VIDEO: Good Shepherd pays tribute to priest who loved life

Father Benjamin Reese dies preparing to celebrate Mass

As Father Benjamin Reese was suffering the last stages of ALS at a care center in St. Louis, Missouri, the children, teachers and pastor of Good Shepherd School gathered on the Cheryl Washington playground to pay tribute to the dying priest, and to raise awareness of the progressive neurodegenerative disease.

The 56-year-old priest, who grew up in Aspen and served as a priest for the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., was diagnosed with bulbar onset ALS in July 2013. He died Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, as he was preparing to celebrate Mass.

Father Benjamin Reese cues up a verbal message on his iPad Feb. 11, 2014.

Father Benjamin Reese cues up a verbal message on his iPad Feb. 11, 2014.

Local clergy showed their support for Father Reese in 2014 by participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge, a social media phenomenon that resulted in $450,000 in donations for the Iowa-based John Paul II Medical Research Institute, and had 15 gallons of freezing ice water dumped on their heads.

“My hope was, in a symbolic way, to reach out to him,” Msgr. Bernie Schmitz, vicar of clergy in the Archdiocese of Denver, told the Denver Catholic last year. “To let him know there are a lot of fellow brother priests who care for him.”

In 2015, as Father Reese’s condition worsened, Msgr. Schmitz invited Father James Fox, pastor of Good Shepherd Parish, and the Good Shepherd school community, to join him Sept. 14 in a second Ice Bucket Challenge to support Father Reese, and to raise money for pro-life research in search of a cure and enhanced therapies.

The community came together to participate in the tribute, beginning with the students who paid $3 for the privilege to not wear their uniforms to school the previous Friday. They raised $1300 for the John Paul II Medical Research Institute.

Moments before the challenge, after the students gathered on the playground first thing on a Monday, Father Fox revealed that his brother-in-law, Ken Aus of Minnesota, also suffers from ALS. The pastor announced that he was going to match the $1300 donation of the students, thus raising the total donation for pro-life research to $2,600.

The two priests, accompanied by Father Jason Wallace, vice rector of the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, then prepared themselves to be drenched by ice water at the hands of eighth-graders Thomas Krumholz, Tanner Purcell, and Liam Clevenger. Students, teachers and other onlookers cheered.

Msgr. Schmitz, who organized both Ice Bucket Challenges, told Denver Catholic after he received news of the death of Father Reese that he knew his brother priest to be “a man of deep faith.”

“And as I told the kids at Good Shepherd, despite the fact that he suffered from ALS, he never complained,” Msgr. Schmitz said. “He was grateful for the care he was receiving and for the life he was given. His great dream was to finish his degree and he worked at it, albeit slowly.”

Father Benjamin Reese with his caregiver Sister Corda

Father Benjamin Reese with his caregiver Sister Corda

“Father Ben was preparing to celebrate Mass when he died,” Msgr. Schmitz continued. “Oh, what a gift that would be for any priest.

“Jesus said about Nathaniel that he was a man of no guile, and that was Father Ben. There was no pretense, just a human being who embraced life and love as it was given to him.”

Father Reese spent his last months at the Mother of Good Counsel Home in St. Louis, Mo., run by the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. This disease causes motor neurons to die, and as the disease progresses the brain can no longer initiate and control muscle movement, eventually paralyzing a patient and then death.

Founded in 2006, John Paul II Medical Research Institute is a pro-life non-profit based in Iowa. They specialize in adult stem cells to find cures for cancer, neurological diseases, rare diseases, and chronic diseases. Their institute does not conduct research with embryonic stem cells and believes in upholding the dignity of all human life.

Nissa LaPoint contributed to this report

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COMING UP: Colorado Catholic Conference 2021 Legislative Recap

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On June 8, the First Regular Session of the 73rd General Assembly adjourned. Over 600 bills were introduced this session. Policy primarily focused on transportation, agriculture, healthcare, fiscal policy, and the state budget. However, the legislature also considered and passed many bills that could impact the Catholic Church in Colorado.  

Some bills that were passed will uphold Catholic social teaching and protect the poor and vulnerable of our society while others pose potentially harmful consequences to the Catholic Church, its affiliated organizations, and Colorado citizens who wish to practice their well-founded convictions. There were also many bills that were considered by the legislature that did not pass, including two bills that would have upheld the sanctity of life and two that would have expanded education opportunity for K-12 students.  

The Colorado Catholic Conference (CCC), as the united voice of the four Colorado bishops, advocated for Catholic values at the Capitol and ensured that the Church’s voice was heard in the shaping of policy.  

Below is a recap of the CCC’s 19 priority bills from the 2021 legislative session. For a full list of the legislation the Conference worked on, please visit:  

For regular updates and other information, please sign-up for the CCC legislative network here.  

Six bills the CCC supported that were either passed or enacted

Note: Passed means the bill was approved by both chambers of the legislature and is pending the governor’s signature as of June 9, 2021. Enacted means the bill was signed by the governor and became law.  

HB 21-1011 Multilingual Ballot Access for Voters – Passed  
If enacted, counties where either 2,000 adults or 2.5% of the adult population primarily speak a language other than English will be required to provide a ballot in that language. 

HB 21-1075 Replace The Term Illegal Alien – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1075, the term “illegal alien” was replaced with the term “worker without authorization” as it relates to public contracts for services.  

