August 17, 2018

Couple celebrates 50th anniversary of marriage—and the diaconate

By Natalie Hoefer

In 1968, Oliver and Cora Jackson said “I do” in St. Rita Church in Indianapolis.

That same year, the United States bishops said yes as well—to re-establishing the permanent diaconate in the U.S.

This year, the Jacksons celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

But they celebrate the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the diaconate as well, for it is an act that has greatly impacted their lives. That impact began five years ago when Oliver was accepted into the archdiocese’s deacon formation program.

“It actually goes back 10 or 11 years ago,” says Oliver. “A personal friend of mine was saying God was sending her messages for me about being a deacon. I didn’t want to accept it. ... Even though I was going to church and listen to God, I felt like I wasn’t right for [the diaconate].”

He shared his doubts with St. Rita’s pastor at the time.

“He said, ‘I said the same thing about the priesthood,’ ” Oliver recalls. “Then he said, ‘If not you, then who?’ We never know who God will call. Many question ‘why me?’ But God will take care of you if he’s called you.”

So Oliver applied for and was accepted in 2008 into the second class of men to be formed for the diaconate.

“But I backed out,” he says. “I said, ‘If it comes back, I’ll do it again.’ ”

And a third class was instituted, in June of 2013. Oliver was once again accepted into the program, and on June 24, 2017, Deacon Oliver Jackson was ordained to the permanent diaconate. Today, he is one of the 57 active permanent deacons serving throughout central and southern Indiana.

Permanent deacons can baptize, witness marriages, perform funeral and burial services outside of Mass, distribute holy Communion and preach homilies. Additionally, because charity is at the heart of their ministry, deacons serve in one or several other capacities—as priest assistants in parishes, as chaplains, in prison ministry, in hospitals, and in bereavement ministry.

Oliver is assigned to assist at his and Cora’s lifelong home parish of St. Rita. One could say they both assist—a deacon’s wife, after all, is impacted by her husband’s service.

“I’m here to be his helper,” says Cora. “I don’t mind helping and serving. If I do that, then it pleases the Lord.”

But supporting a husband in his role as deacon does have its difficult moments.

“It can be a lot of pressure on the wife,” Cora admits. “For us, it’s been like, [someone from] the church might call at the last minute with something that wasn’t in our plan, and we have to change everything we were committed to.

“We always put in a lot of time volunteering at the church even before he was a deacon, and I thought, ‘Maybe things won’t change too much.’ But there have been quite a few changes. … The last-minute stuff—I pray on it, and the Lord will help me through it.”

But Cora adds that “the benefits outweigh the burdens, most definitely.”

One benefit is the time she and her husband share in prayer. Deacons are required to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office, and Cora joins Oliver in this ancient prayer of the Church in the mornings and evenings.

“We really do that faithfully,” she says. “I think that helps us a lot, and helps me refocus.”

His wife’s support does not go unnoticed by Oliver.

“She helps keep me on track,” he says, admitting he might forget about an appointment, and Cora will remind him. “I can get upset sometimes, and we’ll talk. We’ve always talked and shared our faith, but now we do it even more, and that draws you closer.”

As he reflects on the re-establishment of the permanent diaconate in the

U.S. 50 years ago, Oliver says he is “very appreciative that they brought it back. It’s given a lot of lay men and married men a way to serve not as priests, but as that bridge between the lay person and the minister.

“All through my life, I always felt there was something God wanted me to do. We’ve both been so active at St. Rita. … But now God has shown me he wants me to do more, and that’s what I do as a deacon”—with Cora by his side as she was 50 years ago when they solemnly vowed, “I do.”
 

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

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