‘Well done, good and faithful servants’: Priests celebrate milestone anniversaries

Denver Catholic Staff
65 years

Monsignor Edward Madden

Monsignor Edward Madden remembers hearing God’s call of him to the priesthood as young as three years old. While attending daily Mass at St. John’s Parish with his mother, he was inspired by the example the priests there and thought, “I could do that.” Now, 65 years after his ordination, Monsignor Madden remains grateful for the opportunity to serve. “It was a good life,” he said. “I never thought I’d last this long. Whatever the Lord wants, I’ll try to do what he says.” Monsignor Madden says the Mass is what has sustained him all of these years, and he feels blessed to still be able to concelebrate Mass each day at Mullen Home. “The Mass has been the center of everything. I’m greatly devoted to the Mass, so the privilege of offering Mass each day has been a wonderful support and strength for me.” Imparting valuable words of wisdom to younger priests, Monsignor Madden hopes they, too, realize the importance of the Mass, and prayer as well. “The main thing is to bring the Eucharist to the people,” he said.

60 years

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford

Celebrating his 60th anniversary, Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, Archbishop emeritus of Denver, who discovered his vocation in 1952 on a pilgrimage with friends, recalled 1993’s World Youth Day in Denver as one of his fondest memories. “The young people…were greeting Pope John Paul II. When I glanced at [him], he was in tears. They were tears of joy.” Cardinal Stafford, 85, said he considers himself a “blessed, ‘spiritual’ grandfather.” He also shared a word of advice to young priests: “Dear brothers in Christ Jesus! I think of you and turn often to Him on your behalf. I ask the intercession of St. John Paul II, whose influence on your generation has been remarkably fruitful. May he intercede before God that you may be consecrated. ‘Consecrate’ means to offer yourselves in sacrifice. May God consecrate you in truth and holiness. These are days when ‘saints are not enough…You have to keep climbing higher and higher, always climbing higher still. Up to the ultimate sanctity, the ultimate purity, the ultimate bea
uty…You must have the courage to tell the truth’” (Péguy).

Father Angelo Ossino

Though originally ordained in Missouri, Father Angelo Ossino has spent much of the past 60 years as a persist serving richly in the Archdiocese of Denver. He was incardinated into the archdiocese in 1975, and served as pastor and associate pastor at several of Denver’s most vibrant parishes, including St. Pius X, St. Joseph in Golden, and St. Jude in Lakewood. His ministry wasn’t just limited to the parish, however; he taught at various Catholic schools in Missouri and Louisiana, and earned his master’s in religious education from Loyola University in Chicago. His upbringing in an Italian neighborhood in Omaha, Neb., informed the way he lived his life. “Life has been God’s precious and loving gift to me,” Father Ossino recounted. I have learned so much about giving and receiving, about faith and prayer, and about treasuring good food, good friends and good wine! I have so much to celebrate.”

50 years

Father James Kleiner

Father James Kleiner, originally ordained in Canada, served as pastor at St. Joan of Arc and St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Now retired, he celebrates his 50th anniversary. He attributes his “initial thrust” into the vocation to priesthood to “Catholic education and the thrust for missionary work.” The anniversary marks a special time in his life: “It’s a time of memory of the many experiences and people over the years. Our whole faith is a question of memory. It is a milestone — I am thankful for the gift of perseverance. It’s amazing to look back over the 50 years and how the perceived problems have changed, and how the world has changed.” Father Kleiner notes that his sense of humor has helped him persevere in the vocation. “While the vocation is serious, we have to live too, and not take ourselves too seriously. I think wisdom-figures were very important to me, which in my old age, I feel the lack of, but I had outstanding mentors over the years. And they were the ones who encouraged me…I miss that very much.”

Father Michael Smith

Father Michael Smith was born in Missouri in 1936 and was ordained in 1967 in St. Louis. He taught at Regis Jesuit High School and later was involved in campus ministry at St. Louis University and Regis College in Denver. Later, he was appointed pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Paonia and later Sacred Heart Parish in Fruita, where he was known for his “inclusiveness and acceptance of people just as they are,” according to an article about his retirement in the Diocese of Pueblo. “I was appointed pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Fruita, Colo., and pastor of nearby Holy Family School in Grand Junction, Colo. These parishioners and school children taught me how to be a good pastor and a man for others for 14 years: for me, heaven had met earth,” Father Smith said. He currently lives in Denver with the Xavier Jesuit Center and is involved in pastoral ministry.

Monsignor Ken Leone

Monisgnor Ken Leone looks back on the past on the past 50 years as a priest fondly. “I think I am the luckiest person on the face of this earth because I have gotten to see God at work in so many situations,” the joyful priest said. “A lot of people think there are no longer miracles like there were in the time of Jesus; that is absolutely not true. God is at work, and I have seen God at work. It’s just amazing.” Monsignor Leone has had a very fruitful tenure as a priest and has remained active outside of parish life. He still, to this day, provides spiritual direction to seminarians at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and leads retreats frequently. “It’s amazing how you see God at work on those retreats,” he said. Overall, Monsignor Leone has no regrets and has loved every minute of being a priest. “It’s the greatest life you could ever live on the face of this earth,” he says proudly. “I would do it over again in a heartbeat.”

