Thirty-nine years ago, this past December, I was ordained a Permanent Deacon by Archbishop John Cody, at Holy Name Cathedral. Along with my late wife, Ellen, we had recently completed 2 1⁄2 years of formation. Ellen a ended class one night a week, and I a ended 2 nights a week during that time. We had four kids at home and somehow, they survived each other. I think their ages were 3 1⁄2, 11, 12 1⁄2 and 14 years old. I recently tenured my request to Archbishop Cupich to be placed on “Retired Status” as a Deacon in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Fr. Bernie has asked me to share some of my journey over the past 39 years of ministry at Saint Anne and other stops along the way. I’m a little uncomfortable using the “I” word so often, but here goes.
I was born and raised in Barrington and was brought up in the Salem Evangelical United Brethren Church (now Salem Methodist Church.) My family was very active, as was I, and was encouraged by my Pastor to pursue a goal to a end the Seminary and become a clergy person (his words). I had a different goal, including playing college basketball at Montana State College. After leaving college, my next goal was to find the love of my life. I did, and in 1960, I married Mary Ellen Harrer (CATHOLIC!) here at Saint Anne. Yes, there was rumblings in the families (both sides). I attended Mass on Christmas and Easter in the first 5 or 6 years of our marriage. Didn’t really go near Salem, except when I needed some decent music. Shortly after Vatican 2, Fr. Thane, pastor of Saint Anne, allowed Fr. Dressler to celebrate a 10:30 Mass in the basement of the church. Ellen came home after a few weeks and thought I might like the “service” in the basement church. They sang neat music, not much liturgical, as this was the protest generation of the 70s. There were lots of young families, and everyone seemed to be having a” good time.” I fell for the invite since our oldest son was preparing for his First Communion, and I wanted to be a part of that celebration. Sometime later, I was on my way to something called a Cursillo. From that experience, the next step was to join the church and be confirmed by Archbishop Cody. We became very involved in the Saint Anne community, making lifelong friends through CFM and other activities over the years.
In 1976, Fr. Art Dillon and Fr. Bill Sheridan asked me to investigate the Archdiocese Deacon Formation Program and see if it interested me. I did and thanked them for their confidence in me. I told them I didn’t feel worthy to take that step. Ellen agreed and that was that. Later in the year, at Lent, I decided for the first time in my life to give up something during Lent. Gone were the cocktails. The weeks sped by, and we found ourselves leaning in the direction of our ministry through the Deaconate. Ellen was not sure what was in it for her but wanted to walk the experience with me. We entered formation that fall.
After ordination, the Saint Anne staff ask me to contact Rev. Finley Brown, the Chaplain at Good Shepherd Hospital, to see what help Saint Anne could offer in the way of ministerial resources. As I worked with Finley, it became apparent that much work had to be done, and he needed help. I became the contact for the surrounding Catholic communities in setting schedules for priests to say Mass at the hospital and training and mandating Communion ministers from Saint Anne, Sts. Peter & Paul, Transfiguration and St. Francis. Also, I was a night Chaplain at Northwest Community Hospital for several years. Sister Lorraine and later, Sister Margaret, took responsibly for the Ministry of Care program. I joined a team of deacons giving retreats at Cook County Jail, Metropolitan Correctional Center and Joliet State Prison. I became active in the Archdiocesan Deacon Council and served two terms as Chairman. Ellen and I participated in the Saint Anne baptismal program, and I presided at many baptisms, weddings, vigil services, funerals and committal services and preached many homilies.
I served two terms as chairman of NADO (National Associations of Deacon Organizations) and was a member of the Bishops Committee on the Deaconate. Also, I am a member of the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church, the Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers for the USCCB and National Adviser for the Truck Stop Ministry.
Ellen and I were mentors for fourth year deacon candidates and their wives who gathered in our home twice a month before their ordination.
I thank you, the people of Saint Anne, for your support and prayers over these many years and wish you God’s peace, now and forever.