Saturday, February 18, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, February 19

Last weekend we welcomed Rev. Mr. Billy Atkins as a permanent deacon on the parish staff. This is a new position for St. Austin and one that I believe was, frankly, overdue; so I am very happy that we now have a deacon and hope that we will be able to call other men from our parish to this very important ministry.
This focusing on deacons recalls for me my time as a deacon.   I was a “transitional” deacon, meaning it was a stage in my training on the way to be a priest. I was ordained a deacon on September 13, 1977, which is quite a while ago. At that time Paulist seminarians were sent out for their deacon year and were ordained in the local Paulist foundation. Around that time, in the late 70’s, there probably were diaconal ordinations here at St. Austin. I was ordained in North Pole, Alaska by the bishop of Fairbanks, Bishop Robert Whelan, SJ. Even though I was ordained by a Jesuit, it was still a Catholic ordination!

One of the curious things about my ordination is that both the Catholic Church and the local Lutheran Church down the block were under construction at the same time. The Lutherans (not surprisingly) were better organized, and their church was further along in construction than was our Catholic church at the time of my ordination, so we borrowed the Lutheran church, and I was ordained a deacon in a Lutheran church building. The Lutheran Pastor did one of the first readings for the ordination Mass, but I had two Catholic Bishops there (the retired Bishop of Fairbanks, Francis Gleason, SJ, joined us) just to make sure the ordination “took.”

In Alaska at that time (and hopefully still), permanent deacons were an important feature of the Catholic Church in the remote Eskimo villages. Sometimes the elders of the village would decide who was to be the deacon, and then that person would go off to study and be ordained. The Eskimo deacons were the mainstay of the Catholic village life. I was fortunate to have an Eskimo deacon at my deacon ordination, and he proclaimed the Gospel in Yupik, an Eskimo language.

I was a deacon for only eight months, but I enjoyed my time as a deacon and even got to preside at the wedding of my sister Barbara and her husband while a deacon. I was ordained a priest by Cardinal Terrance Cooke in New York City on May 13, 1978.

Fortunately, the number of deacons continues to grow in our country. This is a great blessing. In some Western dioceses the number of permanent deacons is now greater than the number of priests. Here in the diocese of Austin the number of deacons is approaching that of the number of priests. And I fully expect that someday, perhaps not in the too distant future, the permanent deacons at St. Austin’s will outnumber the priests on staff.  That is the future.
God bless! 

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