January 13, 2006

2006 Religious Vocations Supplement

Columbus deacon serves as a model for deacon candidates

By Sean Gallagher

COLUMBUS—The 25 archdiocesan deacon candidates are pioneers. In the history of the archdiocese, they are the first group of men in formation who will become permanent deacons.

Because of this, there are few models for them of what it means to be a deacon. The only ones in the archdiocese are deacons who have moved here and are now ministering in our local Church.

Deacon Ed Hilger is one such model. A member of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus, he and his wife, Donna Lee, moved there in March 2004 when he became vice president for sales and marketing at Impact Forge, an industry based in that city.

The father of five grown children, Deacon Hilger was ordained in 1983 for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, just 12 years after the first ordination of permanent deacons in the United States.

After ministering mainly in rural parishes in northern Indiana, he and his family moved in 1996 to a suburb of Detroit and ministered in that archdiocese until relocating to Columbus.

He brings with him nearly a quarter century of experience of life and ministry in the diaconate in a variety of contexts that he can share with current deacon candidates.

“I know what it is to go through the ebbs and tides of [formation],” Deacon Hilger said. “I can speak today because I went through it. And it’s like any other course that you’re going through. Sometimes you can’t see the value of it at the moment, but down the road, with the discipline from it, it’s amazing how you can draw upon it.”

One of the ways that he is sharing his experiences with archdiocesan deacon candidates is by serving as a facilitator of one of the formation program’s theological reflection groups.

Five candidates meet in Columbus on a regular basis to discuss their formation and their ministry experiences. With the aid of Deacon Hilger, they discern together the theological meaning of what they have experienced.

But he talks more often with deacon candidate Bill Jones, a fellow member of St. Bartholomew Parish.

Saying that they have “become buddies,” Deacon Hilger is looking forward to the day that they can minister side by side as deacons.

“I keep telling him to rush through his courses really fast so we can share some of the duties,” said Deacon Hilger, who among other duties currently assists with marriage and baptismal preparation, witnesses the exchange of wedding vows, and celebrates baptisms at St. Bartholomew Parish.

For his part, Jones is thankful for Deacon Hilger’s presence in the parish.

“He and I have a bond and a relationship that I value very much,” Jones said. “I’ve talked to him about the diaconate and what he went through in his formation process. It’s been a real blessing for me.”

Deacon Hilger was drawn to the diaconate through he and his wife’s involvement in the Church and their desire to spread the Gospel.

Describing his formation prior to ordination as “a walk up a hill” that included some “trials” for him and his family, Deacon Hilger nevertheless said that the experience and his subsequent life and ministry as a deacon have helped him be a better husband and father.

“I would like to think that . . . going through the training and going through life experiences as a deacon,” he said, “has made much more understanding in my relationship with my wife [and children].”

In addition to the diaconate helping Deacon Hilger to be a good husband and father, his wife believes that being a husband and father helps him be a good deacon.

“I think Ed, in living with me and with the female psychology, gets to have an insight into the feminine spirituality of the people,” Donna Lee Hilger said, “so that he can know what they think, how they’re thinking and what their needs are so that he can address those needs.”

Deacon Hilger acknowledged the great support he receives from his wife in this and other areas.

“My wife is a very spiritual person,” he said. “I’m the pragmatic person in the family so many of the times. So I’m always struggling with spirituality as opposed to the pragmatic, business training of my life. It makes an excellent compliment.”

Overarching all of this, Deacon Hilger is convinced that being a deacon has drawn him closer to Christ through the people he serves.

“It has increased my faith when I see people move toward Christ, to see Christ alive in people’s lives, to be able to walk with people in good times and in bad times,” he said. “It makes me more resolved in my commitment as a believer in Christ.” †


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