By KATIE BORKOWSKI
As the number of active diocesan priests continues to get smaller, Father Brent Lingle speculated “deacons may help fill the ministry void that having fewer priests leaves behind.”
“They can assist with baptisms, funerals, marriages, sacramental preparation, communion visits and many other ministry opportunities,” said the diocesan director of Ministry 2025, pastoral planning for the Diocese of Sioux City.
“In parishes that might no longer have a resident pastor, the deacon can be a vital resource for people,” Father Lingle added.
Day of reflection
This past October, the deacon day of reflection focused on the role the deacon has in the pastoral planning process.
“Specifically, I talked to the deacons about their role supporting their pastor and taking an active leadership role in the pastoral planning process,” said Father Lingle. “The deacons, in many cases, have been part of the parishes for a long time. They know the history and people and can offer important insights as the planning process unfolds.”
The priest also talked to them about the deacon as “a participant in the ministry of the bishop and how important it is for them to support the bishop’s plan and vision for the diocese and to publically support the work of the diocese.”
Deacon Roger Heidt from Sioux Falls offered the deacons a video presentation as he was unable to be there in person. Deacon Heidt is the director of pastoral planning for the Diocese of Sioux Falls and led them through a process very much like the Diocese of Sioux City.
“He was able to offer insights from both his position as a director of the planning process and from the perspective of a deacon,” said Father Lingle. “The insights that Deacon Roger offered were helpful for our deacons to understand the unique leadership role they have in the parish and in the planning process.”
Deacon David Lopez, director of deacon formation, thought the day of reflection was “a very helpful and revealing conversation.”
“I think most, if not all, of our deacons left that day with a good understanding of how to support the bishop, the diocese and the pastor, as well as their fellow parishioners, as the plan begins to be implemented in the coming months and years,” said Lopez. “We all want to make sure that we do everything we can to accompany people through this process, to encourage them and pray with them, even grieve with them.”
Deacon Lopez serves Cathedral of the Epiphany Parish in Sioux City, which is now clustered with St. Boniface and St. Joseph’s. He acknowledged with new parish and cluster combinations, it is possible deacons “will need to accept new assignments to better serve the needs of the whole diocese.”
“In an ideal world, every parish or cluster would have a deacon,” said Lopez. “We have enough (currently 46 active deacons for the 31 new clusters), but we’re not geographically spread out enough to easily cover the whole diocese. So that’s a goal we’re working towards.”
Busy to busier
Deacon Rick Roder, who serves at Remsen St. Mary and Oyens St. Catherine parishes, has been in communication with his pastor, Father Bill McCarthy, “as we think and pray through these new challenges.”
“I served on the team for our proposed new cluster as the diocese collected information and feedback,” he said. “We helped brainstorm our situation and suggest ideas to the diocese to consider regarding our role in this process and how to best serve our parishioners.”
Deacon Roder was at the clergy meetings to get the “big picture and to help articulate this to those asking about the process.”
“The analysts hired to help us through this process assigned a ‘sacramental load’ number to each cluster before and after the proposed changes,” said the deacon. “It was scaled on low-to-high grades, with low being a relatively low sacramental load and high being a high pastoral load. Before the changes we were pretty average, about 65. Under the proposed realignment of parishes, we are at 98 (the highest!).”
To Roder that means “we are busy and about to get way busier. My role as deacon will be determined, I think, by decisions made by our pastor in consultation with our parish leadership, parishioners and the facilitators being trained to help us accomplish our cluster’s vision, planning and implementation.”
“Most deacons are in their parish for life, and priests move,” said Roder. “Thus, we can be a stabilizing asset, of sorts, if we can work well with our pastor and parishioners. I think deacons need to help pastors maintain their sanity and health by helping them ensure they are taking care of themselves and getting some time off.”
Six deacons, eight worship sites
Deacon Tim Murphy is currently assigned to the two Carroll parishes – St. Lawrence and Holy Spirit. When the diocesan plan goes into effect, the parishes in the Carroll area will become one parish.
Throughout the process, Deacon Murphy has gone to clergy days and the deanery and cluster meetings on Ministry 2025.
“Last fall the deacons and wives of the diocese met to consider our role in the process,” he said. “I pray for those dealing with the changes. I listen to, support and encourage them.”
As to how his role as deacon will change in the future, Deacon Murphy admitted nothing is certain yet.
“I assume I will still be teaching at Kuemper and be the director of religious education for Catholics that go to Carroll Public,” he said. “I probably will be like the deacons of Webster County who serve and preach at all the worship sites. The Carroll parish will have eight worship sites, so the six deacons here should try to be familiar with all the sites but also specialize in needs they are personally suited for and minister to certain areas more than others.”
Deacon Murphy added the deacons are already a good team when it comes to working together in places like the hospital.
“The Carroll parish will have many specialized positions and some of us may fill those,” he said. “As the number of priests drops in the near future, they certainly will need more help. But even without a shortage of priests, the deacon is a public model to all of the baptized that they are called to lives of prayer, service to others, and sharing the Good News as they raise families and work in the secular world.”
Reflect love of Christ
Deacon Butch Stone currently ministers at the parishes in Wall Lake, Sac City and Early. With the Ministry 2025 changes, he will now add St. Martin’s in Odebolt and no longer serve in Early.
“All we can do in serving our parishes is to maintain a positive attitude,” he said. “This is part of life. Demographics change, life changes, families change and so does our church in certain ways. Just keeping a good attitude and being as enthusiastic as possible is contagious.”
Deacon Stone sees the role of clergy is to stay positive and “look on the bright side. I look at this as a wonderful opportunity for us.”
“We were clustered with Odebolt for six years before we were re-clustered with Early,” he said. “It is terrible to lose Early because they have become part of our family, but to go back to Odebolt is a joy because it is like a family reunion. The parishes are receiving it very well, I believe.”
Even with Ministry 2025, none of Deacon Stone’s duties will change. He will continue to assist the priest and “make his life a little easier.”
“I am his connection to the people in knowing who is who and who can I get to help with this or that,” said Deacon Stone. “It is very important having that local knowledge of personalities and volunteers.”
When he was going through his preparation to be a deacon, Deacon Stone was told that like priests “we are the icon of Christ.”
“We are to reflect the love of Christ,” he said. “That is probably the most important role we play all the time, but especially in this time of change because change is always difficult.”