Worthy of the Name: Vision document aims to revitalize Catholic schools

Catholic schools week is Jan. 31 – Feb 6, and in honor of the occasion, the Office of Catholic Schools is releasing a vision document highlighting what characteristics make a school deserving of the title “Catholic.”

At last year’s Catholic school symposium, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila gathered with over 200 teachers, principals, pastors and archdiocesan leaders to discuss ways to overcome the challenges facing Catholic schools.

The fruits of the symposium have manifested themselves in a vision document titled “Worthy of the Name.”

The opening letter for the document, penned by Archbishop Aquila and Superintendent of Catholic Schools Kevin Kijewski, describes the mission of Catholic schools as assisting “parents in helping their children encounter Jesus Christ and the gift of our Catholic faith,” and speaks of the vision formulated as a result of the symposium.

“This vision is ambitious,” the letter states, “But rightly so, since the issues we are facing are significant and cannot be remedied without robust solutions.”

The document describes four focus areas: “On mission,” “Excellent in every way,” “Accessible to all,” and “Sustainable for the future.”

On Mission

With authentic discipleship in schools being a key focus of the plan, the hiring process for Catholic school teachers is going to be refined and will include a stronger focus on ensuring the teachers hired are what the vision document refers to as “disciple-teachers.” It also involves administrators and candidates discerning the profession of being a teacher at a Catholic school as a vocation and not just a job.

“Being a teacher at a Catholic school is a vocation, a calling that God gives to those whom he wants to play a vital role in helping parents,” the strategic plan states. “Teachers should strive to possess and communicate real Christian wisdom and virtue in teaching. The method of such teachers ought to convey to their students and awaken in them something beyond the subject by helping them understand the subject’s proper place in the students’ lives, showing them how it points to the universal truths of Creation and giving them a love for learning.”

In order to foster this mentality of discipleship, the Office of Catholic Schools will be implementing ongoing formation programs for its school employees as well as a mentoring program.

To ensure the highest-quality teachers are hired and to promote excellence from them, a new hiring toolkit with the intent of finding and forming disciple-teachers is being developed, as well as an improved teacher evaluation instrument “that will assess behaviors, actions and practices that are used by highly-effective Catholic school teachers.”Worthy of the name cover

Excellent in Every Way

The vision document also goes into detail about the role Catholic schools play in the formation of the entire person, their function in supporting families and their need for continuity and security.

To better compete with the education market, the Office of Catholic Schools will be assisting schools in developing new methods and innovations to meet the unique needs of students and provide an even higher quality of education to its students.

“This will assist schools in becoming uniquely and individually excellent, all the while driving enrollment across the school system,” the plan states.

Boards of specified jurisdictions could also potentially be established at schools to help alleviate some of the challenges pastors face being the president of a school. By employing board members with specific areas of expertise, pastors are given the tools they need to govern parish schools more effectively, the plan states. The Office of Catholic Schools will pilot two boards of specified jurisdiction at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Denver and St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Fort Collins, and should they prove successful, similar models will be deployed in various configurations across the archdiocese.

Another important pillar of the “Excellent in every way” focus area is implementing a more effective marketing strategy to share with the public the many benefits of enrolling students in Catholic schools.

“There are already many aspects of our schools that make them very attractive, yet sometimes they are not readily known to the community, and especially prospective families of students,” the document states.

Accessible to All

The ever-growing Latino population in Denver, as well as other immigrant groups, are also addressed in the document.

“The future of the Catholic Church is closely bound to this growing population,” the plan states.

The Office of Catholic Schools will launch specialized efforts to ensure that the Latino and immigrant populations have access to Catholic education and that this demographic is better-represented in Catholic schools.

“Efforts to transform the Latino population into key stakeholders in parishes and schools are necessary for the archdiocese to thrive in the future,” the plan states.

Taking inspiration from the Marinas Model at the University of Notre Dame, The Office of Catholic Schools will implement a Latino Enrollment Initiative to draw more of the Latino population to schools.

“Communication with the Latino community is different than the communication methods typically used for non-Latino communities. Within the context of the new communication efforts for Catholic schools, particular attention and resources will be used to create a plan specifically for Latinos,” the plan states.

A new position specifically for this initiative will also be created in the Office of Catholic Schools. The Director of Latino Enrollment will coordinate and lead efforts to recruit and retain Hispanic students in all Catholic schools.

Finally, those in leadership positions will be trained in understanding the culture and faith of Latinos, and there will be a conscious effort to recruit and form leaders from within this population.

Sustainable for the Future

The final focus area of the school strategic plan addresses the business and financial aspects of Catholic schools.

This part of the strategic plan involves reworking school budgets, centralizing fundraising and raising teacher salaries.

The concept of developing “right-sized” school budgets is a central pillar of this focus area. The Office of Catholic Schools will require schools to turn in budgets based on a reasonable enrollment projection and a reasonable allocation of the parish’s offertory, the plan states. Additionally, “right-sized” target ratios between school personnel and students will be worked toward over the next several school years, which includes a goal of at least 20 students for every core teacher.

School budgets, tuition and financial aid will be based on per pupil costs. The plan states that “tuition across the system will be set to give families an even starting line.”

The Office of Catholic Schools will also develop a more cohesive network between each individual school in the archdiocese to address fundraising needs.

“Archdiocesan schools operate mostly autonomously from each other. The future success of Catholic schools in the archdiocese, especially with funding, will depend on system-wide solutions where appropriate,” the plan states.

A centralized method for fundraising will be developed for all archdiocesan K-12 schools. This will include a centralized financial aid system to assess individual family financial needs and disburse aid.

A discount will be offered as incentive for teachers to enroll their own kids in Catholic schools as well as for families to enroll multiple children.

The plan also addresses the question of teacher salaries. Salaries will be “prudently” raised to offer a more competitive and attractive environment and better recruit and retain highly effective teachers.

Worthy of the Name
Vision DocumentRead “Worthy of the Name” at DenverCatholicSchools.com
TeleforumDiscuss the vision document with Archbishop Aquila and Kevin Kijewski on Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. Text “OCS” to 828282 to register.

COMING UP: Father and son, deacon and priest: Deacon dads and priest sons share special bond as both serve God’s people

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

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.”