Called to Serve

June 17-23, 2004
VOL 123 NO. 24
Called to Serve
By Kristen Fox / SUN  Staff Writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
As a young man growing up in Syracuse, Deacon Frank Timson always wanted to enter the priesthood. But meeting his wife, Patricia, in high school led him down a different path. “I was called to marriage,” said Deacon Timson, 63, “but we have always maintained an active passion for the church.” The couple, married 42 years, has five sons and agrees that their home parish, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, has provided a strong foundation for family life. Six years ago, following the death of their son, the Timson’s started a bereavement group at the Basilica, which they still co-facilitate today. But the thought of a vocation in the church always lingered in Deacon Timson’s mind. So it was no surprise to Patricia when her husband first shared his thoughts with her on becoming a deacon

“She said, ‘What took you so long?’” recalled Deacon Timson. “I think she saw something in me that I didn’t see.” That was five years ago. On June 12, Deacon Timson, along with Tony Paratore, Bob Connelly, Dan Caughey, Phillip Kehoe and Richard Prusko, was ordained in front of family and friends as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Syracuse at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The men are diverse; each has his own story as to what led him to his vocation. All, however, agree that they felt a strong call to serve. “I have always felt the presence of the Holy Spirit calling in some way,” said Deacon Phillip Kehoe, of St. Mary’s Church in Oswego. “We need to pray to understand just what it is we are called to do.”

Deacon Kehoe and his wife, Sara, have been married for 29 years and have three children. Deacon Kehoe looks forward to his new role in the church. He hopes to use his experience as a husband and father to help other families. “A deacon’s primary job is one of service,” said Deacon Kehoe. “I hope to be able to offer parishioners help with family issues as they arise.” This message of serving others was evident throughout the ordination, which was celebrated by Bishop James Moynihan. “‘Deacon’ and ‘minister’ are simply the English derivatives of two Latin and Greek words for servant,” said Bishop Moynihan in his homily. “Indeed, a deacon’s life by definition is a ministry of service. It is a three-fold ministry: a ministry of the Word, a ministry of the Altar and a ministry of Practical Charity.”

The diaconate is a permanent vocation and is not a step in preparation for the priesthood. Like priests, deacons receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders and are members of the clergy. The men ordained can now minister in a wide range of areas. They possess faculties to preach at Sunday Mass on a regular basis. They may administer the Sacrament of Baptism and preside at weddings. They officiate at funerals and wake services and other forms of liturgy, including Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. They cannot celebrate Mass or administer the sacraments of Penance, Confirmation or the Anointing of the Sick.

The permanent diaconate program requires two years of Formation for Ministry, a year of direct service in the parish, and then four more years of instruction. The first year of the program is a year of aspirancy, explained Deacon Leslie Distin, director for the Permanent Diaconate Office. The aspirant is called to discern his vocation for one year before full acceptance into the final three years of the program. “Being a deacon is not just a job, it is a vocation,” said Deacon Distin. “We want husbands, and their wives, to discern if this is the right decision for them.” Deacon Distin explained there are three dimensions to the permanent diaconate program: academic, ministerial and spiritual. Concepts of theology, the Scriptures and Christology are addressed during the academic component of the program. Deacon Bob Connelly, of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Syracuse, said that the classes gave him a deeper appreciation for the Bible. “They gave me an understanding of the Bible that leaps far beyond what I had known,” said Deacon Connelly. “I have a stronger prayer life and appreciation for the Bible and where it came from.”

Besides the classes and exams, candidates for the diaconate must work in different situations and are evaluated on their relationships with people in a ministerial context. A great deal of attention is focused on pastoral training, said Deacon Distin. “Whether working with the poor or disenfranchised or in hospitals and nursing homes, they must talk about their experience verbatim,” said Deacon Distin. “This allows them to determine the impact of their ministry on the person they are ministering to.” Each man had a spiritual director who was approved by Deacon Distin. Deacon Timson’s spiritual director was Sister Marise May, OSF, who serves as a spiritual director at the Spiritual Renewal Center in Syracuse. Deacon Timson said that he felt an instant connection with Sister Marise. “There is an invisible aura of faith around her,” he said. “You need someone who is acute in her own faith to help you explore yours.” Sister Marise served as his “advisor, confidant and friend,” Deacon Timson said. “She really helped me to grow in my faith,” he said. “She gave me fantastic support and she was never afraid to ask the tough questions.” Deacon Distin said that the permanent diaconate program prepares each candidate for future possibilities of ministry. “There is a broad array of ministerial positions and the men have to be as fully prepared as possible,” he said. “We give them solid ministry preparation and give them a foundation for growth and learning.”

