January 11, 2013

2013 Religious Vocations Supplement

Deacon seeks to give humble example of faith to parishioners

Deacon Russell Woodard, left, reads the general intercessions during the Dec. 3 installation Mass of Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, right, as the sixth archbishop of Indianapolis in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. Deacon Woodard is parish life coordinator of St. Anne Parish in New Castle and St. Rose of Lima Parish in Knightstown. He also is involved in the ministry of charity at the New Castle Correctional Facility. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Deacon Russell Woodard, left, reads the general intercessions during the Dec. 3 installation Mass of Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, right, as the sixth archbishop of Indianapolis in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. Deacon Woodard is parish life coordinator of St. Anne Parish in New Castle and St. Rose of Lima Parish in Knightstown. He also is involved in the ministry of charity at the New Castle Correctional Facility. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

Russell Woodard was ordained a permanent deacon on June 23, 2012, with his class of 15 other men.

After his ordination, he continued his ministry as parish life coordinator of St. Anne Parish in New Castle and St. Rose of Lima Parish in Knightstown that he had begun in 2010.

In many respects, the journey that led to the momentous day of his ordination began when Deacon Woodard was a student studying electronics at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis in the early 1980s.

“About halfway through, everybody in the program was talking about how much money they were going to make once they graduated and got out into the field,” he said. “I got to thinking about that and I thought, ‘Money is not what it’s all about.’ ”

He also realized that he wanted to work with people and not machines the rest of his life.

Recalling a question about a possible priestly vocation put to him by Father James Farrell when he was in high school, Deacon Woodard became a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. He received priestly formation at the former Saint Meinrad College in St. Meinrad, graduating in 1985.

By the end of his time at Saint Meinrad, however, Deacon Woodard had discerned that God was not calling him to the priesthood, but to be a husband and father.

He was married in 1986, and he and his wife had three children together. Their marriage, however, didn’t endure. His wife left him, and their divorce was finalized in 2004.

“That kind of threw me for a loop, because, as I’ve told other people, I expected to be married my entire life,” Deacon Woodard said.

His experiences as a husband and father, his divorce, but also his many years working and volunteering in the Church as a youth minister, in facilities management and on various parish committees all contributed to his life and ministry as a deacon.

The sad experience of divorce has led him to assisting in the ministry of the archdiocese’s Metropolitan Tribunal as individuals seek an annulment of a previous marriage, something that Deacon Woodard was granted.

More about Deacon Woodward
 
Age:
50
 
Education: Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis; Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis; Saint Meinrad College in St. Meinrad
 
Favorite Scripture passage: Mt 25:31-46
 
Favorite saint: St. Stephen. “He was a deacon. I’m not necessarily wanting to emulate him, but he was also a martyr,” said Deacon Woodard with a laugh. “He was willing to die for his faith. I think that’s important.”
 
Favorite spiritual author: Pope Benedict XVI in the three volumes of his Jesus of Nazareth
 
Favorite prayer or devotion: The rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet
 
Hobbies: Walking and bicycling “The good that’s come out of [the divorce] is that I’ve been working with the tribunal as a field associate and volunteer advocate,” he said. “I think that’s really helped me understand what other people are going through.”

But since he did not remarry after being granted an annulment, Deacon Woodard was required at the time of his ordination by the Church to promise to live a life of celibacy.

Any unmarried man who is called to ordination is required at the time of his ordination to make such a promise. Additionally, if a married permanent deacon becomes a widower after ordination, he cannot remarry.

“It’s very important to me,” Deacon Woodard said of the promise he made during his ordination. “Being celibate frees me to be able to express God’s love to anyone with whom I come into contact. I want people to know the joy of being a Christian, of being redeemed.”

At the same time, Deacon Woodard is edified by the strong married relationships he sees among his brother deacons.

“I am just so impressed by them,” he said. “If my relationship with God could be half of what they have with their spouses, that would be great.”

Deacon Woodard said that, in many respects, his relationship with his parishioners hasn’t changed since his ordination.

But he can do things in his parish ministry that he was unable to do prior to becoming a deacon. These include celebrating baptisms, witnessing marriages, preaching and giving people blessings.

Bill Hubbard, a member of St. Anne Parish in New Castle, has been impressed by Deacon Woodard’s homilies.

“His homilies have caught my attention,” Hubbard said. “He ties his homilies to the liturgy. And he has the skills to apply that to everyday life.”

Cassandra Bowers, also a St. Anne parishioner, appreciates Deacon Woodard’s preaching and the example of living a life dedicated to God that he gives to the members of the Connersville Deanery faith community.

“It’s obvious that he’s a very spiritual person,” Bowers said. “God is very important in his life. He’s a very prayerful person. His homilies are fantastic.”

Dr. Neil Shaneyfelt, an optometrist who is a member of St. Rose of Lima in Knightstown, appreciates how Deacon Woodard has gotten his parish involved in the local ministerial association, including having it host an ecumenical Thanksgiving prayer service in November.

“Catholics are definitely a minority in Henry County,” Shaneyfelt said. “[Being involved in the ministerial association] opens people’s eyes to the fact that we’re also part of the Christian family here. It makes us more inclusive in the local community.”

In addition to leading his two parishes, Deacon Woodard is also assigned to minister to prisoners at the New Castle Correctional Facility.

“Some of these inmates have experienced a darkness in their lives, and it is a blessing to witness their encounters with Christ, the Light of the World,” Deacon Woodard said. “We are all sinners, and these men have broken laws for which they are being punished. But Jesus offers to each of us his forgiveness and peace. He challenges each of us, me included, to live a better life every day. Working with these inmates helps me keep the focus on my own areas in need of improvement.”

Deacon Woodard hopes to provide a good example for all the people he leads, but he wants to remain humble.

“I don’t want them to look at me as being a super saint,” he said. “I’m someone who struggles with the same things that they struggle with on a day-in and day-out basis. Why do people get sick? How does that affect our relationship with God? How do we respond to that?”

An important way that Deacon Woodard responds to life’s challenges is in a daily life of prayer.

As a deacon, he prays the Liturgy of the Hours and joins parishioners in New Castle three days a week in praying Morning Prayer.

“It’s important that people see that I’m a prayerful person, and to understand that each of us is called to be prayerful and make that a part of our daily lives as much as possible,” Deacon Woodard said. “Through homilies or articles in the bulletin, I remind people that we have to be with Christ daily.

“I want to help people to understand that faith isn’t something that you just do on Sunday morning for an hour. It’s something that has to be in every part of your life.”

(For more information about the permanent diaconate in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, log on to www.archindy.org/deacon.)

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