‘This is a spiritual battle’

Once a month early on a weekday morning, several cars line a quiet stretch of Pontiac Street between 38th and 39th Avenues in Denver. From those cars, about 25 teenagers emerge, rosaries in hand, who then surround the perimeter of Denver’s Planned Parenthood headquarters and begin to quietly pray.

They don’t yell and scream, or hold up posters of graphic images, attempting to scare people out of entering the second largest abortion facility in the country. Their tactic is that of love, and their weapon of choice is prayer.

“Love for others is what drives us,” explained Kirsten Grandon, president of the Pro-Life Club at Denver’s Bishop Machebeuf High School that organizes the vigils. “Loving others is the best way to love the Lord … and this love must come with action.”

The simple act preaches love more than anything, she said, though at times the message is lost on passersby who harass them.

“It’s not the easiest thing, holding rosary beads at Planned Parenthood,” Grandon said. “But we’re asked to step outside our comfort zones, we’re not called to live comfortably.

“We’re called to speak out against abortion.”

Next week, Jan. 22 marks 41 years since Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the United States. Since that ruling, it is estimated 56.9 million babies have died nationwide through abortion. The issue has divided the country like few others, and every day countless people pray that it will end—including many who feel called to pray near the clinics themselves.

“Some chose to align with the sufferings of Christ next to the greatest place of spiritual battle,” explained Lynn Grandon, Kirsten’s mother and director of Lighthouse Women’s Center across the street from Planned Parenthood, and program director for Respect Life Resources of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver. “Abortion clinics have shut down because of the power of prayer, because this is a spiritual battle. We’re battling evil … you’ve got to know your enemy.”

The enemy she refers to is the evil of abortion itself, not those seeking one.

“They have a soul too, and we have to be there to there to help them,” she continued, referring to individuals seeking abortions as well as workers employed by the industry.

In roughly the last 10 years, 44 abortion facilities across the country have shut down, 88 abortion workers have quit their jobs and 8,245 babies were saved—all attributed to the power of prayer. Specifically, during 40 Days for Life campaigns. 40 Days for Life is a national pro-life campaign, started in Texas in 2004, that includes peaceful 40-day prayer vigils outside abortion clinics twice a year. The next campaign begins March 5.

Brad Maddock, 52, had never prayed at an abortion clinic before, when his teenage daughter was asked if she would like to participate in a 40 Days for Life campaign. This was two years ago through her youth group at St. Thomas More Parish in Centennial.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Maddock. “Protests? Riots? All the things you read about in the media … screaming, yelling, gory pictures?”

What he experienced was an hour of peaceful prayer that inspired him to pray there more often. He began going about once a week.

“Abortion is the biggest battle we face when it comes to battles with Satan; it affects us beyond belief,” he said. “We need people down there every day.”

Maddock is launching a campaign that builds on the 40 Days concept that he has dubbed Savers of Souls (SOS). The initiative asks for a commitment of one hour of prayer every four weeks at Planned Parenthood to cover 192 hours each month (eight hours a day, six days a week, for four weeks)—the estimated hours the facility is open for business.

“Peaceful prayer does work,” he said.

The number of abortions at Planned Parenthood nationally, according to the organization’s annual reports, has dropped: with 327,166 abortions performed in 2012; compared to 333,964 in 2011.

However, the number increased regionally: from a reported 10,505 abortions in 2012; compared to 10,408 in 2010 as reported by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains that covers Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Nevada.

“Someday we’re going to end this battle,” Maddock said. “(And future generations) will ask: ‘What did you do? How did you help end abortion?’”

Many parishes and ministries coordinate regular prayer vigils at abortion clinics. For more information, contact your parish Respect Life committee, campus minister or parish youth group, or call Respect Life Resources of Catholic Charities at 303-742-0828. For more information about SOS, contact Maddock at 303-358-0380 or saverofsoulsco@gmail.com.

Julie Filby: 303-715-3123; julie.filby@archden.org; www.twitter.com/DCRegisterJulie

A Beacon of Hope Gala
Annual benefit for Lighthouse & Women’s Services of Catholic Charities

When: March 8
Where: Wings Over the Rockies, 7711 E. Academy Blvd. No. 1, Denver
Speaker: Gianna Jessen, abortion survivor and inspiration for film “October Baby”
Ticket price: $125
Purchase tickets: www.ccdenver.org/galatickets
Table & corporate sponsorship: Call 720-377-1383
More info: www.lighthousedenver.org

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.”