Following God’s will leads to new career path and vocation as deacon
By RENEE WEBB, Globe editor
Following God’s call and his plan was not always top priority for the director of deacon formation who is among six men to be ordained to the permanent diaconate on May 1.
“When I was about 20, I decided that I would set out to be a college professor,” noted David Lopez, Ph.D., who followed that career path for a number of years before coming to the Diocese of Sioux City. “I made the decision for selfish reasons and I lived according to my own will for a number of years.”
His father was a college math professor, so the world of academia was familiar and desirable to Lopez who was born in Nebraska, raised through age 14 in Canada and spent his high school and college years in Indiana, graduating from the University of Notre Dame in 1993. He attended graduate school at Yale in Connecticut before returning to Indiana for his first teaching job. Lopez, whose graduate and post-grad studies earned interdisciplinary degrees in medieval studies, also held college level teaching jobs in California, Texas and Michigan. He taught various subjects such as literature classics, history, philosophy and theology.
Lopez and his wife, Cecilia, are the parents of three children: Bernie, 7; Teresa, 4; and Leo, six months.
While he followed the teaching path for several years, Lopez said for about the last 10 to 12 years he has been taking his faith much more seriously.
“One of the things that always happens to people who take their faith seriously is that doing what God wants becomes more important than what I want and so one starts to make choices based on that,” said Lopez, 39, who noted that it took a long time to learn how to make decisions that were based on God’s will and not his own.
Thoughts about the diaconate didn’t come to him until Easter of the year 2000. They were living in California at the time and his pastor asked him if he had ever considered the ministry. Lopez had just taken over the role of DRE, volunteering after the full-time person vacated the position.
“I was actually too young (for diaconate formation) at that point, so I hadn’t thought about it,” he said.
“We had been there for about six weeks when I called up the deacon office with the Diocese of Lansing and asked if I could talk to someone about it,” he recalled. “The response was, ‘Great. I’d love to talk to you about this, but you have just missed the deadline.’”
The next class wouldn’t begin for almost two years, so Lopez spent that time deepening his discernment and volunteering at the parish, school and prison. He also became involved in the lay Cistercians, a branch of the Order of St. Benedict.
When the time came to apply, his daughter had just been born and he opted to put it off once again as deacon formation classes were three hours away.
“I didn’t think it was right to leave my wife with an infant and toddler for 12 to 14 hours at a stretch,” Lopez said.
While he had passed on applying to the program due to family circumstance, he was convinced that God was calling him to the vocation of deacon and at the same time he was developing a professional interest in the ministry.
“Those two things came together when I found the job advertisement to do those two things together here in the Diocese of Sioux City,” noted Lopez, who started his position as director of deacon formation with the diocese in August of 2006 and later also assumed role of chancellor.
It wasn’t long after he came to the diocese that he entered into deacon formation.
Part of his formation, he noted, came through his involvement in the lay Cistercians. These individuals are associated with the life and charism of a monastery but are not vowed monks.
“I went through the process of their formation program in 2004 and 2005, which wasn’t as detailed as the five-year program here for deacon formation but it does cover a lot of the same ground,” said Lopez, who noted that it included such things as interior reflection. “It built my spiritual life and I started praying the Liturgy of the Hours. My prayer life started to get a lot deeper and I became more deliberate in my pursuit of holiness.”
He acknowledged that there is “sound advice that comes from the wisdom of the church that someone in the position I hold should have the formation already. One should be a deacon to be in charge of deacons, one should be a priest to be in charge of priests. Obviously, when I was hired, I was not close to being a deacon.”
With the knowledge of formation he had through the lay Cistercians program and the knowledge that he had as a theologian, it was determined that Lopez would participate in as much of the deacon formation studies as possible and have an additional formation program under the direction of the vocations director. First it was under the supervision of Father Brian Hughes and then Father Brad Pelzel.
“I’ve done everything in the formation program that I have asked everyone else to do but some of those things I have done as the instructor rather than as the student,” Lopez noted. “All of the things outside of the classroom – the pastoral practica, the liturgical practica – the various ways of preparing, I’ve done all of that as well.”
He acknowledged that it has been awkward at times for one day to be on one side of the desk and the next day to be on the other side of the desk. It has meant that his experience has been somewhat different from that of his deacon classmates.
“Because even though we have been together as brothers, I am also evaluating them and that’s not mutual,” Lopez said. “One of the things that I am looking forward to is that I will no longer have that ambiguity of being both the director and in formation.”
He pointed out that his main diaconate duties at the Cathedral of the Epiphany will be liturgical and his pastoral activities will principally take place through the Office of Deacons. He will be assigned to the Office of Permanent Diaconate as part of his official ministerial life.
“At Cathedral, I will assist at both the English and Spanish Masses as a deacon. I am really looking forward to proclaiming the Gospel and preaching some. I have been a lector for years and years,” said Lopez, who noted that his love of the liturgy has grown immensely in the last five years. He would also love to become involved in leading the Liturgy of the Hours at Cathedral as well as adoration.
Lopez said his wife has been supportive of the process.
Cecilia said, “Teaching has always been service for David. It demands a lot of the moral qualities of a deacon: hospitality, compassion, patience. And he's always had a lot of respect and empathy for parish priests. When our pastor in rural California asked David to consider becoming a deacon it was a surprise, but also seemed in keeping with where his heart already was.”
She said every morning she thanks God for bringing them to Sioux City.
“I'm very grateful David can become a deacon while we have kids at home, as several others do,” Cecilia said. “God tells us everything is possible with him, and I put my trust in that. Gratitude as an intentional practice has really built my faith throughout the formation process.”
Lopez said he is thrilled to have the opportunity to work for the Diocese of Sioux City and serve God in this way.
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