Well done, good and faithful servants: Honoring our priests for their years of service

Denver Catholic Staff
25 years

Father James Goggins
Ordained 6/4/1994

Father James Goggins felt drawn to religious life when he was just a boy.

“We had wonderful priests and sisters at our parish and school, and I admired them a great deal,” he said.

Father Goggins was ordained a priest on June 4, 1994. He has served at parishes all around the archdiocese and is currently pastor of St. Mary in Greeley.

Father Goggins said he has discovered “a great joy in doing my duty and doing it one day at a time, and trying to connect people to the Lord.”

He believes that for a priest, “the most important thing is to connect people with Jesus, no matter what’s going on in their lives — whether it’s joy or suffering — and especially in the Eucharist,” he said.

He encourages young priests to “focus on Jesus,” he said. “Let him be the whole focus of your priesthood — nothing and no one else.”

Father Jerry Rohr
Ordained 6/4/1994

Father Jerry Rohr’s call to the priesthood was “an evolving” experience.

“It wasn’t a St. Paul moment,” he said. “It was a slow growing toward this need to give back somehow to what I believed Christ had given me.”

Father Rohr was ordained a priest on June 4, 1994. He currently serves as pastor of Christ the King in Haxtun, St. Patrick in Holyoke and St. Peter the Apostle in Fleming.

Because he didn’t enter seminary until he was 29, Father Rohr understands it can be challenging for older men who feel drawn to the priesthood to answer that call.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Anytime is the right time.”

His advice for young priests is to “remember that you do not bring Christ to your parish,” he said. “Your job is to discover the Christ that already exists in your parish and in your parishioners.”

Father Stephen Siebert
Ordained 7/2/1994

Father Stephen Siebert admits he wandered in his early adolescence before “Our Lord found me, and I heard the good news,” he said.

To this day, he remembers the exact dates he converted to Christ and eventually felt called to the priesthood.

“Love, peace and joy filled my life, and suddenly, vice fled,” he said. “Within a short time, my prayer became, ‘Lord, I want to serve you for the rest of my life.’”

Father Siebert was ordained to the priesthood on July 2, 1994 in Tijuana, Mexico as a member of the Missionaries of Charity Fathers. He served as a missionary in Mexico and Italy and helped in the missions Mother Teresa opened in Albania.

Father Siebert returned to diocesan parish life in the U.S. after 11 years with the mission and was received into the Archdiocese of Denver.

He currently serves as pastor of St. Mary in Breckenridge and Our Lady of Peace in Silverthorne.

Father Gerardo Puga
Ordained 7/25/1994

Father Gerardo Puga began to feel the call to the priesthood during his high school years, but “I was a little afraid,” he said.

Father Puga thought he wanted to get married one day, but his love for the sacraments eventually led him to say “yes” to God’s call to religious life.

“I think God was patient with me and remained calling me,” he said.

Father Puga was ordained a priest on July 25, 1994. He currently serves as pastor of Holy Family in Meeker, St. Ignatius of Antioch in Rangely and St. Michael in Craig.

Father Puga wants young priests to know that “the call is not just once in your life.

“Put your vocation, your life in the mercy of God, permit the Holy Spirit to change you, to convert your heart and go ahead every day. Because the call is not in the past — it’s in the present.”

Father Daniel Leonard
Ordained 11/25/1994

Growing up in Ireland, Father Daniel Leonard took his faith seriously and attended daily Mass with his family. His mom gave him, the youngest child, the responsibility to pray the Prayer of St. Francis at the end of Mass.

It instilled in Father Leonard a “desire to help people — to bring hope and faith and life,” and sparked his interest in the priesthood.

Father Leonard was ordained a priest on Nov. 25, 1994. He has served as a parish priest and seminary professor and is currently the Rector of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

Father Leonard imagines his ministry is similar to Jesus’ work of teaching his followers to spread the Gospel.

“I know that all of these future priests are going to touch the lives of literally thousands and thousands of people,” he said. “It gives a lot of hope.”

His advice to young priests is to “live a strong life of prayer.”

50 years

Monsignor Bob Amundsen
Ordained 12/19/1969

Monsignor Bob Amundsen was working on an assignment in fourth grade that required him to find a picture of what he wanted to be when he grew up.

But when he couldn’t find a photo of his dream job — a medical professional — his mom offered him a Catholic magazine.

“I cut out a picture of a priest saying Mass with my essay, ‘When I grow up I want to be a priest,’” he said. “And here I am 65 years later.”

