January 8, 2010

Religious Vocations Supplement

Deacon seeks to glorify God through work and family life

Deacon David Henn and Msgr. Mark Svarczkopf, pastor of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood, elevate the chalice and paten at the end of the eucharistic prayer during a Nov. 11 Mass at the parish’s church. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Deacon David Henn and Msgr. Mark Svarczkopf, pastor of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood, elevate the chalice and paten at the end of the eucharistic prayer during a Nov. 11 Mass at the parish’s church. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

GREENWOOD—Almost 20 years ago, David Henn pondered whether God might be calling him to be a priest or a husband and father with a career as a lawyer.

But he was contemplating this question of faith in an unusual setting: the gallery of the House of Representatives prior to the start of a State of the Union address.

At the time, Henn was a student at Indiana University in Bloomington and serving as an intern in Washington, D.C., for then-Representative Andy Jacobs Jr.

As he sat there in the veritable temple of American political power, a priest came and sat next to him. It was Jesuit Father William Byron, then president of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

“I actually opened up to him and told him exactly what I was going through,” Henn said. “I even told him that I had just met this girl, and that I was obviously taken with her.

“And he said, ‘A lawyer and a priest are very similar. They are both public people, and they both can do a lot of good in God’s name.’

“It had never occurred to me for a second prior to that moment that being a lawyer didn’t necessarily mean not pursuing an active vocation for the glory of God,” Henn said. “That just stuck with me. That was probably the moment that I decided that the priesthood was probably not going to be the way for me.

“That was the moment that I probably decided to go to law school. And that was probably the moment that I decided to marry my wife.”

Being enlightened about how he could glorify God through work in the secular world eventually led Henn more than a decade later to participate in the first permanent deacon formation program in the history of the archdiocese.

He was ordained a deacon on June 28, 2008, and ministers at Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood.

Faith and the law

Today, Deacon Henn lives out that lesson he learned 20 years ago in his law practice in Greenwood. The formation he received in the deacon formation program helps him.

“There is no complete separation between the deacon and the lawyer in any instance,” Deacon Henn said. “I’m very clear with my clients that when they want to use me as their lawyer, they get all of me.”

This has led him to bypass divorce work because it “was just not consistent with my view and vision of the diaconate,” and he did not want “on Saturday to be celebrating someone’s wedding and on Monday being in court working to dissolve a marriage.”

He also helps Catholic clients who come to him for estate planning to learn about end-of-life issues. When living wills are discussed, he will offer them a copy of the U.S. bishops’ teaching on the topic.

“That affects people,” Deacon Henn said.

Finding something that was missing

In 1994, Deacon Henn married his wife, Mary Ellen, whom he had met shortly before that State of the Union address.

Although happily married with two children, Deacon Henn said he “always knew that something was missing.”

He discovered that missing piece when the archdiocese launched its first permanent deacon program in 2003.

Mary Ellen became confident that her husband had a possible call to the diaconate when she easily accepted the program’s rigorous formation schedule. The deacon candidates had formation sessions one weekend a month for 11 months each year, had homework to complete and were involved in ministry assignments.

“I always felt the sense that it was right,” she said. “I never felt like, ‘Are you crazy? We don’t have time for that. That won’t work.’ It was always, ‘We can make that work.’ ”

The years of formation were a blessing to the couple.

“They gave us a lot of opportunities to really talk and share on a deeper level,” Mary Ellen said. “It helped bring our faith into the forefront.”

Growing up with the diaconate

The Henns’ two children, Sydney and Collin, have grown up with the diaconate as a part of their lives. They were 5 and 3 when their father began his involvement with the deacon program.

It is not unusual for Collin, a fourth-grade student at Our Lady of the Greenwood School, to be an altar server at a Mass where his father is also assisting.

“It’s fun [when] I’m up there with my dad at the altar,” Collin said.

The children often come and go from the parish with their dad. “We were probably in and out of the parish probably a half dozen times on [a recent] Saturday,” Deacon Henn said.

The children find that their dad is often busier than their friends’ fathers.

“At my friends’ houses, their dads aren’t always busy,” Collin said. “When I go to visit, they’re there most of the day. My dad isn’t always home, but he’s home a lot.”

Sydney, a sixth-grade student at Our Lady of the Greenwood School, was worried the first time that her father preached at a school Mass.

“That was weird,” Sydney said. “I was afraid of what he was going to say.”

But Deacon Henn is adamant about not telling stories about his family during his homilies.

“I leave my wife and kids out of the homilies,” he said. “I’ll preach about myself. But I leave them out of it.”

A role model in the parish

Still, Deacon Henn admitted that Mary Ellen, whom he called the “spiritual center of our family life,” profoundly influences his preaching.

“I pale in comparison to her level of faith,” Deacon Henn said. “And by preaching a homily, I am inherently opening not only my own personal spirituality, but I am opening our spirituality. I’m giving people a snapshot into our spiritual lives.”

Deacon Henn and Mary Ellen know that, through his preaching and their presence in the parish, others see them as role models, a reality they admit is a little scary at times.

“Even the people who are friends of mine see me also as a deacon’s wife,” Mary Ellen said. “I don’t want to say that I act better because of that, but it helps to remind me [to be a good example].”

Deacon Henn hopes that his example will lead his fellow parishioners to delve deeply into their faith.

“I’m hoping that somewhere in the recesses of their minds is the thought that it’s OK for a husband and a dad to not only have that level of spirituality and ponder these things,” he said, “but also to share them openly, to talk to your kids, to your wife, to your friends about these things.”

(To learn more about the permanent diaconate in the archdiocese, log on to www.archindy.org/deacon.)

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