January 13, 2012

Religious Vocations Supplement

Deacon candidate leaves corporate world to teach high school religion

Deacon candidate Tom Horn, a religion teacher at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, talks with sophomore Luke Jahnke, a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis, on Nov. 16, 2011. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Deacon candidate Tom Horn, a religion teacher at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, talks with sophomore Luke Jahnke, a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis, on Nov. 16, 2011. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

A few years ago, deacon candidate Tom Horn flew around the country while working as a vice president of manufacturing for Navistar, a commercial truck and diesel engine company that brings in nearly $10 billion in revenue annually.

Today, he drives a school bus to take students to work on service projects as a religion teacher at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis.

For Horn, being behind the steering wheel of a bus is far more significant than being a jet-setting corporate executive.

“I feel like what I’m doing now is really important, whereas what I did before was more about stock prices and earnings per share and the board of directors,” said Horn, a member of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. “Trying to call [students] to God and trying to get them to question God in their life is a lot more important in my mind.”

Being active in the Church has always been important for Horn, 50, who grew up near Dayton, Ohio, and served in the Marine Corps after graduating from the Naval Academy.

After participating in a Christ Renews His Parish retreat in 2004 at St. Mark Parish, his life of faith started to deepen when he committed himself to looking at each day’s Mass readings.

“It was a habit that I wanted to get into to give a little time to God,” Horn said. “The more I read the Scriptures, the more time that I spent with them, [the more] I just started to question my priorities in life and where I was headed.

“It was apparent that I could and probably should be doing more for the Church. The next thing I knew, I was inquiring about the diaconate.”

In the middle of this discernment process, Horn accepted a promotion at Navistar that made him a vice president of the company in 2005. It was a job based in Chicago that he would hold for the next four years.

Even though the job required a lot of travel and time away from his wife, Virginia, and their sons, Bill and Brian, he thought taking the promotion was the natural thing to do.

“I thought that was why you worked,” Horn said. “I thought the reason you went to work was to do as well as you could and, if people offered you promotions and more money, you were supposed to take them … .”

As his discernment of a possible vocation to the diaconate deepened then led him to enter the archdiocese’s deacon formation program, his job and that calling seemed to be more in conflict.

This isn’t the case with most deacon candidates who are still in the work force, according to Deacon Kerry Blandford, director of the archdiocese’s deacon formation program. But most of them, unlike Horn at the time, live and work near their homes and parishes. Horn often found himself thousands of miles away from the place where he would need to do supervised ministry in the formation program.

“As it become more and more difficult, I knew I was going to be forced into making a decision,” Horn said. “I couldn’t be in Chicago, and give the time and dedication that I needed to give to the archdiocese.”

In late 2008, after praying about the matter and speaking with his family, Horn decided to resign from Navistar and begin studies to become a math teacher.

The drastic change in salary that he would experience was fine with him, but was it acceptable to his family?

“I was concerned that I was being selfish,” Horn said. “It was something that I wanted to do. It was a priority in my life. It was something that I was called to do. And yet I’m dragging the three of them along. Because of their love and support, they’re nodding their heads. But what’s really in their hearts?”

Although Virginia was willing to accept the change, it didn’t come without challenges.

“I felt like it was jumping off a cliff with just faith,” she said. “It was a test [of faith], for sure. A big test. You jump off a cliff, and you just know that God is going to catch you. You just feel that strongly about it.”

Although he studied at Marian University in Indianapolis to qualify for a teacher’s license to teach math, Horn was given the chance to teach religion at Roncalli in the summer of 2009.

He started his job there a few weeks later, and loves it. But he knows that it is very different from working for Navistar, where the success or failure of every project could be clearly measured.

“It’s a whole different chase [at Roncalli], if you will,” Horn said. “It really isn’t measurable. We’re not just trying to educate them. We’re trying to change their hearts as well. That’s not always apparent.”

But the warm interactions that he has with his students, their parents, and faculty and staff at Roncalli have made a big difference, Virginia said.

“He’s been blessed by the affirmations he’s getting from the teachers, from the students, from the parents,” she said. “You don’t get feedback that way [in the corporate world].”

Chuck Weisenbach, Roncalli’s principal, thinks Horn’s presence in the school has been a plus to everyone in the community.

“I feel like God certainly blessed us with the wealth of life experiences and knowledge that he brings with him from a career spent in corporate America and his Marine Corps experience,” Weisenbach said. “And then certainly the preparation that they obviously received in their diaconate program is unbelievable preparation.”

Connor Basch, a sophomore at Roncalli and member of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis, was a student in Horn’s class on the sacraments last semester.

“It’s probably been my favorite religion [class] since I’ve been in Catholic schools,” Connor said. “He likes to involve everybody in the class and use real life examples.”

Transitioning from life in the corporate world to teaching at a Catholic high school didn’t simply have an effect on Horn’s work life. It, and being in the deacon formation program, has blessed his marriage.

“We’re together again,” Horn said. “We’re not geographically separated. We’re not on different ships going in different directions. We are unified.”

Virginia feels the service that her husband has given as a deacon candidate has changed him.

“He’s not the same man that I married, but in a very good way,” she said. “There’s a lot more to him than I ever knew, and now it’s being allowed to come to the surface.”

Horn is looking forward to being ordained with his 15 classmates in a liturgy scheduled for June 23 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

“I’ll be glad to not be reading any books and writing any papers for a while,” Horn joked. “Ultimately, it will free up more time to serve, to do those things that we really should be doing. And I get excited about that.”

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

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