Father Kevin Augustyn's reputation precedes him. When couples at his parish begin to prepare for marriage, they know they're about to get steeped in the teachings of Pope John Paul II.
The parish is Our Lady of Fatima in Lakewood, Colo., where he is parochial vicar.
“He tries his best to share the Theology of the Body with them, and seems to be good at it,” says the church's pastor, Msgr. Walter Nickless, who is also vicar general for the Denver archdiocese.
Msgr. Nickless has found that, when his 28-year-old associate runs up against the daunting numbers of people living together before marriage, he's patient with the misunderstandings and criticisms that inevitably come out — but he's also clear and unflinching as he lays out what the Church teaches.
“I love marriage preparation,” says Father Augustyn, who was ordained in May 2004. “It's such a wonderful opportunity to evangelize.”
In fact, he says he approaches every aspect of his ministry at Our Lady of Fatima with an eye on evangelization. One of his favorite ways is through preaching.
“It's both the best and the hardest thing to do,” Father Augustyn says. “It's the most challenging and the most rewarding.”
He often preaches on what he calls the “big picture”: the history of salvation and how we who make up the Mystical Body of Christ are caught up in that great drama.
“We're in the same story as Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus, Peter and Paul,” he reflects. “Salvation history began a long time ago but continues in our lives.”
Father Augustyn's other dominant theme is how we're called to be both disciples and apostles. “You can't be a Christian without accepting a mission from Jesus,” he explains. “To be a Christian is to be a missionary.”
A native of Fort Wayne, Ind., Father Augustyn recalls that, as a college student at Franciscan University of Steubenville, he spent summers teaching with Wichita's Totus Tuus parish missions to children and teens. As a seminarian, he moved to Denver's Totus Tuus program, of which he's still director.
“In Totus Tuus I learned how to preach the Gospel in all circumstances and methods,” he says. “I appropriated the New Evangelization not just through Totus Tuus, although that was a huge part of it. I loved preaching the Gospel day in and day out, and knew I wanted to do that the rest of my life.”
In this Year of the Eucharist, that has entailed preaching a great deal on the importance of faithful attendance at Sunday Mass and living “a Eucharistic spirituality,” he says. He's noticed more people becoming more faithful and attentive Mass attendants, along with a widening attendance in adult-education classes.
“He can take a sentence out of the Gospel and bring it to life,” says parishioner Lynda Fitzsimmons. “He's not afraid to say what needs to be said. He's here speaking for Jesus.”
She adds that she and her husband Rickey, along with their pre-teen daughters Gianna and Angela, are not only not put off by the young priest's emphasis on evangelization and traditional Church teachings — they are eager to learn more from him.
Msgr. Nickless seems equally exhorted.
“He loves to read and reflect on theology, and he's doing his best to help other people do the same,” says the pleased pastor. He then points out that that, in his first month at the parish, Father Augustyn reopened the parish library, which had fallen into disrepair. He also opened a bookstore offering the works of solid Catholic authors — Peter Kreeft, G.K. Chesterton and the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger are favorites — and he maintains a stock of informational pamphlets to make sure parishioners and visitors have easy access to the Church's true teachings on a variety of subjects.
“I think it's a real mission,” says Msgr. Nickless. “Father Kevin is helping people learn their faith.”
“It's nice to have a library of books that come recommended from a priest you respect,” explains Lynda Fitzsimmons. She describes how she went into the library to find something for her 18-year-old niece who was losing her way.
“Father said, ‘Here's a good book, you can read this one, and this is a good one for her.’ Then one of my daughters was home sick. Because Father's got books on the saints, I called her on the phone, and she picked one.”
Angela Fitzsimmons likes the choices.
“I got a book about St. Thérèse of Lisieux,” the 11-year-old says eagerly. “And I saw the movie. Father recommended it.”
She looks forward to Father Augustyn's classroom visits in the parish school, and the way he invites questions. She likes something else, too
“He teaches us Latin and Greek,” says Angela. “He taught us right before they elected Pope Benedict XVI how to say Habemus Papam.”
Msgr. Nickless points out: “Another secret mission of his is to get more Latin around in the school and in the music and the Church.”
The pastor highlights how this young priest tries to visit every classroom weekly and his unique way of memorizing all the children's first names and not leaving until he gets every name right.
Says Msgr. Nickless: “The kids love that he knows their names.”
Footsteps of John Paul
One Sunday a month, Father Augustyn pulls together a group of 20- and 30-somethings — his peers — to discuss books or movies. One month they might hash over George Weigel's Letters to a Young Catholic, the next Chesterton's Orthodoxy.
For all his emphasis on teaching and preaching, Father Augustyn's most effective evangelization tool may be his actions.
“He's a great inspiration to use the sacrament of confession and not be afraid of it, and he models that himself,” says Msgr. Nickless. “He talks about it and he goes! He's not afraid to tell people he, too, is a sinner and needs the forgiveness the Church offers.
“He's a true product of John Paul II,” concludes the pastor, “and his quest for the New Evangelization — the re-evangelization of the Church.”
Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.