SB 21-027 Emergency Supplies for Colorado Babies and Families – Passed  
If enacted, the state government will allocate much-needed funding for nonprofit organizations to provide diapers and other childcare necessities to families in need, including Catholic Charities.  

SB 21-077 Remove Lawful Presence Verification Credentialing – Enacted    
With the enactment of SB 77, verification of lawful presence will no longer be required for any applicant for a license, certificate, or registration, particularly in the job fields of education and childcare.  

SB 21-146 Improve Prison Release Outcomes – Passed  
If enacted, SB 146 will establish practices that ease the transition back into society for formerly incarcerated persons.  

SB 21-158 Increase Medical Providers for Senior Citizens – Passed  
If enacted, SB 158 will allocate more funding for senior citizen care, which is currently understaffed and underfunded.  

Eight bills the CCC opposed that were passed 

HB 21-1072 Equal Access Services For Out-of-home Placements – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1072, Colorado law now prohibits organizations that receive state funding for placing children with adoptive or foster parents from discriminating on, among other things, the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or marital status. This new law will likely to be impacted by the imminent Fulton v. City of Philadelphia U.S. Supreme Court decision. 

HB 21-1108 Gender Identity Expression Anti-Discrimination – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1108, “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression” are now recognized as protected classes in Colorado nondiscrimination code. This may have serious religious liberty implications for individuals and organizations that wish to practice their well-founded convictions on marriage and human sexuality. 

SB21-006 Human Remains Natural Reduction Soil – Enacted 
With the enactment of SB 006, human remains can now be converted to soil using a container that accelerates the process of biological decomposition, also known as “natural reduction.” 

SB 21-009 Reproductive Health Care Program – Passed 
If enacted, SB 009 will create a taxpayer funded state program to increase access to contraceptives.  

SB 21-016 Protecting Preventive Health Care Coverage – Passed 
If enacted, the definition of “family planning services” and “family planning-related services” will not be clearly defined in law and could potentially include abortion. Furthermore, SB 16 removes the requirement that a provider obtain parental consent before providing family planning services to a minor.  

SB 21-025 Family Planning Services for Eligible Individuals– Passed 
If enacted, SB 025 low-income women to be given state-funded contraception, “preventing, delaying, or planning pregnancy” services, which includes cessation services and sterilization services.  

SB 21-142 Health Care Access in Cases of Rape or Incest– Enacted  
The enactment of SB 142 removes the requirement that, if public funds are being used, a physician must perform an abortion at a hospital, and instead allows for abortions to be performed by any “licensed provider.”   

SB21-193 Protection of Pregnant People in Perinatal Period– Passed 
If enacted, SB 193 will eliminate an important protection in Colorado law for a preborn and viable baby when a woman is on life support.  

Five bills the CCC supported that failed  

HB21-1017 Protect Human Life at Conception – Failed 
HB 1017 would have prohibited terminating the life of an unborn child and made it a violation a class 1 felony.  

HB 21-1080 Nonpublic Education and COVID-19 Relief Act – Failed 
HB 1080 would have established a private school and home-based education income tax credit for families who either enroll their child in private school or educate their child at home, thereby expanding education opportunities for families during and after the pandemic.  

HB 21-1183 Induced Termination of Pregnancy State Registrar – Failed 
HB 1183 would have required health-care providers that perform abortions to report specified information concerning the women who obtain the procedure to the state registrar of vital statistics, thereby increasing transparency in the abortion industry.   

HB 21-1191 Prohibit Discrimination COVID-19 Vaccine Status– Failed  
HB 1191 would have prevented individuals from being coerced to take the COVID-19 vaccine by either the state or by employers.  

HB 21-1210 Modifications to Qualified State Tuition Programs – Failed 
HB 1210 would have allowed families to use some of their private 529 savings account funds for private K-12 school tuition for their children, including at Catholic schools.   

One bill the CCC opposed that failed 

SB 21-031 Limits on Governmental Responses to Protests– Failed 
SB 031 would have made it more difficult for law enforcement to protect innocent lives when protests turn violent.  

Two bills the CCC was in an “Amend” position that passed  

SB 21-073 Civil Action Statute of Limitations Sexual Assault – Enacted  
With the enactment of SB 073, the statute of limitations on bringing a civil claim based on sexual misconduct will be removed as of January 1, 2022. Under this law, victims of sexual abuse can pursue a civil cause of action if the statute of limitations has not expired, the abuse happened in Colorado, and the abuse could be considered a felony or Class 1 misdemeanor if it was a criminal case. 

SB 21-088 Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act– Passed  
If enacted, SB 88 will allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue public and private institutions for abuse that occurred between 1960-2022. Victims would have three years to bring a historical claim, starting from January 1, 2022. Claims brought during this window would be capped at $387,000 for public institutions and at $500,000 for private institutions, with the ability of a judge to double the damages depending on how the private institution handled the situation. Despite unanswered constitutional concerns regarding SB 88, the Colorado Catholic dioceses will also continue to offer opportunities for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to receive support in a non-litigious setting.   

While the legislature has adjourned the 2021 legislative session, there is still the possibility that they will reconvene later this year. To stay up-to-date on Colorado legislative issues and their impact on the Catholic Church in Colorado, be sure to sign up for the CCC legislative network HERE.