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By Sean Gallagher
The 25 men who began the archdiocese’s first deacon formation program last fall are breaking into new territory not only for the local Church, but for themselves as well.
Deacon John Chlopecki, a member of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Morris, will be a guide for them in this journey. The leadership he is providing as a mentor to the aspirants is the fruit of the vocational discernment he did about 15 years ago when he and his family lived in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
He was active in his parish, often helping to lead renewal retreats. It was on the occasion of one of these retreats that his discernment was born.
“One of the deacons at one of the weekends that I was giving talks at for the retreat,” Deacon Chlopecki said, “came up to me and said, ‘You know, with all that you do in the parish, you’d do well to become a deacon.’ ”
After ignoring that advice for a few years, the same deacon again prompted him. Deacon Chlopecki thought about it and then spoke about it with his wife, Marie, and his pastor.
He eventually applied to be accepted into the Archdiocese of Chicago’s deacon formation program, was accepted and was ordained in 1991.
In 1995, Deacon Chlopecki and his wife moved to Morris.
One of the main challenges he identified that he faced in his discernment and formation was coming to understand how one blends two vocations: marriage and ordained ministry.
“You work through that process of becoming a father, a husband and a deacon,” Deacon Chlopecki said. “It’s a gradual process. You couldn’t do it in one year. You couldn’t do it in six months.”
He said that this was one of the reasons why the deacon formation program currently underway in the archdiocese is four years long.
Deacon Chlopecki noted that the formation he experienced and that the archdiocese’s aspirants are beginning helps them to learn how to balance being a husband, father and deacon.
“It’s a systemic change, taking your life from one of job and family to one of job, family and formation,” he said. “You’re cutting out maybe a fifth of your life at that particular point for the formation process, a fifth of your daily routine. It’s an hourly, daily type thing. Your prayer life changes.”
Sometimes the way in which these vocations are blended is manifested in very practical ways.
Deacon Chlopecki’s wife collaborates with him in St. Anthony Parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults ( RCIA) process. On occasion, she also helps him prepare for homilies and other reflections on the Scriptures that he might be called upon to give.
“I can give him a little bit of a different slant,” she said. “That’s been beneficial, I think, to him and to me. I have more time than he does to dwell on those things.”
Another way that it has been appeared in his life is the special role that Deacon Chlopecki has been able to live in his grandchildren’s lives of faith, baptizing them and giving them their first Communion.
“My granddaughter was so proud of her grandfather being up on the altar, first of all, and then secondly, giving her first holy Communion,” he said. “That is going to be a very special thing for me and for her for the rest of our lives.”
Benedictine Father Bede Cisco, director of the Office of Deacon Formation, values this lived example of what it means to be a deacon that Deacon Chlopecki is able to share with the aspirants.
“I hope that they understand the depth of his commitment to serving others,” Father Bede said, “and the way he embodies that, his attentiveness and care for what he does in assisting at the liturgy, his approachability and openness to them, his regard for his wife and family.”
Still, Deacon Chlopecki, who works as a computer consultant, acknowledged nearly 14 years after being ordained that it is still a daily challenge for him to balance all of the demands of his life as a husband, father and deacon.
“You have to be multifaceted in today’s age,” he said. “You talk about multitasking. A deacon has to totally be multitasking. You have to have seven or eight things on your plate at one time and you have to do each one of them well. You can’t say, ‘Well, I’ll put this off to one side and let it float for a while.’ ”
Despite these challenges, Deacon Chlopecki takes joy in the grace that he continues to receive in his ordained ministry, grace that enables him to live as a deacon and to do so many things.
“You get so much grace from doing this,” he said. “It’s amazing. You can’t imagine how God blesses me and the good things that I see and the good things that happen in life that the other people don’t have a chance to see.” †