A traffic accident claimed the life of a beloved Norbertine priest on a day meant to give his religious community in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a chance to come together to pray, share stories and build bonds.

Father Graham Golden, 35, died May 21 after a speeding car rammed the vehicle he was driving about 9:30 p.m. on a road just outside of the Norbertines’ Santa Maria de la Vid Abbey.

A passenger in Golden’s vehicle, Brother Lorenzo Romero was injured in the crash and remained hospitalized May 24.

“It’s just not real when your community gets hit by something like this,” said Norbertine Abbot Joel Garner. “This is one of our most creative, gifted young members of the community. The loss on a small community is great.”

The accident occurred as the order’s monthly “community day” was nearing its end. The day is set aside to allow the abbey’s 13 members to step aside from their daily ministries and to catch up with each other.

For Golden though, the day was not totally a day away from ministry. He missed the morning gathering because of a funeral at Isleta Pueblo, 15 miles south of Albuquerque, where he had been pastor of St. Augustine Church since last July, Abbot Garner said.

In the afternoon, Golden received a call that someone was ill at Presbyterian Rust Medical Center northwest of Albuquerque, 40 minutes away. Rather than turning down the call, Golden made the trip, which meant he missed dinner with the community, the abbot told Catholic News Service May 24.

Returning to the abbey, Golden decided to pick up a pizza nearby and was joined by Romero. The accident occurred as the two pulled out of the abbey’s property.

Witnesses told Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies the car that plowed into Golden’s vehicle was speeding and possibly racing, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

Jayme Fuller, public information officer for the sheriff’s office, told CNS May 24 that charges were pending against the driver of the car that hit Golden’s vehicle. She said the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the accident was continuing.

Garner said Golden was preparing youngsters at St. Augustine Church for confirmation and had planned for them to receive the sacrament of reconciliation May 23. Prior to the planned celebration of the sacrament, the parish organized a short prayer service in memory of Golden.

“They gave testimonials. It was really touching about what, in that very short time, Graham had meant to them and what they were looking forward to doing to make the community more alive,” Garner said.

Golden had become a well-known and beloved member of the Santa Fe Archdiocese since 2010 through his work in a variety of ministries that allowed him to develop a desire to empower marginalized people struggling through poverty.

Archbishop John C. Wester offered sympathy and prayers after learning of the priest’s death.

“Father Graham lived the charisms of the Norbertines fully and with great enthusiasm. He was deeply contemplative and energetically apostolic,” Wester said in a May 23 statement.

“He was filled with a contagious joy and at the same time, capable of plumbing the depths of human struggle and challenge. I cannot even imagine how much he will be missed by his beloved community at Santa Maria de la Vid Abbey,” he said.

A native of Albuquerque, Golden graduated from the University of New Mexico with degrees in music education and Spanish before joining the Norbertines in 2009.

He received a master of divinity degree from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago in 2015 and a master of arts in social service administration from the University of Chicago in 2014.

Golden’s path led him to several positions in the Santa Fe Archdiocese and in the Archdiocese of Chicago, allowing him to shape programs to help people utilize their own voice to address poverty. His enthusiasm and dedication earned him the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award from the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development in 2016.

Golden’s journey to the priesthood began early in life. He grew up in a family that attended a Unitarian Universalist church. At age 7, he recalled asking his mother, who was raised Catholic, about attending churches where prayer and ritual were practiced.

He told CNS in 2016 that growing up in New Mexico left him infused with the Catholic faith and that “my sense of religion was much more ritualized and sacramental than I was experiencing. Going to different churches, I fell in love with ritual and sacramental presence of Christ.”

Prior to being assigned to St. Augustine Church, Golden was pastor of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Albuquerque for two years.

A funeral Mass is planned for May 28 at the parish. Burial will be at the abbey.