January 9, 2009

Religious Vocations Supplement

Doctor deacon brings together physical and spiritual healing

Deacon Arthur Alunday blesses Madelyn Meyer while she is being held by her mother, Mary Meyer, during a Dec. 7 Mass at St. Mary Church in Greensburg. Deacon Alunday ministers at St. Mary Parish, where the Meyers are members. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Deacon Arthur Alunday blesses Madelyn Meyer while she is being held by her mother, Mary Meyer, during a Dec. 7 Mass at St. Mary Church in Greensburg. Deacon Alunday ministers at St. Mary Parish, where the Meyers are members. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

GREENSBURG—As he works as a physician from day to day in Greensburg, Deacon Arthur Alunday doesn’t just attend to his patients’ physical ailments.

He also cares for the health of their spirit and the interplay between body and soul.

“[Being a deacon] just seems to be a natural extension of my practice and the healing process,” said Deacon Alunday. “I’ve been addressing the physical ailments. Now I feel more confident to recognize the spiritual component.”

Joann Mokanyk is a member of St. Mary Parish in Greensburg, where Deacon Alunday ministers, and has been one of his patients for many years.

He also cares for Mokanyk’s son, Darren, who suffers from severe migraine headaches.

Long before Deacon Alunday entered the archdiocesan deacon formation program in 2004, Mokanyk was confident in his attentiveness to the spiritual aspects of physical illnesses.

“When we were trying to find help for Darren and everybody was saying there was no help out there, Doctor Alunday kept saying, ‘Keep the faith. Keep praying. Keep going. We’ll find it somewhere,’ ” Mokanyk said. “ … It really helps to know that your doctors are religious men, and they know there is a higher [power] than what they are.”

Deacon Alunday is definitely aware of a “higher power” at work in his life.

He believes it was the “hand of God” that led him to practice medicine in Indiana after being born and raised by Filipino parents in southern California, studying medicine and getting married in the Philippines, and doing his residency in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Deacon Alunday first became familiar with the diaconate while living in New York, and started to grow in his life of faith after he and his family moved to Greensburg in 1994.

A little less than a decade later, he was spiritually ready to consider a possible call to the diaconate when the archdiocese announced that it would be starting its first deacon formation program.

“As I look back, God had his plans for me,” Deacon Alunday said.

It was a time when God made his plans abundantly known during a patient visit about 10 years ago that started Deacon Alunday considering more consciously the spiritual aspects of his medical practice.

At the time, he was treating a patient with physical problems who was also coping with depression.

“Something [inside] said to me, ‘Talk about God,’ ” Deacon Alunday said. “I went, ‘What?’ There was this push I felt inside to talk about God. I’m having this conflict [inside], ‘I can’t do that.’ I didn’t want to do it. But then it came out.”

After that first instance, talking about God with his patients became easier and more natural for him.

Msgr. Harold Knueven, administrator of St. Mary Parish, said Deacon Alunday’s work as a doctor prepared him well for his life and ministry as a deacon.

“He’s more compassionate, more understanding, more helpful because of his being a doctor,” Msgr. Knueven said.

Mokanyk certainly agrees. She calls Deacon Alunday her “spiritual guide” and said his bringing together his medical practice with the diaconate is “like the right hand meeting the left hand.”

Participating in the deacon formation program also helped Deacon Alunday grow closer to his wife of 25 years, Ana.

“It’s been a journey for both of us, not just for me,” he said. “In marriages, you always have your ups and downs. But I think, since starting this, we’ve become closer. Our marriage has become stronger. Things that we may have argued about before we don’t now.”

Ana Alunday went to nearly all of the deacon formation weekends with her husband, sitting in on the classes and getting to know the other deacon candidates and their wives.

On the day of the ordination last June, she was brimming with joy.

“I was crossing the street to go to the cathedral and I just kept hearing in my head the song, ‘This is the day that the Lord has made,’ ” she said. “… There were people who were driving by looking at us. And I thought, ‘I wonder if they can feel how happy we are.’ There was so much happiness in the air.”

Deacon Alunday said he is still “on a spiritual high” from his ordination.

He experienced that elation in a special way that brought his ministry and his medical practice together.

An elderly woman who was dying of a blood disorder was admitted last July to Decatur County Memorial Hospital. While Deacon Alunday was caring for her, she mentioned that she wanted to be baptized.

“I came back that afternoon and I baptized her there in the hospital,” he said. “The nurse was my witness. I asked her if I could read some prayers for the sick and she said that would be fine. So I read the prayers and I blessed her.

“I thought it was great that I could be there and do that for her.”

(For more information about the archdiocesan deacon formation program, log on to www.archindy.org/deacon.)

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