Monsignor Amundsen was ordained a priest on Dec. 19, 1969. He is currently pastor of Immaculate Conception in Lafayette and enjoys celebrating Mass and confession, as well as offering spiritual direction to young adults.

His advice to young priests is “be a man of prayer and live in imitation of Jesus. Love the people you serve. Listen to their faith stories because the lay people will really enrich your understanding of the connection of life and faith.”

60 years

Father Thomas McCormick
Ordained 5/19/1959

After 60 years of priesthood, Father Thomas McCormick refers to himself as “God’s spoiled kid.”

“I’ve been spoiled with the gift of the priesthood, the gift of faith, the gift of health,” Father McCormick said with a smile. “I haven’t had a bad assignment in 60 years.”

Indeed, Father McCormick has had a variety of assignments throughout his priesthood, including pastor, junior high principal and missionary. He was even involved with the civil rights movement in the 1960s, when he marched on Selma with Martin Luther King Jr. Throughout his many experiences as a priest, Father McCormick fondly looks back at his time spent doing mission work in Colombia and Mexico. These experiences characterized his 60 years of priesthood and shape his advice to young priests.

“If we truly understand the Gospel, [we realize] that we need the poor more than the poor need us.”

Monsignor Raymond Jones
Ordained 6/6/1959

Msgr. Jones couldn’t be reached for an interview by press time.

65 years

Father James Purfield
Ordained 5/29/1954

Father Purfield couldn’t be reached for an interview by press time.

COMING UP: Catholic school teachers are ‘ministers’, SCOTUS rules

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday delivered a long-awaited religious liberty decision on the right of religious schools to hire and fire teachers. The court found in favor of two Catholic schools in California, ruling that a “ministerial exception” to government interference applies to teachers in religious schools.

The ruling came in the consolidated cases of Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James Catholic School v. Biel. The justices ruled in a 7-2 decision that teachers at Catholic grade schools qualified for the “ministers exception” established by the court in the 2012 Hosana Tabor case.

“The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito for the majority.

“Judicial review of the way in which religious schools discharge those responsibilities would undermine the independence of religious institutions in a way that the First Amendment does not tolerate.”

The two California Catholic schools did not renew the contracts of the teachers in 2014 and 2015. In separate cases combined by the Supreme Court, the teachers alleged that their dismissals were based on disability and age, not poor performance. The schools claimed they were exempt from employment discrimination laws under the ministerial exception, the legal doctrine under which government cannot interfere in the employment decisions of churches and religious institutions regarding the hiring and firing of ministers.

In both cases, the teachers’ suits were dismissed by federal courts, and then reinstated by the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeal.

When the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the combined case in May, lawyers for the schools argued that “for hours on end over the course of a week,” teachers in Catholic schools were the “primary agents” by which the faith was taught to students. Argument – and questions from the bench – focused on how broadly the ministerial exception could be applied to the employees of religious schools.

The decision comes just weeks after the court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, that employers cannot fire employees because of their sexual orientation or “gender identity.” Justice Neil Gorsuch, who authored the majority opinion in that case, acknowledged that religious freedom cases related to the decision would probably come before the Court in the future.

The decision about who qualifies as a minister could directly impact future cases in which teachers might be dismissed for failing to adhere to Church teachins on same-sex marriage or transgender issues, both of which have been subjects of controversy in recent months.

“Requiring the use of the title [minister] would constitute impermissible discrimination,” the court ruled. Referencing the previous decision in Hosana Tabor, Altio wrote that there must be “a recognition that educating young people in their faith, inculcating its teachings, and training them to live their faith are responsibilities that lie at the very core of the mission of a private religious school.”

The verdict also explicitly referenced the policy of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, home to both of the schools designating all teachers in Catholic schools as being effectively ministers.

“Like all teachers in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Morrissey-Berru was “considered a catechist,” i.e., “a teacher of religion,” Alito noted in his decision for the majority.

“There is abundant record evidence that [both teachers] performed vital religious duties. Educating and forming students in the Catholic faith lay at the core of the mission of the schools where they taught, and their employment agreements and faculty handbooks specified in no uncertain terms that they were expected to help the schools carry out this mission and that their work would be evaluated to ensure that they were fulfilling that responsibility.”

The court concluded that “when a school with a religious mission entrusts a teacher with the responsibility of educating and forming students in the faith, judicial intervention into disputes between the school and the teacher threatens the school’s independence in a way that the First Amendment does not allow.”

Joining Alito in the majority decision were Justices Thomas, Breyer, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, as well as Chief Justice John Roberts. Justices Sotomayer and Ginsburg dissented.