Ten men to be ordained permanent deacons Dec. 9

| December 5, 2017 | 3 Comments
New Deacons

Deacon Joseph Michalak reads the Gospel during the opening Mass of the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute Sept. 11 at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul. Serving as acolytes are, from left, Joseph Connelly, Gregory Sauer and Lawrence Oparaji. Dave Hrbacek/Courtesy St. Paul Seminary

The 10 men who’ll be ordained permanent deacons for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis Dec. 9 prove what Deacon Joseph Michalak knows to be true about the permanent diaconate — that there is no certain type of man who is called to the vocation.

“Jesus calls men from all gifts and walks of life,” said Deacon Michalak, director of diaconate formation and permanent deacon formation at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul.

He noted that among this year’s candidates are a plumber and an engineer, with ages spanning from 40 to 63. The permanent diaconate, he added, isn’t just for retired or married men.

“The diaconate is for mature, young, ecclesiastically-minded apostolic men who are willing to give their lives away,” he said, adding he’s convinced that Jesus is calling more young men to the diaconate. Currently in formation are men in their 30s.

The 10 men will be ordained 10 a.m. Dec. 9 at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul.

Their formation for the last five years has entailed parish projects and internships with social service agencies, and it follows the same four dimensions as that of the priesthood: human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral.

Formation continues after ordination, much like the process for transitional deacons before they’re ordained priests, Deacon Michalak explained. In order to apply to the diaconate, men must be a graduate of or participant in the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute in St. Paul.

The process formally begins when a man is admitted to the aspirancy, much like a novitiate year, after which he has four more years of candidacy for holy orders. Permanent deacons are ordained every two years, and there are two classes of deacons currently in formation, slated to be ordained in 2019 and 2021.

Deacon Michalak, who was ordained in 2010, hopes this class of deacons will live the vocation wholeheartedly.

“That may sound obvious, but one of the great challenges for deacons is living a vocation that is largely not understood and not well known,” he said, describing the life of a deacon as an “integration of several vocations.” This, he added, demands that deacons live a life of contemplative prayer and that their lives belong to the whole Church.

“If they don’t have that core, that foundation of contemplative prayer and receiving from the one who sends them — Jesus himself — they’ll become activists and social workers, but they won’t become deacons,” he said.

“We stand in persona Christi for the Church, the bride the Church, different than a priest does, but in a complementary way,” he added. “So, it’s easy for people, even deacons to forget that ‘I’m clergy, I’m ordained, and so my life belongs to the Church, the whole Church, not just a parish, not just my family. My life now belongs to the whole Church.’”

Metro Cable Network – Channel 6 is live-streaming the 10 a.m ordination Mass Dec. 9. It will replay on its cable channel Dec. 10 and Dec. 16, with the time to be determined.

Gordon Bird
All Saints, Lakeville

As a deacon, Gordon Bird hopes “to serve with a kind, open and humble heart that listens prudently and affectionately to the hearts and needs of others,” he said, by serving in a parish and drawing on his communications expertise to engage others in dialogue about “how much our trinitarian God loves them.”

Bird, 60, is communications director for RC Family Farms, an Iowa-based agribusiness. He also bikes, hikes, fishes and hunts. Over the years, he’s received “nudges” from friends and acquaintances to consider the diaconate, and he also felt a desire to deepen his involvement in the Church’s evangelization efforts, which led him to join the diaconal formation program.

During formation, he worked to build fraternity among Catholic men with regular parish-based gatherings, which he noted was a discipline of Catholic Watchmen, an initiative of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minnesota. His wife, DiAnn, joined him in many of the formation activities, he said. The couple has two adult children and four grandchildren.

A Catholic convert, Bird said, “Perhaps the Holy Spirit has taught me [over] the past few years, and will continue to teach me in his wisdom, that the diaconate is not about being worthy of being a deacon, it’s about answering the call and just ‘being’
a servant of Christ.”

Daniel Brewer
St. Joseph, West St. Paul

“[The] diaconal call was a curveball for me,” Daniel Brewer said. He “thought it was for retired guys and priest wannabes.”
But then, he said, “my desires exploded as I learned more.”

Brewer, 53, works as the director of administration for NET Ministries, a youth evangelization organization based in West St. Paul. An outdoorsman who enjoys hiking mountains, hockey and “fixing things,” Brewer is a 30-year member of the Community of Christ the Redeemer, a Catholic covenant community based in West St. Paul. He and his wife, Rachel, have six children ages 7 to 19.

While preparing for the diaconate, he volunteered in St. Paul at Catholic Charities’ Mary Hall, apartments for homeless adults; Cerenity Humbolt, a senior care community; and Ramsey County’s jail. He also helped his parish improve its efforts to welcome new parishioners.

