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GREENWOOD—Any person’s vocation is a thing of mystery.
The sometimes circuitous route by which God leads us to it and the often unpredictable ways in which he asks us to live it out from year to year are frequently beyond human reason.
If that’s the case when a person has one vocation, how much more is it when he is called to two?
That is what 25 men in the archdiocese have pondered for the past four years as they have been formed to become the first permanent deacons in the history of the Church in central and southern Indiana.
All of them have lived as married men, a distinct vocation to which God called them. Now they and the Church have concluded that they are also being called to the sacrament of holy orders as deacons. (See also: National Directory sheds light on deacons and marriage)
When the historic day of ordination arrives on June 28, the grace of God will mysteriously join their two vocations together.
The deacon candidates and their wives, as a whole, have lived a combined 850 years of marriage. The number of years they have been married range from 14 to 47 years. And the average length of the marriage of the candidates is 34 years.
Deacon candidate Pat Bower, a member of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis, said that the 40 years he has been married to his wife, Lynn, helped prepare him for the diaconate long before he formally became a deacon candidate.
“I think that if you weren’t already living the life of a deacon, starting in the family, you wouldn’t be here,” he said. “You wouldn’t have answered the call.”
“Pat came to serve and not to be served,” Lynn said. “He has always been that way in our relationship, and in our marriage and as a father. However big or small [the task], he’s always willing to do it. He’s always been willing to help.”
Deacon candidate John Thompson, a member of St. Augustine Parish in Jeffersonville, became emotional when he spoke about how his marriage of 44 years to his wife, Patti, was crucial for him in his formation.
“If we hadn’t had the marriage that we had—which is [filled with] understanding, trust and love—it would have been hard. It would have been very difficult,” said Thompson, who has ministered in his parish for 15 years as coordinator of family ministries.
“[Patti] is a very caring, wonderful person. And without that, I don’t think that I would have been able to do it. I really don’t.”
At the same time, Susie Reimer, the wife of deacon candidate Ron Reimer, said her husband’s participation in the deacon formation program has been a blessing to their relationship.
“Whenever you grow spiritually closer to the Lord and you learn more about the mysteries of the sacraments, you live out those sacraments more fully,” Susie said. “And I think just living the sacrament of marriage through the diaconate—all the personal growth, spiritual growth, intellectual growth [in it]—has enriched our marriage tremendously.”
The Reimers, members of SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood, acknowledge, however, that bringing the two vocations together has been and will continue to be a challenge for them.
“Part of our concern is how much time this ministry will take away,” said Ron, who has been married to Susie for 21 years.
“We’ll have to be very good about setting boundaries. That’s especially a concern at our stage in life with three teenage sons.”
When they are ordained, the 25 deacon candidates will become for the faithful special sacramental signs of Christ, who came to serve and not to be served.
In another way, their family life may become a greater means to strengthen other marriages.
The Thompsons know that, after the ordination, people in the parish may pay more attention to them because John will be a deacon.
“We have talked about that many, many times,” John said. “People are going to look at us differently. And that’s going to be a good thing.”
Pat and Lynn Bower are looking forward to helping parents prepare to have their children baptized.
“[We’ll] bring both the aspect of having been parents who had children baptized and, now, grandparents who have had grandsons who have been baptized,” Lynn said. “And, through the formation classes, we’ve come to have such an appreciation and a deep respect for the traditions and the history of the Church that I don’t necessarily think that we had when we had our own children baptized, even though we both grew up Catholic.”
Whether in formal ministerial situations or not, Ron Reimer hopes that the years of faithful marriage that he and his fellow deacon candidates share will have a positive impact on those they will be ordained to serve.
“There are just so many problems out there,” Reimer said. “It’s not so much that we’re special, but it’s like, ‘You can do this.’ Marriage is great. …
“I think there’s a sign that deacons can play and have been playing as candidates, and before as people who have been in long-term successful marriages. The world, as a whole, needs more and more of those kinds of signs.” †