was powerful enough to change my perspective.   My life has been blessed by the presence of amazing priests, from family members who became priests to priests who were like family. For every spiritual milestone, happy occasion, crushing blow, confusing situation or time of crisis, a priest has been there. They share their knowledge, guidance and reassurance, forgiveness and encouragement, friendship and leadership without discrimination, They give their lives in service. Even when I was the furthest from my spiritual center, I never doubted that the priest’s door would be open when I found my way back. – Cindy

I am a nurse in the Neonatal ICU and take care of extremely premature and sick babies. I was caring for a tiny baby weighing just over a pound and he was very ill. His family requested a Catholic baptism for their son. We didn’t have much time and we needed a priest right away. Father Mauricio came to our aide very quickly. He dropped everything he was doing to rush to the hospital to baptize this sweet baby boy. It was a beautiful baptism. He was afraid to touch the baby’s forehead, so I placed a cross out of Holy Water on his head for him. The prayers were beautiful and the holiness and pure love that Father Mauricio demonstrated that day will be a memory I always cherish. That sweet baby boy grew stronger and healthier over time and is now living at home with his beautiful family. I am proud to be Catholic and to be a part of a Church with such loving priests to be our shepherds and our fathers; who will do anything for us when there is dire need. – Katherine

Father Mason always gave us solid Catholic teaching. Whenever questions came up in our Bible study, he was only too happy to answer them.  He generously taught our class several times, instructing us on angels/demons, the four last things, evangelization, prayer, the Mass, etc.  He reminded us that the role of the priest is to offer sacrifice, recognizing the sacrifice is Jesus Christ, so that we would show reverence to the Eucharist. Father Mason also celebrated the Latin Mass for us each first Saturday, which was beautiful.  He made himself available to say Mass across the street from Planned Parenthood, never complaining when the weather was less than cooperative. Father Mason is an awesome priest who is joyful in his priesthood and serious about living out his vocation. We truly love him! – Karen

I had drifted away from Catholicism in college, being more interested in girls and partying. However, something urged me to stop as I drove by St. Tom’s on Holy Week of 2010. I saw that there was a line for confession and I decided I should go. I hadn’t been to confession in nearly 10 years. As I walked into the small room and sat face-to-face with Father Peter, the look on his face wasn’t condemning, but instead there was a gentle smile full of compassion. I let go of all of the guilt and shame I was holding onto at that moment as I shared with him the sins that I held onto for years. I thought I would experience harsh judgement when I entered that room, but instead Father Peter patiently walked with me through the experience, helping me to understand the depth of God’s mercy. That experience set the stage for a much greater conversion of my heart that would continue through the next several years. – Adam

I’ve known and loved so many priests in my 32 years of being Catholic. A few years ago, I was preparing for surgery to have a cancerous tumor removed. In the whirlwind of preparing for surgery and making sure things at home and work were settled, I became very anxious 2 days before the surgery when I realized I needed to go to confession and wanted to receive the sacrament of the Anointing of the sick prior to my surgery. I was relieved to hear that my parish priest was available and would wait until I could arrive after a long day of work to meet with him. It was a beautiful, unrushed confession. God was present in persona of the priest. When Father Joe gave me the Anointing of the sick, he stood over me, hands on my head and I could feel the presence of God fill my heart. Two days later, as I was transported into the operating room, I was not afraid. I knew through the sacraments, provided by the priest, that I was not alone.  God was with me and with the surgical team. I’ve never felt this strong of a presence of God’s spirit. It was an amazing experience. If it weren’t for my priest, I wouldn’t have been able to receive the sacraments, an external sign of God’s presence and love for me.  As an end note, the surgery went very well and five years later I am a cancer survivor…. cancer free for five years. I will be forever thankful for God’s gift of the priesthood to his people and for the holy and courageous men who have listened to God’s call to Shepherd us and bring us closer to Him.
– Barb