As part of his diaconate formation, Brewer appreciated forming relationships with the nine other “wonderful” men in his ordination class, he said.

As a deacon, he hopes “to reach out to the marginally churched [to] show them the amazing Gospel that we possess,” he said.

John Cleveland
St. Therese, Deephaven

John Cleveland, 63, has several people to thank for encouraging him to pursue the diaconate. His father-in-law was ordained a deacon in 1978, one of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ first classes.

“I watched his formation process and went to his ordination,” Cleveland said. “The diaconate was kind of a mystery then since it was so new, but I admired his vocation.”

Then, he was among several men to receive a letter from then-pastor Father John Bauer suggesting they consider the diaconate program, followed by Franciscan Clarist Sister Tresa Jose Athickal telling him not to miss the bulletin article about the upcoming diaconate inquiry sessions, which he attended with his wife, Kathy. The couple has three children and seven grandchildren.

“The most challenging part of this vocational pursuit has been learning to integrate my formation into my family and work life,” said Cleveland, a partner at The Cleveland Company in Bloomington, which consults with businesses regarding employee health benefit plans. “The discernment and formation process has become a part of my life, but [it] has not replaced or lessened other responsibilities. Rather, the ministry has been assimilated into these other facets of my life; it has become a part of who I am. It has enriched my marriage and my work life. Everything just seems to work out, but not without sacrifice by my wife and other personal interests and activities.”

Patrick Hirl
St. Gabriel the Archangel, Hopkins

Patrick Hirl, 52, and his wife, Denise, were both discerning calls to religious life when they first met. But then their friends set them up on a blind date. “What better date for a future nun than a future priest,” he quipped.

After marriage, Patrick’s desire to serve the Church continued. He met a deacon at graduate school at the University of Notre Dame and then at St. Joseph in Hopkins, where he received encouragement and support from Deacon Francis Tangney, now retired, to apply to the diaconate. He said other deacons in the formation program have been great role models, showing first-hand how to integrate family life, secular work and diaconal ministry.

“My greatest hope is to help people inside and outside the Church have an encounter with Jesus and then grow in their relationship with Jesus,” said Hirl, an engineer.

Hirl, a father of four, particularly looks forward to performing baptisms in his diaconate ministry.

“I am excited about the opportunity to be an instrument of the Holy Spirit in creating a new child of God,” he said.

Alan Nicklaus
Our Lady of Peace, Minneapolis

Alan Nicklaus, 53, felt called to a deeper understanding of his faith, so he enrolled in The Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute. “I grew more deeply in love with the Church and open to God’s call on my life,” he said.

He said the 46-page diaconate program candidacy application took him two months to complete. Of the program, he said, “I appreciated the excellent instructors, mostly doctors in their field of study, who imparted a wealth of knowledge and opened my eyes to many treasures of the faith.”

A native of Minneapolis, Nicklaus is a sourcing manager at Strategic Source in Bloomington. He and his wife, Anne, have five children ages 9 to 19.

As part of his diaconate preparation, he worked to identify homebound parishioners at Our Lady of Grace and trained volunteers to visit them. He also volunteered at St. Joseph’s Home for Children in Minneapolis, the Ramsey County jail and St. Therese in New Hope, a senior care facility. After ordination, he looks forward to “[serving] the Church in worship at the altar and to be Christ to all people I meet, especially the imprisoned, the lonely and the ill.”

Paul Ravnikar
St. Vincent de Paul, Brooklyn Park

For 20 years, Paul Ravnikar, 59, felt an “interior nudge from God” about entering the diaconate. It grew stronger as he got older, he said, and in 2004, he attended an inquiry meeting.

“The road to ordination was not a straight path,” he said, “but during these past 13 years, I have grown closer to God and his Church. This lengthy process has been very fruitful for me.”

Ravnikar points to a memorable part of his formation when he served as the cross bearer at the diaconate ordination Mass in 2015.

As part of his formation, he volunteered at Catholic Charities’
St. Joseph’s Home for Children in Minneapolis; Benedictine Health Center at Innsbruck, a senior care facility in New Brighton; and the Ramsey County jail.

A commercial plumber at Seitz Bros. Plumbing in Brooklyn Park, Ravnikar and his wife, Mary, have one daughter and three grandchildren.

As a deacon, he looks forward to serving at Mass, visiting the sick and working with people in a parish.

Michael Redfearn
St. Wenceslaus, New Prague

From the time Michael Redfearn, 40, started working in parish ministry, others encouraged him to pursue the diaconate.

“At first, I have to admit, I was not eager to embrace the call, especially because my children were young,” said Redfearn, who with his wife, Michelle, has three children, 15, 12 and 9. “[But] as my kids got older, and even strangers encouraged me to become a deacon, I took the idea to prayer and heard God calling me to the diaconate also.”