Father Edward Poehlmann

Not one to retire yet, even at 50 years, Father Edward Poehlmann serves as pastor of Presentation of Our Lady Parish in Denver. He’s served several extended assignments as a parish pastor throughout his priesthood, including St. Mary’s in Breckenridge and its missions for 18 years (he headed three building projects while there), St. Clare of Assisi for 12 years, and Presentation for the last 12 years (and just signed on for six more). He grew up attending Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver, where the seed for his priestly vocation was planted. When he was ordained in 1967, he taught religion and philosophy at a few of the local Catholic high schools alongside being a parish priest. Reflecting on the past 50 years, Father Poehlmann said he’s “grateful for a number of things: good health, wonderful parishioners … and opportunities to serve in all these other capacities.” To younger priests, he offers these words of advice: “They have to set up a lot of meaningful relationships in parishes. People demand that  today. You really have to be yourself.”

Father Roland Freeman

After finishing high school, Father Roland Freeman joined the Benedictines as a brother. During his formation, he reflected on the centrality of the Eucharist, the “front and apex” of the Christian life, and then he left the Benedictines to enter the seminary and become a priest. He was ordained on May 27, 1967. During his priesthood, he had a variety of ministries that involved sharing the sacraments, teaching children, adults, seminarians, giving retreats to priests and laity, and using his professional training in helping others with emotional disorders. He served as Director of a psychological services center. Currently, he lives at All Saints Parish in Denver and is the director of Social Religious Education for the archdiocese and Executive director of chaplains at Rose Medical Center, chaplain of the Sisters of Loretto Retirement Center, and assists in several parishes with sacramental ministries. For him, this anniversary is an occasion for “deep thanksgiving to God and profound wonder at God has accomplished, even in my life”. He says that the key to being faithful to his vocation is “fidelity to prayer, the prayer of the Eucharist, which is the gift that forms one into the profound and unsurpassable mystery of Christ’s selfless love for all.”

25 years

Father Andreas Hoeck

Father Andreas Hoeck was born into a Catholic family, and when he received the sacraments of confession, communion and confirmation as a child, the inner calling to the priesthood was confirmed. He joined the seminary and was ordained on April 4, 1992. Right after his ordination, he was sent to earn a doctorate in Catholic Exegesis (Bible Interpretation) at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. Since 2001, Father Hoeck has been teaching biblical science at Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary. He also helps in a variety of parishes, and preaches on several of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. For his 25th anniversary, Father Hoeck shares: “Looking back over these years, the heart is definitely filled with gratitude to God for having been given the grace of perseverance, of joy and inner peace.” But it is not just looking back: “One also realizes that the number of years ahead are rather counted, and one sets his sight on the eventual goal in the not too distant future. That powerful thought helps to steady the pace and ‘press on towards Christ’ (Philippians 3:14), as long as health and physical strength hold up.” He says that his priestly vocation “is sustained and fostered by the daily celebration of Holy Mass, daily personal prayer, the ever-deeper reflection on the word of God, and the dedication to one’s task at hand.”

Father Gregorie Vidal

Father Gregorie Vidal was born on January 25th, 1963, in Albi, in the South of France. Raised in a Catholic family, he met the Community of the Beatitudes when he was a teenager in the early 1980s through a prayer group his parents were attending, and he entered the Community in 1983. He then studied in Rome, and served the Lord in Africa for 2 years (Central Africa), where he learned to speak the native language Sango. He was ordained a Catholic priest on June 28th, 1992, in Cordes (Diocese of Albi, France), and served many years in France, and also as a Pastor in Nimes. He arrived in the US in 2009 and has been serving as a Pastor in the Parish St. Catherine of Siena (Denver) since then. He completed a Ph.D in Theology (Sacred Scriptures) in March 2012, about the “Divine sonship and universal brotherhood, in the Gospel of Saint Luke”. Father Gregorie is a man of many languages (French, Italian, English, Spanish, Sango), of many talents (soccer, marathon, nature and science) and even a ventriloquist!

Father Frank Maroney

Father Frank Maroney, ordained in Denver and current pastor of St. Francis of Assisi in Longmont, celebrates his 25th anniversary. He remembers how after a youth group meeting, the youth director asked him if he had ever thought about becoming a priest. “I replied that was not my cup of tea. And he responded profoundly, saying if I had any inkling at all, I had a responsibility to find out for sure. Well, I hadn’t had an inkling, until he asked me!” Father Maroney spent a few years discerning and eventually told the Lord, “Lord, I hope you know what you are doing this time!” before entering the seminary in Denver. Father Maroney said, “[Young priests probably] have words of advice for me! They seem to be so well rooted not only in Scripture…I appreciate their commitment and sense of zeal. It gives me a sense of hope for the Church.” The key to being faithful to the vocation, he said, is “The Lord, of course,” and the priests in his Caritas support group that meet monthly.

Other anniversaries

5 years

Rev. Juan Bonilla
Rev. Wojiech Gierasimczyk
Rev. Samuel Morehead
Rev. Ryan O’Neill

10 years

Very Rev. Randy Dollins, V.G.
Rev. Timothy Hjelstrom
Rev. Mark Kovacik

20 years

Rev. Jorge Aguera
Rev. Daniel Norick
Very Rev. Rocco Porter, V.F.
Rev. Daniel Zimmerschied

30 years

Rev. Timothy Gaines – 30
Very Rev. Michael Pavlakovich, V.F.
Most Rev. Jorge Rodriguez, S.T.D.

35 years

Rev. Msgr. Edward Buelt
Rev. John Hilton

COMING UP: Full transcript of Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi blessing amid coronavirus pandemic

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Below is the full text of Pope Francis’ Urbi et Ordi blessing delivered on March 27, during which he prayed for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).

Featured image: Vatican Media