I am a cradle catholic and have had the fortune of knowing many priests over my 60 years.  Anytime I’ve needed to receive the sacraments or guidance in my faith, they have always been readily available to help me.  As a young boy through my teenage years I was an alter server for many different priests and was blessed to learn from each one of them.  As an adult and as my faith has deepened, I see more clearly the beauty in all that they do. – Tony

The title “Father” is exemplified in priests like Father John. When I met him at my university, I was disillusioned, hurting, and cynical about God. Over two years of spiritual direction, communal meals, prayer meetings, many tears and many laughs, he single-handedly revitalized my faith. Father John is not just an admirable role model for his zeal and knowledge, but a trustworthy spiritual mentor for his care for me. He both consoled me and pushed me, helped me trust the Church, and taught me to love God and myself. He is a true pastor, a shepherd of souls, and I am grateful to call him “Father.” – Daniel

Father Marcel was an associate at my parish. He drove a simple car, lived a simple life. I kind of felt sorry for him sometimes. He didn’t have any of the things I thought were important at that point in my life. Then he was diagnosed with a fast-growing stomach cancer. Never showed the slightest fear. Told me he would haunt me. The night I got the call that he was dying, I raced to the rectory. I wasn’t alone. The courtyard outside his bedroom was packed solid. His spiritual children had come to say goodbye. We sang his favorite song, “The Impossible Dream.” He opened his eyes and, in a weak voice, said “Well, I can tell I’m not in Heaven yet.” He rallied after he was anointed, and we all filed in to visit him. Far from being afraid or morose, he was downright joyful. After my turn, I lurked in a corner of his simple bedroom, and watched. He teased one about his haircut. He laughed and joked. At one point he looked up and said, “I had no idea dying could be so pleasant.” At that point, I would have traded everything I had to be in that man’s place. To be minutes away from standing before God, and saying “You see all those people down there? I brought them closer to You.” Father Marcel taught me a lot by the way he lived. And he taught me a whole lot more by the way he died.
– Mary Beth

My Uncle Joe was the youngest of eleven kids. When he went to seminary, everything was in Latin and he couldn’t get the Latin part. So, he was ordained a deacon, but was not ordained a priest because he wasn’t able to Pass Latin. He never got married. He just worked and he took care of both of my great grandparents. And when they passed away, he decided to go back to seminary and was ordained when he was 65. He’s been a priest for 15 years now and he’s so happy and so alive. He’s in this little small parish with a school in Ohio. He doesn’t take a salary so that he can he can pay scholarships for kids at the school who are poor. And every morning, he does everything for this church. He cuts the grass at the church. He gets up in the morning and walks around the block praying the rosary. We used to write letters and he would write to me things like, “Every morning I get up and I thank God that I’m a priest. And every night I go to bed and I thank God that I’m a priest.” He’s just the most faithful and joyful… he’s so humble and simple and loving. He just loves being a priest. – Angelina

After taking RCIA, I was still hesitant about entering the Church. It was around that time that a new priest was assigned to the parish my wife and I attended (she was Catholic; I was not). He agreed to meet one-on-one with me every few weeks to just talk to me about the Church and answer any questions I had. It was super informal and became a highlight of my week. Little did I know that the Lord would work wonders through this faithful man and eventually remove all inhibitions to my entering full communion with the Church. Now, almost five years after being received into the Church at the Easter Vigil, I remain ever grateful for this priest and the many others whom I now call friends who challenge me to be a better man, husband and father. – Aaron

Do you have a story about a priest that you’d like to share? We want to hear them! Send them to us at [email protected].

COMING UP: New Lourdes church ‘in harmony with the beauty of the Liturgy’

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

New Lourdes church ‘in harmony with the beauty of the Liturgy’

Our Lady of Lourdes in Denver completes renovation of continually growing church

Avatar

When the first parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes began their community in 1947, they never imagined the growth that the parish was going to have decades later.

Today, more than 70 years later, the parish, which began as folding chairs and the hardwood floors of the first Masses celebrated in the gymnasium of a children’s shelter, has become not only one of the fastest growing parishes in Denver, but also one of the most recognized Catholic schools nationwide.

Father Brian Larkin, pastor of the parish for the last 5 years, has witnessed huge growth in the last few years.

