For Deacon James Goetter of Menomonee Falls, faith has always been a family matter. His mother and father were devoted Catholics, parents to eight children and daily Mass attendees who constantly challenged their son to trust in God’s providence.
“’God will provide’ – that was my dad’s line,” said Deacon Goetter. “’Why don’t you have faith? God will provide.’”
His father’s motto takes on new meaning for his son, however – not only is Deacon Goetter, 63, a deacon at St. Mary Parish, Menomonee Falls, as well as the president of Floor Mart in Brookfield, but he and his wife Monica are the parents of 16 children – 11 biological and five adopted – ranging in age from 40 to 13.
Deacon Goetter said he felt the call to the diaconate several years ago after volunteering with St. Mary’s sister parish in Honduras – and it became a vocation that belonged just as much to his wife as it did to him.
“We felt that God was calling us to something as a couple, and we would bring it up and say ‘What do you think it is? What is it?’” said Monica. “And we kept praying, ‘Please reveal this to us, God. What is it that you want?’”
Deacon Goetter was ordained in September 2012 – but being a member of the clergy isn’t the only vocation in his life. Welcoming into their family children in need of a home is also a vocation of sorts for the Goetters; two of their children – one adopted, one biological – have Down syndrome, and their four youngest children are siblings that the family used to foster. It’s a domestic situation that meets with a fair amount of incredulity on the part of strangers, said Deacon Goetter.
“They say, ‘Who in their right mind would do this?’ People today don’t even want to have more than one or two kids, and to a certain extent I understand – there’s expense involved and commitment involved,” he said. He admits that, at times, his family size was daunting even to him.
“I wasn’t John Paul II by any means – I was more St. Augustine,” he said.
But luckily, like St. Augustine, Deacon Goetter had a Monica to help him along. He met his wife while attending Messmer High School, and the two married in 1974 at St. Mary. It is Monica, said Deacon Goetter, who has been his “strength and partner.”
“My wife would always say, ‘What are you worried about? God will provide,’” he said.
Becoming a deacon meant a difficult four-year process for the Goetters, beginning with a one-year discernment period and continuing through a period of aspirancy, candidacy and eventually ordination. As a candidate for the diaconate, Deacon Goetter had to attend college- and graduate-level formation classes, accompanied by Monica.
Wives of married candidates are heavily involved in the formation process, as the church places a great deal of emphasis on the importance of the couple’s marriage, even above the importance of the vocation itself. Wives’ full participation in all classes, retreats and reflection opportunities is recommended.
At the time, the couple had 10 children living under their roof, and would spend virtually one whole day a week away from home.
“It always sounds so terrible to everybody on the outside, but it really isn’t. The older kids take a lot of responsibility,” said Monica. “We left at 7:30 in the morning and didn’t come home (until) 6, 6:30. My older kids pretty much took over and handled everything, and it pretty much went like clockwork. God is good, I’ll tell you.”
Deacon Goetter said that after the first class as a candidate, he was so intimidated by the workload that he was ready to quit. But once again, God provided.
“I thought, there’s no way I could possibly do this. I went to bed on the very first day of classes, and I prayed,” he remembered. “I woke up, and put my feet on the floor – I’ll tell you, this peace came over me like you wouldn’t believe. And I said, ‘I can do this.’”
Along the road to ordination, the close-knit family stayed strong by praying the rosary (Goetter has a special devotion to the Blessed Mother) and attending eucharistic adoration, which Monica calls “the best medicine there is.”
“We started going to adoration faithfully during that time and have continued it since. That was a place where you could just pretty much bare your soul to God … every time I left there, I felt like whatever was bothering me at the moment, the burden of this entire process – it felt lifted. It was an amazing thing,” she said.
Deacon Goetter now calls himself a “deacon-at-large” at St. Mary, taking on a number of different ministries, from visiting the sick to presiding over funerals and proclaiming the Gospel at Sunday Mass – which he says is “the highlight of my ministry.”
“At ordination, they hand you the book and they say, ‘This is your book.’ I took that seriously, and I just love proclaiming the Gospel,” he said. “I try to read the Gospel enough times during the week prior to Sunday that I can almost do it by memory.
I always look at it like this – if I’m reading a story to my kids, I’m going to tell the story in the way the kids appreciate the story, whether it’s Peter Rabbit or the Three Bears or whatever it is. You want to be somewhat animated, alive – that’s what the Gospel is supposed to be. The Gospel is telling the story of Jesus’ life, and we are supposed to become part of that.”
The Goetters’ service to the church is a blessing to their parish, according to their pastor, Fr. John Burns.
“Deacon Jim and his wife Monica are amazing examples of generosity, zeal and love of the church,” he said. “In the context of a deeply faith-filled marriage the Lord has called Jim to formal service of the church through Holy Orders, and as a deacon he is a blessing to both St. Mary Parish and the archdiocese.”
Fr. Burns added that the Goetter family is a reminder of the great joy that comes from being generous and available to the Lord, in fidelity to Our Lady’s invitation to, “Do whatever he tells you.”