You can help to form our future priests

Our seminarians are visiting parishes in November to share their unique calling to serve and to ask for your prayerful support.

God spoke to some of them at an early age and others were well into their adulthood, but they each heard the Lord’s call to the priesthood.

Michael Pitio said he remembers he was only 6 years old when he first heard Jesus speak to him. Now, at 22, he is studying in Denver to become a priest. 

“The will of God has me in the right place today,” Pitio said.

The Archdiocese of Denver is uniquely blessed to have two seminaries that help answer God’s call to serve His Church. St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary offer two distinct paths to the priesthood with a shared goal of strengthening the future of the Catholic Church.

It can take seven to 10 years to be a Catholic priest. Right now, 110 seminarians are studying what it means to hand your life over to God’s will and serve His Church.  

St. John Vianney Theological Seminary began in 1999 as a diocesan seminary rooted in the firm dedication to prayer. Since then, the seminary has been making disciples of men called to proclaim Jesus Christ with ordinations totaling 139.

Each candidate to the seminary must be sponsored by his Bishop or Religious Superior before entering St. John Vianney. While attending the seminary, each man is immersed in the Four Dimensions of Formation — spiritual, human, intellectual, and pastoral — which prepares them for the lifelong demands of the priesthood. 

Formation and education for seminarians ranges from between seven to 10 years. Right now, 110 seminarians at St. John Vianney and Redemptoris Mater seminaries are studying what it means to hand your life over to God’s will and serve His Church.  

Amidst their studies, the seminarians perform works of mercy by visiting hospital patients, engaging in prison ministry, comforting the elderly, befriending the homeless, working in schools, or assisting in parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Denver.

Redemptoris Mater was founded in 1996 to form diocesan and missionary priests willing to serve the universal Church where they are needed. Redemptoris Mater seminarians share academics with St. John Vianney seminarians, but their vocational formation is based on the Neocatechumenal Way which offers them an itinerary of formation into an adult faith in a concrete Christian community inserted in a particular local parish. 

Redemptoris Mater welcomes seminarians from 12 different countries of origin to the Archdiocese of Denver. Upon ordination, the Archbishop may send the Neocatechumenal priests to local parishes or to a missionary assignment.

In the expected 45 to 50 years of priesthood, a priest will touch so many lives.  We need to invest in that future, said Father Daniel Leonard, rector of St. John Vianney. That is why priest formation is such an important investment, because it is an investment in the future of our Church, Father Leonard said.

 “They are ordained, not for themselves, but for their flock,” Father Leonard said. “It is the heart of a good shepherd who loves his flock.”

Seminarian Timothy Skoch went to the University of Kansas and in his sophomore year he was introduced to St. Philip Neri, who’s the patron saint of joy. That’s when he started to become interested in the priesthood and what a priest’s life looks like.

By his senior year, Skoch was listening to God’s voice in his life. The desire to follow Christ grew and he gained the courage to apply to the seminary.

They are ordained, not for themselves, but for their flock. It is the heart of a good shepherd who loves his flock.”

Father Daniel Leonard

In one of his classes at the seminary, the instructor asked, “how is modern man going to encounter the Lord?”

“I truly believe that one way that will happen is through the Catholic priesthood and good men saying yes to that call that Jesus is inviting them into,” Timothy said.

Jesús Martinez Vargas remembers vividly when he was called.

“I remember exactly when the Lord spoke to me. I was about 23 or 24 years old at mass and watching the priest celebrate the Eucharist during the consecration, and I was overwhelmed with a desire to be doing what he was doing,” Vargas said. 

The 28-year-old seminarian is grateful to donors who help make his dream to become a priest possible. Priest formation is costly to cover tuition, books, and laptops, but it is an investment in the future of our Church.

“I’m so grateful to the donors who allow me to follow my desire,” Vargas said. “Without them, there is no seminary to form good priests.”

You can learn more about your future priests and support them on their journey at

COMING UP: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.