The Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Office of Diaconate Formation will see four men ordained as permanent deacons at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. Here are profiles of the four men who are joining the ranks of permanent deacons.
Kurt Peot’s story of faith is, in his own words, “a story of drifting.”
“It’s a story of becoming lost, but then being found,” he said, reflecting on the journey that will lead him to ordination to the permanent diaconate. “As God always works, he never gave up and when I turned to Him I found Him there waiting for me with open arms and boundless love.”
A native of Green Bay, Peot is “a cradle Catholic and Packer fan” and a product of Catholic education through Marquette University, where he studied civil engineering. He worked for 42 years in civil engineering with the last 32 years at Ruekert and Mielke before retiring this year. A parishioner at St. Dominic in Brookfield since 1996, Peot is also a proud father and grandfather. It was during Holy Thursday Mass one year that he felt a call to “go deeper” in his Catholic faith.
“Of course, there was no more detail to it than that, or at least I was not perceptive enough to hear the rest of the request,” he remembered. But he threw himself into volunteering at his parish and renewed his prayer life with vigor. Still, “there was a nagging sense that there was something else I needed to do.”
After a year or two of spiritual restlessness, he met with Fr. Dave Reith, then pastor of St. Dominic’s, who suggested that Peot inquire about the diaconate.
“I did,” he said. “And here we are. Of course, it was much more fraught with doubt, but this is what God was calling me to.”
He approached the process of formation as another step in his spiritual development, not necessarily expecting to be ordained. “A good friend told me to approach it as a great spiritual journey so that regardless of the outcome it would be time well spent,” he said. “This was great advice.”
Among the challenges of the process, he said, were the rigorous academic requirements — but that, too, became an opportunity for surrender to the will of God.
“Many times it felt like there just wasn’t enough time,” he said. “That changed when I put things into their proper order and trusted that God would provide the necessary amount of time. It was amazing. Suddenly, I was spending more time with my family and still getting it all done. It’s amazing what can happen when you trust the Holy Spirit.”
One of the greatest joys of formation for Peot has been becoming close with his brother candidates. As a group, he said, they are tightly knit and supportive of one another, sharing many similarities (three of them work for the Church and all are fathers). Peot added that formation has helped to transform his other relationships in life, making him more approachable and mindful of priorities.
“I have had conversations with people that I would never have had before formation and I am richer for what each of these people has given me,” he said.
When it comes to what he is most looking forward to post-ordination, Peot has a simple answer: “All of it.”
He is particularly excited by the thought of possibly baptizing a future grandchild or officiating at the future wedding of one of his daughters. “How sweet would that be?” he said. But it’s not just the joyful moments that he anticipates — it’s the somber ones, too. “I hate to say I am looking forward to funerals, vigils, and committals but I want to be there for those in pain to offer hope, love and solidarity.”
Something else he learned in formation was to explore more deeply the callings he intuits — like becoming involved in urban ministry, on which he hopes to spend more time as a deacon. “I am struck that only a few miles from my parish, which is a place of comfort, there are people living with much less comfort,” he said. “I would like to get to know these people and to do whatever it is that I can do.”
Ultimately, Peot’s story of “drifting” now makes sense to him — he knows now just who has been leading him all along.
“I have suffered a fair amount of pain in my life. Some of it brought me to the point where I didn’t know if I could go on,” he said. “In Jesus, in my faith, I found that I not only could go on, but that there was boundless love waiting for me. I found the best was still to come. I want to share that.”
Peter Rebholz has always been known as a guy who likes adventure. At the age of 18, he and a friend moved to Colorado for a year; when they returned, Rebholz grabbed his bicycle and rode around the Great Lakes. A tool-and-die maker by training, he applied for a sales engineer job primarily because the training was in Japan. He was awarded the job and has spent the last 35 years in technical sales management.
“I’ve been in many beautiful places and in many beautiful situations, and I’ve also been in many difficult situations,” said Rebholz, a parishioner at Christ King in Wauwatosa. “I’ve met many wonderful people and many very challenging people. I’ve had all these experiences, which I think helped to form me to be flexible and to know the differences in humanity and in situations, for sure.”
Looking forward to his ministry as a permanent deacon, that, too, will be an adventure, he said — but of a different kind.
“In my previous adventures, I always knew where I was going and doing what I wanted to do. Now I’m following God’s will and I don’t know where I’m going,” he said. But that doesn’t mean he’s afraid to hand the controls over to God. “Everything he has given me has been in love and abundance. I’m just excited to see what’s going to happen.”
It was at his and wife Julie’s wedding Mass a little more than 35 years ago that Rebholz said he first truly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. At the time, he was 23 years old, and though he had grown up the ninth and youngest child of a devout, hardworking widow, his own faith had faded in the cultural chaos of the late 1960s and 1970s. “I gravitated toward lazy/agnostic and lived according to my own ideas,” he said. “Adventure and fun was what I pursued, and travel.”