The majority of permanent deacons continue in their secular occupations, serving in their ministry in their free time, noted Deacon Distin. Some, however, are full-time members of parish staffs or institutions. The 58 deacons currently active in the Syracuse Diocese minister in parishes as well as in hospitals, prisons, college campuses and outreach projects. While a permanent deacon may be married or single, most are married, as are the six new deacons. Unlike a priest, whose first responsibility is to his vocation, a deacon’s first obligation is to his family. “We are taught that our first two responsibilities are to our wives and jobs,” said Deacon Dan Caughey, of St. Mary, Star of the Sea in Mexico and St. Anne Church in Parish. “After these responsibilities, I am open and free to whatever my pastor feels is the most important thing.” Deacon Tony Paratore, of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Syracuse, said that his decision to seek a vocation was one that involved his wife, Mary Lou, as well as their three grown children. “It really has to be a family decision because it is a journey that you all take together,” he said. “You have to pray about it together. You have to discern together. Without support from your family, it’s hard to give 100 percent of yourself to the ministry.”

Deacon Distin emphasized the need for wives to be involved. There are parts of the permanent diaconate program that are geared towards wives. The women are also encouraged to take any courses along with their husbands. Deacon Distin said that he wants wives to be prepared for what lies ahead. “Deacon’s wives share their husbands with the faith community and we want them to have a good idea of what to expect,” Deacon Distin said. “We are not here to discourage, but to help them discern.” Patricia Timson said that she is thrilled with her husband’s new ministry. “I think Frank will be an excellent deacon,” she said. “He is a very compassionate man. People are drawn to him.” Throughout his years of preparation for ordination, she gave her enthusiastic support, Deacon Timson said. They see this as a time that strengthened their marriage as well as their faith. “After 42 years of marriage you think you know each other pretty well,” said Deacon Timson. “Ever since we started this journey we have grown together, especially in prayer.” Mary Lou Paratore said that over the past four years she has began to get an idea of what life will be like after her husband is ordained. “Slowly throughout the years you become aware of how life changes. You start to see all these new responsibilities that your husband has,” she said. “Gradually you become acclimated.”

Despite busy schedules, deacons manage to combine their home life with their ministry. Mary Lou emphasized that in order to do this, communication is key. “Tony and I are always talking about what’s going on. I know there are times when he might not be able to join us. I have to say, ‘It’s okay that he isn’t here. I understand what he is doing and why he is doing it.’” It is up to the bishop to determine in what capacity a deacon will best serve. Deacon Richard Prusko, of St. Mark’s Church in Utica, said that as a deacon he plans to continue his involvement in the music and education ministries. Recognizing the decline in the number of prests, Deacon Prusko added that he is open to however he can best serve God’s people.

“The church is growing and changing and we [deacons] need to change with it,” Deacon Prusko explained. “Deacons will be needed as parish administrators, educators and role models. The key is to be flexible and meet the needs as they present themselves and not see the diaconate as a static or rigid form of service.” Deacon Caughey will assist Father John Manno, pastor of St. Mary, Star of the Sea and St. Anne, in serving the two parishes. He will be the sole deacon for both churches. “I will try to ease some of Father Manno’s load by helping him with liturgies, weddings and baptisms,” he remarked.

Deacon Caughey said that he left the ordination ceremony feeling enthusiasm and excitement for his new ministry. He called the ceremony a “turning point.” “I could feel Christ’s presence when Bishop Moynihan laid his hands over me,” Deacon Caughey said. “The man that came out of the ordination was a man given a great deal of grace from the Holy Spirit.” Pausing to think for a moment, he added, “I am a different man today.”

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