Give Us Shepherds

What did the faith look like in your home growing up? 

My father was a Catholic, and my mother was a Methodist. Her father immigrated here from Northern Ireland and he was a Protestant. My mother later converted to Catholicism when I was older. It was an amazing thing to watch.

How did you end up in Wisconsin? 

The first time we lived here was because they moved the product line to a facility in Oak Creek, so we came here. We lived in Wind Lake at the time. My wife was a secretary at St. Claire Parish in Wind Lake and the president of Christian Women and our son was a server. We loved that parish and our time there but, in 1996, ended up moving back to Cleveland to the same plant we’d left.

When did you begin to feel called to the diaconate? 

People would always say what a good priest our son would make. He’d serve at Mass before every Christian Women meeting that my wife ran, and helped out at our parish on Sundays. I began praying that if God wanted him to become a priest he’d take him. I kept getting back a sense that, “No, I want you.”

How did that make you feel? 

Uneasy. I didn’t know what he wanted. On Christmas Day one year, I slipped on ice coming out of Mass and shattered my ankle. During that month, I had a lot of time to think and pray, and I decided that I was going to look into the diaconate. I did and applied, and was accepted into the program. At that time, we had to go four years. We were the second class to have to do so. I was ordained and then assigned to the Holy Spirit Parish in Avon Lake, which is west of Cleveland, and I did various ministries there.

Did your son become a priest? 

No, he’s happily married and lives in Appleton with his wife and our two grandchildren, and works as a financial analyst. We also have an older daughter who lives in Waukesha and is an RN in the NICU unit at Waukesha Memorial.

How did you end up at St. James?

When I came here from Cleveland, I checked with the director of the diaconate and he gave me several parishes in the area to look at. We live in East Troy, so there were a few really good ones to choose from. I felt that St. James was calling me and I was needed there.

What was it about St. James that you felt called to? 

They didn’t have a deacon, and I thought that with the size of the parish, it would help the priest not be rushed. The parish welcomed me and was very friendly. I decided to go there. Later, when Nick Savio was the pastor at St. James, he also became the pastor at St. Theresa. After his first year, he asked me to take on St. Theresa also.

What was your role at those parishes? 

At St. James, I was involved in the St. Vincent de Paul Society early on and worked with the RCIA program. I also worked with adult education, sacraments and baptisms, which I really enjoyed. I mostly assisted at Mass.

What is your favorite thing to preach about? 

I enjoyed trying to take the Gospel and relate it to our lives today. Sometimes that’s difficult and I’d resort to using the Old Testament or New Testament reading, but I tried to bring some of my life experiences into it and make it real for people.

How do you feel like your faith has changed since you’ve become a deacon? 

It’s made such a difference. It’s become deeper and grown wider, and I feel so much closer to God.

What’s your role at your parish now? 

I retired several years ago from active ministry due to health issues and what I’m doing now is visiting the homebound. I just love it. When we were forced to stop that because of COVID, I was miserable all summer. I had back surgery on June 2 and that wasn’t the first one, so I was miserable from that, too, but thankfully I was recently able to restart and now I visit with four seniors in our community. I really enjoy going out and listening to their stories. Many times I think I’m the only person they see all day and sometimes all week.

What’s the most difficult part of that ministry? 

I was fortunate enough to visit some people in nursing homes who have now passed, and I was able to do their funeral services. That was both hard and great. You hate to see someone pass but being able to be with them through it felt like God putting me right where he wanted me.

Do you see senior care as something our parishes should be focusing on more widely?

Yes, we certainly need that. So many people, as they age and are unable to go to church, are simply forgotten about. The people I visit really need that blessing. To see the look of joy on their face when they receive Jesus in the Eucharist after not receiving it for so long, it really lets you see how much it’s needed, how much this ministry is needed.

With the COVID pandemic, how do you see parishes having to change their approach toward seniors? 

I think that the best thing that parishes could do is to form laypeople who want to perform this ministry. Hopefully it won’t take that long, and sometime next year we’ll be able to get back to some semblance of normalcy if these vaccines work, but in the meantime we have senior citizens who need us.

What do your meetings with senior parishioners look like? 

Some I just talk to, some want to learn, a lot of the conversations take a similar slant. There’s one person I visit who’s interested in learning the liturgy of the hours. That’s a big chunk, but I’ve offered to learn that with him. When you visit people, you never know what they’re going to bring up. They may have a sick relative or want to talk about spiritual matters or learn something new. I just listen and try to respond with empathy.

What do you wish more people knew about the Catholic faith? 

I wish more people knew how varied the Catholic faith is. I often get comments that, “It’s the same thing every week. The Mass never changes.” but if you read the readings and you look at the rites of the Mass, of course it changes. It’s living and breathing.