A Deacon’s Life and Vocation – Part I

Sharon, MA. As readers know, I regularly help out with Masses at Our Lady of Sorrows parish in Sharon, MA. It is a small, active, and spiritual community that I am blessed to be connected with the past 13 years. One of the best things about the parish is its long-time Deacon, Michael Iwanowicz, who has served the parish in innumerable ways for so many years. Deacon Mike was in the very first class of married deacons ordained in Boston in 1976, and for many years has served at Our Lady of Sorrows. It struck me that in our current church, one of the least heard voices is that of the deacon, whose ordained ministry — most often as a married person — seems often overlooked. So I have asked Deacon Mike to “guest blog” in my space, this week and next, to bring his unique perspective to the fore. This time, he will introduce himself, and the next time, expand on his views on the Church today.

Deacon Mike writes:

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I appreciate Fr. Clooney’s invitation to write about the state of the church in which we live and minister. In this first blog of a two part series, I will look back to the nature of the church into which I was baptized and initiated and sketch the journey of faith and crises through which I have traversed. As one who will leave this life, (with an unpredictable length of days left), having received all seven sacraments, I am blessed for all that has transpired with the grace of God. Each morning I stand firm in thanksgiving for the day ahead, praying for my adult children, their offspring, and the memory of my deceased wife.

Yet, I recognize that each day brings to light sadness and a measure of poignancy for those afflicted with tragedy in their personal life, and the frustration many in the church manifest concerning the changes wrought by the hierarchy or the lack of changes wrought by the hierarchy. Looking back to the 1970’s, I recall the wonder and awe of being ordained to the Permanent Diaconate by Cardinal Medeiros of Boston in 1976 – a change welcomed by some and disdained by others..

To what were we called, men with families and secular obligations, and how might we fit into the ministry of the church? A deacon is described in light of ‘servant’ ministry – as tradition cites the call of Stephen and Philip and the other five men to assist the disciples in the daily life of the community. (Acts 6).

Venturing forth, each member of that first class struggled with the challenge to balance family responsibilities, secular work, and ordained ministerial tasks.  We all came to this point from a personal history that was unique and variegated. Over the last thirty-fours, I often recall the influence of my grandfather on my rhythm of life and my faith in the presence of God guiding me.

 Julius Anthony Iwanowicz came to America from his native Poland in the late 19th century.  Settling in Lynn, Massachusetts, working as a laborer in a leather tannery, he organized a group that financed and built the church that became a parish of the Archdiocese of Boston in 1906.

When I would go to that church in the 1950’s with my sister and Grandparents, Julius would introduce me to his friends as a future priest. Little did any of us understand his vision.

To  review, born and baptized in 1938, raised catholic in the 1940 and 1950’s, I began a lifetime of service in the church as an altar boy wearing that black cassock and white surplice and memorizing the responses to the priest in Latin. ( … et cum spiritu tuo..).

My memory of the pre-Vatican II days looked like this.

I remember walking to church early on a snowy Sunday morning to hear the pastor speak to the congregants about the necessity of being at church each Sunday. I remember a new young priest who was assigned to work with the youngsters. Fr. Ready met us boys at the park near the church on Saturdays to hit fungoes and coach us in the niceties of baseball. At four o’clock, we all stopped to return to church for confession. I remember my parents no longer attending church without providing me or my sister with any ‘rationale’. It just happened.

My memory of the Post-Vatican II days …

My rebirth in active participation in church life began after I met and married Patricia Rourke in 1963. We bought a house in suburban Boston and began our family life – as well as volunteering for activities at the parish level. In 1973, Cardinal Medeiros announced the formation of the Permanent Diaconate program in Boston. Along with nearly two hundred other men, I applied and was accepted into the first class of 40 men  for training and formation leading to ordination.

And, now, looking back over the last 34 years of ordained ministry, I remember baptizing one of my nieces early on and now look ahead to presiding at her marriage ceremony this Fall.I remember preaching at funerals for my parents, a cousin, and other family members. I remember offering ‘words of remembrance’ at the funeral for my wife who died at the age of fifty. I remember praying at the graveside with parents who lost their second child – who lived for just two hours.

My View on the Church of the Future…

I am angered to learn of the sexual abuses of the priest who witnessed my marriage. As a parent of a gay child, I am in solidarity with other such parents. As a child in public schools in the 1950’s, I accepted authority and looked to my teachers for information and guidance for learning.  The arena of public education today is vastly different in the relationship of pupil and teacher. In contrast, the doctrinal and creedal arenas of the 1950’s and today in the Roman Catholic Church are substantially similar.

Many in our church argue for more inclusivity in the ordained ministry and more collegiality and subsidiarity in decisionmaking.  I will offer my perspective on these three topics in the next post.

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adriano almeida
8 years ago
A married deacon is a member of the clergy ,he is not lay,but he cant be a member of one of the catholic orders.
Jesuits could create an specific organization to welcome permanent deacons in the jesuit family...
Recently the America magazine made a modest proposal,the ordination of married priests.
My modest proposal:jesuits could welcome the married permanent deacons as jesuit permanent deacons, a new vocation in the Society of Jesus.
ed gleason
8 years ago
I agree that the Society of Jesus should include married deacons. I also think laymen should, after suitable formation be able to have SJ after their name. Then women. Opus Dei has integrated the lay state into their community and as some have noted, they are radical but not liberal. .
David Pasinski
8 years ago
Thank you.  I appreciate your sharing your "solidarity" with parents of gay children and wonder how you will square that. I look forward to reflections on Church of the future... though I put no stock in most predictions...Who'd have thunk we'd be here 45 years after the promise of Vatican II? I think Philip Jenkins and John Allens's work- not always in sync- are valuable as trends and predictors based on demographics, but my sadness at the irrelevance of hierarchical part of the "institution" only grows.

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