‘That’s my little brother!’ An archbishop with his two sisters
By Jean Torkelson
Leave it to a kid sister to burst a guy’s bubble.
When Bishop Samuel Aquila was named archbishop of Denver, his sister Angela was ready with a little jab.
“I was hoping for Hawaii,” she said.
“Ha!” said her brother (in so many words). “I’d go crazy on an island!”
As if she didn’t already know—returning to Denver was more than OK with her big brother.
“He has always said, ‘Wherever they call me, I go.’ But he is beside himself it’s Denver,” she said. “It’s been his home since he moved to Boulder to go to school and he fell in love with the state.”
Who knows a brother better than a big or little sister? Archbishop Aquila, who turns 62 in September, has both. Linda Aquila Ofstead, a teacher from Maple Hill, Kan., is four years older, and Angela Aquila, a nurse from Petaluma, Calif., is seven years younger.
Linda remembers her brother as the childhood pal she grew up with in the San Fernando Valley. They were surrounded by a vast extended Italian family, including more than 20 first cousins who also doubled as playmates. It was an idyllic 1950s childhood of cowboy hats and cap guns, biking down country lanes, and playing “Mass” under a gigantic front-yard tree.
Angela saw her brother from a different vantage. By the time she started sixth grade, he was already off to the University of Colorado and likely to get a degree in medicine, just like their physician dad. But she was surprised by the athletic, sports-minded brother who came home from Colorado for visits. He learned to ski, play tennis and golf, “all the activities he is known for today.”
She knew his faith was important, “but the last thing I knew, he was going to school to be a dentist,” she said. “When he was graduating from college and told me he was going to be a priest, I said, ‘Really?’”
Linda was less surprised.
When her kid brother was 5 or 6, the two of them would “play Mass” using white Necco Wafers as hosts, “the whole nine yards.” Sometimes she wanted to play the priest, too—“Come on! We’re just pretending!”— but young Sam wouldn’t allow it.
“Even then he knew his theology,” she said, laughing.
As a youth, he talked about becoming a doctor like their dad, but usually in the context of being a priest, too, so he could be a more effective overseas missionary. Still, she wondered.
“Sometimes I’d think, ‘No, he’s not cut out for this, because of his fun-loving, gregarious personality. Weren’t priests supposed to be serious and reserved?’
“Later I realized that his outgoing personality and caring spirit were exactly right for God’s plan for his life. We grew up with this huge extended Italian family and we still carry the joy and camaraderie of that upbringing with us no matter where we live.”
Later, she saw a different side.
“At his very first public Mass I was blown away by his sermon and thought, ‘Wow, the Holy Spirit is really on this kid!’”
Linda and her husband Ben saw him in action as a bishop when they volunteered on a North Dakota Indian reservation for three years.
“His interaction with his priests and his rapport with the laity, especially the youth, was inspiring,” she said.
Angela saw his brotherly and spiritual strength when her husband, Mark, passed away in 1999: “He was here within hours and stepped up whenever we needed him,” she said. “He’s been a great uncle to my sons, Zack and Miles, and a truly great brother. He also took such tender and loving care of our mother when she was dying. He does not shy away from hard things.”
On hold this year is the huge Aquila clan’s regular, three-day, everybody-be-there family reunion at the family home in California. It usually has been scheduled for mid-July to accommodate the bishop’s schedule, but this year Archbishop Aquila happens to be otherwise engaged.
“Some of us are kind of blaming the pope for messing up our reunion,” Linda joked. “But no, we are thrilled, happy and excited for him …wow, that’s my little brother!
Jean Torkelson: 303-715-3122; www.twitter.com/DCRegister