But something happened at that nuptial Mass, and the Sunday after he woke up Julie early. “I said, ‘Come on, let’s go; we’re going to be late for Mass,’” he recalled. “She’s like, ‘Who are you?’ At our recent ordination retreat, Julie and I laughed at the fact that we’ve come full circle. She always thought she’d be at Mass by herself … little did we know that she’d be in the pew alone while I’m at the altar.”
Rebholz describes that as his “spiritual infancy.” “I was just coming back to life,” he said. Over the years, he became attracted to apologetics, always wanting to know the “why.”
“I’ve always been an inquisitive guy. I’m known as the questions guy at work; I want to know why things are the way they are, because there is usually a way to make processes more efficient or effective,” he said. “Once I started asking these why questions about my faith and Christ and the Church — and not just asking people at the bar, so to speak, but going to where the answers really were — I realized, well, that Church teachings make sense and are very reasonable.”
The more he learned about the teachings of the Church, the more he fell in love with the truth they conveyed. A few years ago, when considering the upcoming challenges that would be facing the Catholic Church — among them a shortage of ordained clergy — “I started asking a question I never really asked before,” he said. “In my prayer, I asked: ‘Lord, what is it you want me to do?’ With that question, things started happening.”
Friends unexpectedly began to encourage him to consider the diaconate. “There were many divine interventions that kept pointing to diaconate, diaconate, diaconate,” he said.
Describing his formation process, the dad of three said that the first things he learned were patience and obedience.
“It was very, very challenging with a full-time job and with a family,” he said. “But they say all the time in formation, trust the process. I just believed with certitude I was called, so whatever came my way, I just trusted it was for my betterment, for what I was called to do.”
This fall will be a time of transition for Rebholz, not just because of his ordination to the diaconate in September, but because of a career change — one that, like his path to ordination, seems to also have been divinely engineered. For a few years, Rebholz has been discerning what God is asking of him professionally, sensing that his time in sales has drawn to a close. In his prayer life, he said, he has been telling God: “Put me in — where do I go? I love the Church; how can I help the Church?”
The answer will likely surprise no one that knows of his love for apologetics. This school year will be his first teaching theology to middle school students at Christ King, where he and Julie have taught confirmation classes for the last 17 years.
Looking to the future, he said, “I laugh.”
“I laugh out of joy, because with Christ everything is new, but it’s new in abundance. Everything that is going on in my life right now is new. And I’m OK with that. I like that sense of adventure. I look back in my life, and see how the flexibility and unknowns of travel, interaction with various peoples around the world and sweaty palm situations has prepared me for this moment. God has a plan for everyone and nothing is more freeing than finding out who/what you were created to be.”
Robert Mitchell’s path to the diaconate doesn’t have a Road-to-Emmaus revelatory moment — like most journeys of faith, it has several.
One of the first came when he was in college at the University of Wisconsin studying engineering and was first exposed to the beauty of sacred scripture. Growing up in Flint, Michigan, where his father worked for General Motors, Mitchell described his home life as “moral, but not religious.”
“When I discovered scripture, it came alive for me and gave me some insights to do things I had never been exposed to before,” said Mitchell. He was baptized at age 27 into an evangelical Christian community.
The next revelation came as a young father, trying to raise his three daughters in the love and fear of God. Still an evangelical Christian, he had shied away from joining a church, preferring the solitary “Jesus-and-me” walk. “I realized that my own children’s church experience would be much the same as mine when I was a child unless I finally joined a community,” he said.
The third and most significant moment of conversion for Mitchell came in the late 1990s, when he was struggling to reconcile the many different theological viewpoints of evangelical Protestant traditions.
“Eventually, I discovered the truth that Cardinal Newman spoke of when he said: ‘To go deep into history is to cease to be Protestant,’” said Mitchell. “I ended up in the last place I thought I would ever be: the doorstep of a Catholic church.”
Little did he know that, while he was delving into books about Church history and tradition, his wife Julie — a confirmed Catholic who had since fallen away from practice of the faith — was sneaking out to Mass, feeling the pull of her own baptismal call. In 2001, Mitchell began the RCIA process. The following year, he was received into the Catholic Church.
“I was really blessed that my family came into the Church along with me, those that were of age at the time,” he said. “I feel very fortunate to be given the understanding of the fullness of the faith and I view my own Catholicism as a great gift of grace.”
Soon after, the family moved to Michigan, but before he left, his pastor handed him a contact to call about the permanent diaconate. It was just the first of many times that Mitchell would be encouraged to discern a vocation to that ministry, as he continued to work with RCIA in his new parish. When the family returned to Milwaukee in 2008 and joined St. Charles Parish in Hartland shortly thereafter, he thought perhaps the window of opportunity had closed.
“But you never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “So here I am.”
