Wives support new deacons’ call to service

Archbishop Aquila ordains 10 men to the diaconate

Behind 10 newly ordained deacons in the Archdiocese of Denver stand supportive wives who share their husbands’ new service to God.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila ordained the men the morning of Jan. 25, before family and friends at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Denver.  The archbishop emphasized that the men did not come upon this service on their own.

“As Jesus in the Gospel told his disciples: You did not choose me, but I chose you,” Archbishop Aquila said.

The archbishop officiated despite battling the flu and a cough. During the two-hour Mass and ceremony, he urged the new deacons to find joy and confidence in “the gift bestowed by God.” He said there is no room for pessimism, despair or fear in Christianity.

“Service the people in love and joy as you would the Lord,” the archbishop said.

The men, who range in age from 47 to 61, said their wives played pivotal roles in their decisions to become deacons. They spent nearly five years studying spiritual, intellectual, pastoral and human formation at the St. Francis School of Theology for Deacons at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in south Denver.

Deacon Michael Raymond Grafner, 61, said God spoke to him one night about becoming a deacon but he didn’t tell his wife, Veronica. Yet she also felt a pull from God after Communion one Mass when she said God told her to give her husband to him.

“My thought was my husband was going to die or become a deacon,” Veronica recalled.

After the couple shared their messages with each other, Michael announced to a small church group that he was going to discern becoming a deacon.

“He is so loving, so gentle and really cares about people,” his wife of 43 years said. “The sincerity of his heart is why he will be a good deacon.”

During the ordination ceremony, each man swore to faithfully discharge the office of deacon with humility. Individually, they knelt before the archbishop and swore obedience and respect. As a group, the men lay prostrate while the congregation chanted the Litany of Supplication over them. After the laying on of hands and Prayer of Ordination, the men were vested in stole and dalmatic and received the Book of Gospels.

The men join 162 deacons in the archdiocese that serve 118 parishes.

The archbishop urged the men to remember to put their marriages first and recognize the gift of their families. He encouraged their wives, who participated in the ceremony by proclaiming the readings and presenting the offertory gifts, to offer daily prayers for their husbands.

Deacon Timothy Scott Unger, the youngest new deacon at 47, has been married for 15 years.  He and his wife, Diane, have the youngest children in the group with Julia, 13, and Tim, 12.

Diane understood her husband, who spent time in the seminary as a young adult, continued to feel a call to service.

“This is something that has always been on his mind and is from God, and you can’t argue with God,” she said.

But Diane initially was concerned about the time commitment because of the possible impact on their young family. Some of the classes are offered online, which gave her husband flexibility to manage his family time, she said.

“Everything I was afraid of didn’t happen,” Diane recalled. “In fact, it was an opportunity for all of the family to deepen our faith and become closer as a family.”

Besides juggling families and careers—that range from owning a heating business to engineering, parish director of Liturgy and Family Life, software developer, case manager in a homeless shelter and account management—the men will dedicate an average of 12 hours a week to their assigned parish.

Deacons officiate at baptisms, weddings, wakes and funerals, and preach and distribute holy Communion. They cannot consecrate the Eucharist, hear confessions or anoint the sick.

Deacon Paul Louderman and his wife, Marilyn, agreed to be open to the Lord’s call after they prayed together. Marilyn said the couple, who have been married for 42 years, had some of the same questions as the other couples: Are we sure this is what we should be doing? Are we worthy?

“Once we made the decision, there was no going back,” Marilyn said.

To help the men’s wives better understand what being a deacon means, the women met with the wives of active deacons several times over the nearly five years of study.

“We spoke about spirituality and prayed together,” Marilyn said. “It was very helpful to listen to the women who are there and understand what it means to be a deacon’s wife.”

New Deacons

The 10 newly ordained deacons and their parish assignments:

Christopher Michael Byrne, 57, Sacred Heart of Jesus in Boulder

Michael Raymond Grafner, 61, Christ the King Parish in Evergreen

Kevin Charles Heckman, 59, Blessed Sacrament Parish in Denver

Paul Louderman, 56, Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Northglenn

James Francis Mackin III, 52, St. Louis Parish in Louisville

John Michael Otero, 59, St. John the Baptist Parish in Johnstown

George Alex Thierjung, 59, St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Longmont

Donald Paul Tracy, 56, St. Rose of Lima Parish in Denver

Timothy Scott Unger, 47, Risen Christ Parish in Denver

Mark Francis Wolbach, 52, Light of the World Parish in Littleton

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.”