by Roxanne King | Ever since he was a child, Fr. John Toepfer, O.F.M. Cap., longed to be a Capuchin priest. Born and reared in Hays, Kan., as one of seven children of Anthony and Mary Alice Toepfer, friars staffed his local parish and others throughout northwest Kansas, as well as a high school and seminary.
"I grew up attending St Joseph's Church, which was a Capuchin parish for over 100 years. Every morning from the time I was in first grade I went to daily Mass. There was always a Capuchin celebrating it," the 62-year-old priest said. "I was deeply impressed by their love for God, their holiness and the way they celebrated the Mass. Since first grade I wanted to be just like them."
He attended a discernment program run by the Capuchins while attending high school and after graduation entered a Capuchin-run college in Pennsylvania.
"I had never been away from home before, I lasted less than two months," Fr. Toepfer said. "I was very homesick and my sister was sick with cancer. I felt a strong pull to be at home to be with her on her journey. So I didn't stay."
Instead, he attended Fort Hays State University and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in secondary education from the University of Kansas. Meanwhile, his beloved sole sister succumbed to the cancer. It was a painful loss deepened by his feelings of personal disappointment.
"I thought I'd failed as a Capuchin – maybe God wants me to be a diocesan priest," he recalled. "So when I was a senior at KU I interviewed with the archdiocese of Kansas City. They accepted me for the seminary."
He attended St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana and was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in his home parish on May 24, 1986.
"I served in Kansas City and in Topeka, both in parish work and campus ministry. I enjoyed priesthood very much but I felt God was calling me – that he had something to say to me about my vocation. So I did an eight-day silent retreat in my fifth year of priesthood and there it became clear to me God was calling me to be a Capuchin."
Since joining the order, he has served at a homeless shelter in Denver, in campus ministry in Kansas, in AIDS ministry in Toronto, Canada, as a parochial vicar in Denver and Colorado Springs, and as pastor at Annunciation Church in Denver. He has also served in Hispanic ministry at a parish in Aurora, Colo., and as associate director of Hispanic ministry for the Colorado Springs Diocese. Since 2012, he has served as pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Colorado Springs. For the last several years, he has also been involved with postulancy formation.
I've enjoyed all the ministries I've done," Fr. Toepfer said. "I love being a friar, I love being a priest. The different ministries I've had have allowed me to use my gifts as a priest and a friar in particular ways."