Redfearn, the stewardship and RCIA coordinator at St. Bonaventure in Bloomington, is pursuing a master’s degree in pastoral ministry through the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul.

As part of a project during formation, he interviewed daily Massgoers at St. Bonaventure who were not registered parishioners to learn if there were pastoral needs that the parish wasn’t fulfilling.

“These interviews led most importantly to new friendships and relationships,” he said. “It also led to the parish acquiring materials in Spanish and offering an English as a Second Language class last spring.”

James Reinhardt
Holy Family, St. Louis Park

James Reinhardt’s favorite Scripture verse is from
1 Peter: “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another.” He started feeling like he should be serving the Church as a deacon about 20 years ago, when he was in his late 30s or early 40s.

“I inquired and learned at that time that they would not consider men with children at home. I had several at the time, and unbeknownst to me, several to come,” said Reinhardt, 56, father of 10. “I later learned that the policy of not ordaining men with children in the home had been relaxed.”

That opened the door to his serious discernment of the call for himself and his wife, Nadine. In pursuing the diaconate, “Our love for the Lord and for each other has grown significantly,” Reinhardt said. That love extended to his fellow candidates, he added. “I am certain that they will all be lifelong friends.”

As part of his formation, he connected Holy Family parishioners to local long-term care facilities, where they were able to serve the sick and elderly. As for his own service, “I have no expectations at this time,” he said. “I am excited to see where the Holy Spirit directs the archbishop to ask me to serve the archdiocese.”

Ronald Schmitz
Holy Trinity, South St. Paul

Ronald Schmitz, 56, describes his diaconate formation like a river: “We eventually realize [that] this river is intended to be enjoyed by simply being in it, by flowing with it to its end. The river takes us where it wills; it takes us where God wills.”

He said he’ll trust God’s will when he’s assigned a parish in his new ministry.

“I have enjoyed learning at the St. Paul Seminary [School of Divinity] at the University of St. Thomas, and hope that I can continue to learn about our faith, the Church, ministry and our savior, Jesus Christ,” said Schmitz, president and CEO of Grand Avenue Software in St. Paul. He is married to Peggy Schmitz.

Schmitz credits several priests and deacons with helping him discern his call to the diaconate.

“Their unrelenting love for our Lord and his Church inspired me and helped me to eventually desire to say yes to God’s call,” he said.

He added that the “time, talent, knowledge, enthusiasm, witness and love of Jesus and his Church” among formation instructors is a “tremendous gift to our deacon class and to the entire archdiocese.”

Donald Tienter
St. Cecilia, St. Paul

Donald Tienter, 58, long felt what he called “a subtle calling” to serve the Church as a deacon. “Looking back in retrospect on my life, I have always had a servant’s heart,” he said. He felt “God’s gentle nudging” in prayer and others’ remarks that he’d make a wonderful deacon, or asking if he had ever considered the vocation.

He first thought about the vocation more than 20 years ago, but at that time, his marriage and family life were his first priorities. In 2012, he and his wife, Maria Tice, enrolled in the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute, where they heard Deacon Joseph Michalak, the archdiocese’s director of diaconate formation, speak about diaconate information sessions.“The spark was rekindled, and here I am,” he said.

Tienter, an information technology specialist and father of five, ages 17-34, served his parish in engagement and marriage ministry during his diaconal formation. Like his classmates, he also volunteered in positions serving poor, elderly and incarcerated people. He encourages other men considering the vocation to be open, listen and “be bold and step through an open door.” “Trust the process of formation,” he said.

Diaconal duties

When restoring the permanent diaconate in 1967, Pope Paul VI outlined in “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” 11 functions that a bishop could authorize a deacon to fulfill:

  1. “To assist the bishop and the priest during liturgical actions … .”
  2. “To administer baptism solemnly and to supply the ceremonies which may have been omitted when conferring it on children or adults.”
  3. “To reserve the Eucharist and to distribute it to himself and to others, to bring it as a Viaticum to the dying and to impart to the people benediction with the Blessed Sacrament … .”
  4. “In the absence of a priest, to assist at and to bless marriages in the name of the Church by delegation from the bishop or pastor … .”
  5. “To administer sacramentals and to officiate at funeral and burial services.”
  6. “To read the sacred books of Scripture to the faithful and to instruct and exhort the people.”
  7. “To preside at the worship and prayers of the people when a priest is not present.”
  8. “To direct the liturgy of the word, particularly in the absence of a priest.”
  9. “To carry out, in the name of the hierarchy, the duties of charity and of administration as well as works of social assistance.”
  10. “To guide legitimately, in the name of the parish priest and of the bishop, remote Christian communities.”
  11. “To promote and sustain the apostolic activities of laymen.”


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