January 7, 2011

Religious Vocations Supplement

Deacon candidate learns how to serve from life experiences

Deacon candidate Brad Anderson, center, leads a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) class on Dec. 9 at Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis. Listening to Anderson are, from left, RCIA candidates Marie House and Moe Edwards. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Deacon candidate Brad Anderson, center, leads a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) class on Dec. 9 at Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis. Listening to Anderson are, from left, RCIA candidates Marie House and Moe Edwards. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

As a youth, deacon candidate Brad Anderson faced the challenge of a troubled family life.

But he overcome many obstacles through the loving care offered to him by his grandmother, an older brother who took him into his home and members of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, who taught him at a Catholic school in his hometown of Peru, Ind.

He raised a family of three children with his wife, Kathy, and developed a successful small business.

Anderson, 54, a member of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus, is on his way to being ordained a deacon and to be of service to others as so many people had served him early on in his life.

Part of this desire to serve others came from his work for more than 20 years in outside sales for the company in which he is a partner, the Indianapolis-based Carbide, Cutting Tools, Abrasives, Inc. In this position, Anderson often drove through neighborhoods in the city marked by a high crime rate.

He saw many youths and young adults standing on street corners who reminded him of his years growing up.

“That was me,” Anderson said. “I wanted to learn how to reach out to help those kids.”

After he was accepted into the archdiocese’s deacon formation program in 2008, he was eventually assigned to minister at Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis, where he thought he would have a mentor to teach him how to minister in center-city neighborhoods.

“I didn’t get a mentor. I got a community,” Anderson said. “The people at Holy Angels—they know how to get from point A to point B. Their motto is to be a ‘beacon of light.’ And they are that. It’s an entire community that’s several generations deep. And they’re highly effective.

“They’re my home base. They’re my foundation. I went to them as a student. And they’ve taught me a lot.”

They have taught him a lot, in large part, because he felt so welcomed by a faith community that is quite different from his home parish.

Holy Angels is an urban parish comprised of 250 households and made up mainly of black Catholics.

With 1,695 families, St. Bartholomew Parish is more than six times the size of Holy Angels. It is located in a mid-sized city in south central Indiana, and is largely made up of white Catholics.

“I’ve never been welcomed like that—in any arena,” Anderson said of his ministry at Holy Angels Parish. “They receive visitors in a way that you’d hope that Jesus would receive us some day, you know? I was bowled over. I was humbled.”

He and his wife felt so welcomed that Kathy accepted an invitation to join Holy Angels’ Gospel choir, and she helped organize a concert by the choir at St. Bartholomew Parish on Oct. 2.

“It was like two families meeting each other and coming together as one,” said Kathy, who continues to work as an administrative assistant at St. Bartholomew School.

One member of Holy Angels Parish who traveled with the choir for the concert, Essie Thomas, ministers with Brad in her parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society conference.

“The people were so receptive to the music,” Thomas said. “It was just mind-blowing. It really was.”

This meeting of two Catholic communities marked by two distinct cultures is something that the Holy Angels pastor, Father Kenneth Taylor, hoped would be a fruit of Anderson’s ministry in the parish.

“It’s important for the larger Catholic Church to know what’s happening within the black Catholic world,” said Father Taylor. “It’s also important that we stay connected to the wider Church. We’re not just an independent Catholic Church all here by ourselves. We’re part of the archdiocese, part of the universal Church. And we need to stay connected.”

Father Taylor said that Anderson has helped his parish stay connected by showing the members who collaborate with him in various ministries how those programs relate to the wider Church.

Currently, Anderson assists at Holy Angels Parish with its Men’s Ministry, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and various liturgical ministries.

But the ministry that really fires Anderson’s imagination is reaching out to those who live in the neighborhoods surrounding Holy Angels Church and School, often through the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

“I’m able to move in and out of the apartments, the projects, the neighborhoods,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know these folks, their neighbors [and] some of their family.

“The world within Holy Angels is extremely positive. One hundred paces off that campus, the world changes dramatically. That’s something that I’m praying my way through, that I’m thinking my way through.”

In reaching out to the people, Anderson has two goals in mind—sharing the word of God with them and helping them learn how to help themselves.

“A lot of the people in that area—and in any economically challenged area where you have multiple generations of poverty—often don’t understand their own worth,” Anderson said. “Until you get there, they’re not going to understand the worth of their neighbor or anyone else.

“It’s really what the nuns at St. Charles [School in Peru] taught me. You are somebody. You are a child of Christ. You’re worth something. They relentlessly [taught] that.”

After helping people recognize their own dignity, Anderson hopes to put his business skills to work to give them the desire and capability to help pull themselves out of poverty.

Anderson and his 16 classmates in the current permanent deacon formation program have about 18 months before they are ordained.

Until then, Anderson hopes that he continues to learn how to be a better servant.

“From the beginning, as I began on this path, I felt that the diaconate would make me a more effective servant of the Lord,” he said. “And, obviously, I hope that happens.

“It better happen. If it doesn’t, I don’t have any business being a deacon.”

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

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