Vincentian Father Christensen served archdiocese 27 years

Native Chicagoan ministered in parishes, celebrated TV Mass

Roxanne King

Father Lawrence P. Christensen, a Congregation of the Mission (Vincentian) priest who served the Denver Archdiocese for most of his 34-year priesthood, died Jan. 1. He was 82.

He was born in Chicago on June 11, 1935, to Helen (Kiebel) and Christian Christensen. He grew up in Chicago and graduated from DePaul Academy in 1954. He then entered St. Mary of the Barrens Seminary in Perryville, Mo., the historic seat of the Vincentian order in the United States. He professed vows on July 31, 1956, and served as a religious brother until he was ordained a deacon on June 4, 1976. After ministering in the diaconate eight years, he was ordained to the priesthood on Jan. 7, 1984.

“He was a very dedicated priest,” Deacon Tim Unger said about his longtime friend and, later, co-worker at Risen Christ Parish. “Some religious order priests come and go, but he really devoted his life to Denver. He loved it here. I think he felt this is where he was meant to be.”

Father Christensen loved to travel and had led a pilgrimage to Ireland just last year as well as took a cruise to Hawaii for the first time, Deacon Unger said.

“He could tell you anything about the British royal family, which was kind of funny,” Deacon Unger said. “And he had an avid affection for dogs. He had a dog named Charlie.”

As a religious brother and as a deacon, Father Christensen served as registrar of St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Lemont, Ill., and as provincial secretary in St. Louis, Mo. After his ordination to the priesthood, he ministered in a Perryville parish, then served three years as vocation director for his province before coming to Denver in 1991.

In Denver, he was director of admissions at St. Thomas Seminary for four years before it closed in 1995. He then ministered as a parochial vicar in many parishes, including Christ the King in Denver and St. John the Baptist in Longmont. He did the same for 10 years at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Fort Collins before ministering the last eight years at Risen Christ in Denver, where he was parochial vicar seven years and administrator one year.

Father Christensen also was a longtime celebrant of the Denver Archdiocese’s TV Mass.

Last July he was sent to the Vincentian’s retirement home, Apostle of Charity Residence in Perryville, with serious health issues. He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis commonly called ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“Father Larry served the (Vincentian’s western) province and the Church with energy and joy,” said Father Joseph Williams, CM, assistant provincial. “While his illness progressed rapidly, Father Larry maintained a joy of life and complete openness to the will of God. His trust and dependence on Divine Providence never faltered.”

A funeral Mass was celebrated on Jan. 4 at St. Mary of the Barrens Church. Burial was in the Vincentian Community Cemetery.

In Denver, a memorial Mass is set for 2 p.m. Friday, Jan. 19 at Risen Christ Church, followed by a reception.

COMING UP: Five Hispanic-American saints perhaps you didn’t know

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The American continent has had its share of saints in the last five centuries. People will find St. Juan Diego, St. Rose of Lima or St. Martin de Porres among the saints who enjoy greater popular devotion. Yet September, named Hispanic Heritage Month, invites a deeper reflection on the lives of lesser-known saints who have deeply impacted different Latin-American countries through their Catholic faith and work, and whose example has the power to impact people anywhere around the world. Here are just a few perhaps you didn’t know.

St. Toribio de Mogrovejo
1538-1606
Peru

Born in Valladolid, Spain, Toribio was a pious young man and an outstanding law student. As a professor, his great reputation reached the ears of King Philip II, who eventually nominated him for the vacant Archdiocese of Lima, Peru, even though Toribio was not even a priest. The Pope accepted the king’s request despite the future saint’s protests. So, before the formal announcement, he was ordained a priest, and a few months later, a bishop. He walked across his archdiocese evangelizing the natives and is said to have baptized nearly half a million people, including St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres. He learned the local dialects, produced a trilingual catechism, fought for the rights of the natives, and made evangelization a major theme of his episcopacy. Moreover, he worked devotedly for an archdiocesan reform after realizing that diocesan priests were involved in impurities and scandals. He predicted the date and hour of his death and is buried in the cathedral of Lima, Peru.

St. Mariana of Jesus Paredes
1618-1645
Ecuador

St. Mariana was born in Quito, modern-day Ecuador, and not only became the country’s first saint, but was also declared a national heroine by the Republic of Ecuador. As a little girl, Mariana showed a profound love for God and practiced long hours of prayer and mortification. She tried joining a religious order on two occasions, but various circumstances would not permit it. This led Mariana to realize that God was calling her to holiness in the world. She built a room next to her sister’s house and devoted herself to prayer and penance, living miraculously only off the Eucharist. She was known to possess the gifts of counsel and prophecy. In 1645, earthquakes and epidemics broke out in Quito, and she offered her life and sufferings for their end. They stopped after she made her offering. On the day of her death, a lily is said to have bloomed from the blood that was drawn out and poured in a flowerpot, earning her the title of “The Lily of Quito.”

St. Theresa of Los Andes
1900-1920
Chile

St. Theresa of Jesus of Los Andes was Chile’s first saint and the first Discalced Carmelite to be canonized outside of Europe. Born as Juana, the future saint was known to struggle with her temperament as a child. She was proud, selfish and stubborn. She became deeply attracted to God at the age six, and her extraordinary intelligence allowed her to understand the seriousness of receiving First Communion. Juana changed her life and became a completely different person by the age of 10, practicing mortification and deep prayer. At age 14, she decided to become a Discalced Carmelite and received the name of Theresa of Jesus. Deeply in love with Christ, the young and humble religious told her confessor that Jesus told her she would die soon, something she accepted with joy and faith. Shortly thereafter, Theresa contracted typhus and died at the age of 19. Although she was 6 months short of finishing her novitiate, she was able to profess vows “in danger of death.” Around 100,000 pilgrims visit her shrine in Los Andes annually.

St. Laura Montoya
1874-1949
Colombia

After Laura’s father died in war when she was only a child, she was forced to live with different family members in a state of poverty. This reality kept her from receiving formal education during her childhood. What no one expected is that one day she would become Colombia’s first saint. Her aunt enrolled her in a school at the age of 16, so she would become a teacher and make a living for herself. She learned quickly and became a great writer, educator and leader. She was a pious woman and wished to devote herself to the evangelization of the natives. As she prepared to write Pope Pius X for help, she received the pope’s new Encyclical Lacrymabili Statu, on the deplorable condition of Indians in America. Laura saw it as a confirmation from God and founded the Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart and St. Catherine of Siena, working for the evangelization of natives and fighting or their behalf to be seen as children of God.

St. Manuel Morales
1898-1926
Mexico

Manuel was a layman and one of many martyrs from Mexico’s Cristero War in the 1920s. He joined the seminary as a teen but had to abandon this dream in order to support his family financially. He became a baker, married and had three children. This change, however, did not prevent him from bearing witness to the faith publicly. He became the president of the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, which was being threatened by the administration of President Plutarco Elías Calles. Morales and two other leaders from the organization were taken prisoners as they discussed how to free a friend priest from imprisonment through legal means. They were beaten, tortured and then killed for not renouncing to their faith. Before the firing squad, the priest begged the soldiers to forgive Morales because he had a family. Morales responded, “I am dying for God, and God will take care of my children.” His last words were, “Long live Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe!”