He described the formation process as rigorous but intensely rewarding. “I always say this first to people — Dcn. Allen Olson came to one of the original discernment meetings before we started the formation process. He sat there really quietly when they asked him about his journey and finally he said, ‘It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. It will change you, but it’s all good,’” recalled Mitchell. “And that’s kind of been my experience. To do that alongside your candidate brothers, developing relationships — and you have an experience that few people have the blessing to. You expand your theology, expand your sense of community. It enhances your understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, and it challenges your faith at times. But it’s all good. It’s a lot of work, but it’s all good.”
Since returning to the Milwaukee area, Mitchell has applied his experience in finance in service of the Church, holding positions in administration at St. Luke Parish in Brookfield, St. Boniface in Germantown and St. John Vianney in Brookfield. He currently works as the executive director of the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians at Holy Hill.
“It’s working behind the scenes a lot,” he said of his job. “I’m responsible for almost everything but the liturgy. A lot of times people don’t understand that, within the Church, there are human resources, there are facilities, there’s financial reporting, there’s maintenance of the buildings and grounds — and all of these things have to happen in a responsible manner. You need procedures in place to make sure you’re being good stewards of the providence of God through the generosity of people.”
His ordination will certainly expand his ability to serve at Holy Hill — blessing articles at the gift shop when a priest isn’t available, for instance — but it won’t necessarily make the work more meaningful, said Mitchell. It was plenty meaningful to begin with.
“Essentially, my faith has been central to what I’ve been doing as a lay person,” he said. “Being an ordained deacon will expand my ability to be of service to the greater community.”
John Shaughnessy knows that a lot of his contemporaries are anxiously anticipating retirement and a slower pace of life within the next few years. But Shaughnessy has no such thoughts. At the age of 64, he finally feels he is able to immerse himself in work that truly brings glory to God, especially his particular passion of adult and family ministry: “I have no plans to retire ever in my life, from anything,” he said with a laugh. “Let’s see what God has planned, for it is his will — not mine — be done.”
Shaughnessy, a first-generation Irish-American whose life has always been defined by his Catholic faith, has a job that he loves as pastoral coordinator for the Catholic Community of Waukesha. And this month, a new and more profound dimension will be added to that work, as Shaughnessy is ordained to the permanent diaconate for his parish of 33 years, Lumen Christi in Mequon.
Though he had discerned the priesthood as a young man, Shaughnessy had never considered the diaconate before a priest friend suggested it in 2015. The previous year, his 25-year-old son Neal, the second-youngest of his and wife Beverly’s five children, had died suddenly of a heart attack. The loss stirred within Shaughnessy a sense of spiritual reflection. “There were a lot of challenges, but in that space I felt the call of God,” he said.
He began his year of discernment “with no expectations.”
“I wanted to see if God indeed was calling, and I had to put action to it.”
Little did Shaughnessy know that his whole life would change because of his decision to enter diaconal formation. Not only did his call to the diaconate continue to compel him, but people Shaughnessy met through the formation program encouraged him to consider working for the Catholic Church. He had been running his own consulting firm since 2015, when he left his position as vice president of operations for Gehl Foods in Germantown after 30 years in that industry.
Now, elbow-deep in the study of subjects like Christology, Systematic Theology and Catechism, Shaughnessy felt pulled in a different direction.
“These subjects were never on my radar before and they were challenging but formed a deeper love of Christ and his Church in me,” he said. He was hired at Catholic Community of Waukesha in 2018, diving into the service of four parishes and nearly 15,000 parishioners. “I never did this type of work, but I was able to learn and grow and add some value,” he said. “There was a learning curve, and I continue to learn every day, but I am surrounded by good people. If not for formation, I would be still running my consulting business.”
Shaughnessy feels shaped by the difficult experiences in his life — the loss of Neal as well as the passing of his beloved mother and father-in-law when he was a young father himself. All of those experiences tested his faith, he said, but directed his walk of faith to follow more closely in the footsteps of Christ.
“We’ve never loved anybody so greatly, but not ahead of the Lord, of course,” he said of Neal. “I look at Neal as having 25 years of a blessing. In formation, as I learned to love the Church and the Scriptures more, I realized, how can I deny somebody heaven? How can you deny them the beauty of heaven?”
Shaughnessy hopes to use those experiences to better serve the Church after his ordination, and plans to focus on areas that include hospice, jail and addiction ministry. Shaughnessy’s diaconal covenant will be a blend of his professional and personal lives — he will serve partly in Waukesha but primarily in Mequon at Lumen Christi, the parish where he and Beverly raised their children and to which he feels such a debt of gratitude.
Speaking of the possibility of being able to bless his Beverly or his children and grandchildren, Shaughnessy begins to tear up. “I feel so unworthy,” he said. “My wife said the happiest day of her life will be when I’m able to bless her.”
He said his constant prayer is that he will make good use of the gift of his ordination. “The covenant is really just day-to-day, unexpected circumstances and people in places that you’re going to be called to serve in,” he said. “I will not take those gifts lightly at all. And I believe, as close as I am to Christ, that there will be a different transformation that is yet to come.”