Deacon Dale Paczkowski proudly walked his daughter down the aisle last November for her wedding. Dressed in a tuxedo, he was on one side of Lisa while his wife Lucy was on the other. After presenting Lisa to Patrick Defors, her husband-to-be, he walked into the sanctuary and into the sacristy where he performed an almost superhero feat in record time.
“I had the best man help me change from my tux into my vestments,” said Deacon Paczkowski, ordained a permanent deacon in September 2012. “I came out after that, and a few of my relatives didn’t know who I was, and were wondering why the presider was late. It was exciting, but a little difficult to pull off.”
While he was hoping Lisa would ask him to preside at the wedding, held at the St. Rita site of Three Holy Women Parish in Milwaukee, he was ill prepared for the overwhelming swath of emotions emerging from him, his daughter and Patrick.
“She cried up a storm because she was so happy and excited,” said Deacon Paczkowski. “I held it back and, thanks to the Holy Spirit moving through me, I managed to get through the entire ceremony without crying.”
As a deacon at Holy Family Parish in Fond du Lac, Deacon Paczkowski understands his primary role in the Catholic Church is to serve the poor, the sick, the imprisoned and the lonely.
But in a church faced with a critical shortage of priests, Deacon Paczkowski, and other deacons preach, baptize, conduct funerals and Communion services and witnesses weddings. With the majority of deacons, married with families, juggling life at home, jobs, and church can be creative.
Much of the time, Lucy sits alone in the pew while her husband preaches. She sat alone the day he presided at their daughter’s wedding.
“Most of the time it isn’t challenging, because I know it is important for him to follow his calling, and I feel that I am sharing him with God and the church,” she said. “But it was interesting when Lisa got married. We all walked up the aisle together, but I had to sit in the pew alone because our other daughter was in the wedding party. I had family behind me, but being alone in the pew was a little different.”
Stating that she is not a jealous bride, Lucy explained that she made the journey through the diaconate with her husband and the relationship between the two of them and God continues to grow.
“His role as a deacon is an extension of our lives together,” she said. “It is the three of us working together.”
Dale Nees, deacon at St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Racine, presided over his son Peter’s marriage to Errin in September. As the father to five children, Peter’s was the first of his children’s weddings he witnessed since he became a deacon in 2009.
“Errin is Lutheran, so we didn’t have a Mass, but I was able to witness the entire wedding ceremony,” he said. “It is so hard to put into words how I felt. It was very emotional. The whole preparation and getting ready for it was very special to all of us. I did have the overwhelming sense of how God had been working in both their lives to bring them to that time and place to affirm their love in God’s name. It was our love as parents that led us to baptize them and nurture their faith life. Errin is now pregnant and we are so excited for them.”
According to Deacon Nees, the dual role of being dad and officiating requires balance to keep everything together.
“And for me, it is a joy to be able to serve in those different capacities. I am always a deacon, no matter what situation I am in,” he said. “I think that really is why it is more about who you are than what you do.”
While Barb is generous in giving her husband the time and space to serve, they have learned to find balance in their lives.
“This discernment space is good because while we, as deacons, are open to serving, we can get overcommitted,” he said. “That allows the space for your wife to have input and also serves for me as an act of obedience in my marriage. This is a good check to see if I have time for something new, and ensures that me and our marriage don’t get out of balance.”
As the formation director for permanent deacons in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Deacon John Ebel has a son, Christopher who likely will be getting married soon. While he is open to presiding at the wedding, he said he is just fine being the dad.
“I don’t mind being the dad at the wedding,” he said. “That is OK, too, and it is a big role, too. After all, I was Dad before I was Deacon.”
Ordained in 1996, Deacon Ebel has much experience working with engaged couples through Pre-Cana classes and counseling. He often draws on his own experience as a married man.
“It helps to be insightful and know when I am being snowed,” he said. “For example, when couples talk about reasons for living together, I can approach that subject as a married man and give them the reasons for this not being pleasing to God or the church.”
Being married 35 years, Deacon Ebel shares with the couples how his marriage has evolved and grown over the years.
“We learn and stumble and ultimately if you have worked on it, an intimacy grows and the sacrament becomes obvious to them. It gets through to them,” he said. “It is important to try to assess that you should be marrying your best friend and life partner.”
Couples need to have realistic expectations about marriage, not just about themselves, explained Deacon Ebel. Marriage needs nourishment and effort each day.
“You have to realize that you constantly marry each other every day,” he said. “You go the cross every day and need to be at the cross every day for your spouse. This is very intimate, but you have to be very willing to do that, or the marriage will not survive.”