PULASKI – When David Parker informed his eldest child, Legionary Brother David Parker Jr., that he was pursuing the diaconate again, the son had a question for his father: “How many years do you have in formation?”
“When he said five years, I literally started counting on my hands how many years of formation I had left,” said then-Brother Parker in an interview with The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay. “I said, ‘Dad, do you realize what this means? We are on the same path right now to be ordained.'”
Their paths came together May 7 at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Pulaski. Father and son were ordained deacons by Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay.
In addition to serving Assumption parish in Pulaski, the elder Deacon Parker will serve two other area parishes. His son, who studies at Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum (Queen of Apostles) in Rome, is now a transitional deacon who will be ordained a priest Dec. 10 in Rome.
“This is a historic moment in our diocese,” said Bishop Ricken. “I don’t think that it’s ever happened where a father and son have been ordained deacons on the same day at the same Mass.”
The Parkers’ vocation journey dates back to 1981 when David Parker Sr. entered the Norbertine order. He would discover that he was not called to the priesthood or religious life.
“I met Denise the very first Sunday Mass that I was there,” he explained. “She was the telephone receptionist at the abbey. I started visiting her and, three months later, I knew that I was destined to be with her.”
“I introduced myself to all the seminarians as they came in. I explained to them what we do and how to get their messages. I told them, ‘If you ever want to come down and say hello, feel welcome.’ That’s how we met,” said Denise Parker.
“One of the (Norbertine) priests, at the time when I left, told Denise’s parents, ‘You took one of ours, now you have to give us one of yours,’ so we did 18 years later, but for a different order,” added Deacon Parker Sr.
Deacon Parker Jr., was called to the Legionaries of Christ in 2003. When he was 12, his aunt invited Legionary Father Juan Gabriel Guerra to give a retreat for 20 Parker cousins. There were other retreats and young David Jr., also made trips to the Legionaries’ minor seminary, Immaculate Heart Apostolic School in New Hampshire.
Religious life was still not a clear path. David Jr., who was an all-conference center in football and played rugby in high school, planned on going to college. He had decided to go to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, but “our Lord ended up giving me the strength to continue on the path to religious life,” he said.
Deacon Parker Sr. first pursued the diaconate more than 10 years ago. Deacon Parker Jr., was in Monterrey, Mexico, at the time. His parents made the trip for his profession of first vows.
“We went down to Our Lady of Guadalupe,” explained the son. “We went to visit the shrine. Mom lost feeling in her legs. We had to grab onto her and bring her to one of the pews. Her feet were swelling all week. She didn’t know why.”
When they returned to Wisconsin, Denise discovered that she was pregnant. The Parkers had six children at the time: David, Johnathan, Adam, Rachel, Nicole and Mariah. Their seventh child, Ava, was born in May 2006. The last two children are almost 15 years apart. Deacon Parker Sr. decided to postpone the diaconate.
Five years later, Deacon Parker Sr., a founding member of the Catholic men’s group Esto Vir and founder of ConQuest, a Catholic boys’ group, was encouraged to consider the diaconate by two priests and Bishop Ricken. His wife, too, agreed it was time.
Deacon Parker Jr., continues to study theology in Rome, where the Legionaries have a house for 300 seminarians. He speaks multiple languages, including Spanish at the house. Classes are taught in Italian. He does not know where he will serve as a deacon or priest.
“Part of the blessing of religious life is you don’t really know,” he said. “They find a place that they think will be good for you. You don’t know until you actually have that protocol letter in hand. I could be sent to another country or back to the United States.”
Sharing a vocation has strengthened the relationship between father and son, who share deep love for Mary, he added.
“Our relationship with each other has grown to another spiritual level,” the son added.
Father and son received a special blessing prior to the ordination Mass. A couple of months earlier in Rome, Deacon Parker Jr. saw Pope Francis, who had visited with students in a confession course.
“I asked the Holy Father for a blessing for me and my dad who will both be ordained together,” he explained. “He responded to me, ‘How beautiful,’ in Spanish.”
When he returned to Rome, Deacon Parker Jr. was scheduled to be a deacon at the evening Pentecost Mass to be celebrated by Pope Francis May 14.
Deacon Parker Sr., who works as administrative director for Executive Air at Austin Straubel Airport in Green Bay for 26 years, said he looked forward to serving three parish. His past ministry experience ranges from youth ministry to outreach to seniors.
“I owe a tremendous thank you to so many people around the diocese who have prayed for me and prayed for my dad,” said Deacon Parker Jr.
“Hopefully, I will be able to live up to what God is calling me to do.”
Kurowski is associate editor of The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.