LIMON. The Union Pacific Railroad still thunders past the small town of Limon, 72 miles east of Colorado Springs. Years ago, frequent stops of passenger trains encouraged growth and the founding of the place, but now it’s the highway that brings visitors. Making their way along Interstate 70, travelers come in for a landing to be served by a bright new cluster of gas stations, gift shops, and several chain hotels. Locals enjoy good work here, and many will attend Mass today at Our Lady of Victory, a handsome red brick church founded in 1925. Today — Dec. 15, 2019 — is a special day, and people and luminaries stream in from all over.
Inside, a tall, thin priest with a broad smile is greeting visitors by name like old friends, his rose-colored robes announcing that it is also Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent. This is Father George V. Fagan JCL, who is about to celebrate an important milestone. At today’s Mass he will celebrate 50 years — half a century — of priesthood, mostly served here in the Diocese of Colorado Springs.
“Yes, come to my celebration,” he said in answer to a phoned inquiry recently, his voice as zesty as prairie wind. “We’re on H street — that’s, ‘H’ as in ‘Heaven.’”
In person Father Fagan seems a picture of health, tall and thin from hiking the Rockies, exuding a confident grace acquired after decades of service to God and his people.
Inside the door at Our Lady of Victory is Gil Lindeman, a big, likable commissioned acolyte dressed in white who’s come from Denver.
“Father Fagan and I, we go way back. I went to seminary with him 50 years ago. He’s a wonderful man,” Lindeman said. His presence is a surprise to Father Fagan, who arrived at the seminary, St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Denver, right out of high school. They went through four years together before Fagan was sent on to Rome to complete his formation. He studied in Rome a total of eight years: four of them before his ordination at St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 19, 1969; and four more to obtain a degree in Canon Law for the Diocese of Colorado Springs under Bishop Emeritus Richard Hanifen. In between were assignments as assistant pastor and pastor at various churches in the Archdiocese of Denver.
Upon returning from Rome in 1987, he was named the first Judicial Vicar for the newly-created Diocese of Colorado Springs. Father Fagan served as Judicial Vicar for 15 years until 2002, at which time he was offered his present position as pastor of three parishes on the Eastern Plains — Our Lady of Victory in Limon, St. Mary Parish in Flagler and St. Anthony of Padua in Hugo. He couldn’t be happier, he says.
Now, 50 years after his ordination, Father Fagan stands before a church filled with friends, fellow priests, altar servers, the Knights of Columbus color guard from Denver, and parishioners whom he has led through thick and thin for 18 years. Young people are especially prominent in the assembly and as Father Fagan looks out at them, from an altar flanked by Msgr. Jaeger, Fathers Frank Quezada and Brad Noonan and Deacon Pete McCann of Ave Maria Parish in Parker, acolyte Gil, and many prominent parishioners, he says he sees the future leaders of our church.
“I thank God, and I thank Bishop Sheridan who assigned me here, and you,” said Father Fagan to the assembly. “At the age of 60, I looked forward to being 70 and retiring; hiking more. Now that I am 75, and all I want is to spend more time with you, my parish.” Moments later he was presented a plaque of thanks celebrating 50 years of service.
From the grandeur of Rome, to the modern and older churches of Denver and the broad authority of the Tribunal, Father Fagan has pretty much seen it all. A celebration dinner followed the Mass, at which he was joined at table by the kids he knows will soon be leaders.
Afterward, asked what he had learned during all these years, Father Fagan reflected, “Things have a way of falling into place if you don’t rush them. Every parish has its advantages; those are what I focus on — not any disadvantages. Here, a priest is closer to the people; a big parish can be overwhelming for its pastor. Ministry on the Eastern Plains is a blessing! I feel it’s been a good match; I love being out here and love the people.” The man on Heaven Street is in heaven, and after fifty years of tireless service, it seems he deserves it.