“I believe Lourdes has flourished in so many ways simply because the glory of God’s redemption has been allowed its proper place,” Father Larkin told the Denver Catholic. “Once the love of Christ is given its primacy, allowed to radiate in all its splendor, then our faith moves from simply being an obligation and becomes what it really is: the good news of our redemption.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila dedicated the altar in the newly renovated Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver Sept. 10. (Photo by Brandon Young)

Lourdes is a very vibrant and young parish. They have large RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and marriage preparation programs to support and teach parishioners the “why” of the Catholic Church and its faith.

“The Catholic intellectual tradition is greater than any that exists, but most people aren’t aware of it,” Father Larkin explained. “I teach our RCIA class every year and I invite anyone and everyone to come regardless of whether they are already Catholic or not even interested in becoming Catholic.  Our program had about eight people in it my first year, this year we’re averaging around 90 people each week.”

In 2016, Father Brian announced the beginning of the “Capital Campaign” which intended to repair, restore and embellish the church, as well as to add a narthex gathering space for the growing community. Although at times it seemed impossible, with the contributions of parishioners and the hard work of their general contractor, Fransen Pittman, the project was successfully completed this past summer.

The current church at Lourdes was built in 1966 and had remained unchanged since then. The renovation updated and fixed major issues with mechanical and electric systems, but the main objective of the project was to improve the aesthetics of the church.

For the last couple of years during construction, half of the school gym turned into the church, but in September, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila finally consecrated the altar and re-dedicated the church.

Lourdes pastor Father Brain Larkin said he hopes the parish can be a refuge from the world.. (Photo by Brandon Young)

“A friend of mine used to say that his church ‘lied to his congregation,’ meaning that churches are meant to teach us the faith by the way they are built, and that his didn’t measure up to that standard,” Father Larkin said. “Prior to the renovation, our church wasn’t one which lied, but it didn’t inspire a deeper faith. The new church, in my opinion, is in harmony with the beauty of the liturgy — the music and the gospel resonate with the beauty of the church itself.

“Our numbers have grown, but more importantly, people are drawn into prayer with the aesthetics of the church.”

With a new and renovated parish, Our Lady of Lourdes is now serving the growing community of the south side of Denver. The parish also has one of the most recognized Catholic schools for its unique classical model of education that has been expanding over the last couple of years. In addition to the classical method of education, the school is firmly Catholic, offering daily Mass and monthly confessions, and making devotion to the Blessed Mother one of its pillars.

“Our Catholic faith is the most important part of our mission here at Lourdes Classical and everything we do begins and ends in prayer. We participate in the sacraments frequently and help our students fall in love with Jesus in the Eucharist every day,” said school principal Rosemary Vander Weele.

Evangelization means that what is eternal enters into time, so the timelessness of God breaks into 2019 America. We try to embody that paradigm in our events, in our liturgy, in our community.”

Father Larkin said he is afraid of the future of our culture and the anti-Christian feeling that seems expand daily in our country and our society. Therefore, one of his main goals at Lourdes is to deepen the faith of his parishioners.

“Christians of the coming century in the United States need to know their faith and be on fire for it, or they will likely leave as the culture battles against the Church,” he said. “My hope for Lourdes is not that we do everything, but that we go deep, that people have strong relationships with God, with each other and that the parish can be a refuge from the world.”

Furthermore, one of the greatest challenges for the pastor is to reflect the incarnation of Jesus in our society and remind us that God sent his only begotten Son into the world to provide us salvation. At Lourdes, Father Larkin said this is at the core of the parish’s ministry.

“Christ is fully God and fully man, but it has always been easier to strip him of his divinity or of his humanity.  I see evangelization that way: it’s easier to either remove Jesus from humanity and make him someone wholly alien to the 21st century, or conversely to make him just another human who looks like us, but not like God,” Father Larkin said. “Evangelization means that what is eternal enters into time, so the timelessness of God breaks into 2019 America. We try to embody that paradigm in our events, in our liturgy, in our community.”