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HomeImpact'I never stopped mattering:' Deacon Richard Milinazzo finds God-given purpose through strife

‘I never stopped mattering:’ Deacon Richard Milinazzo finds God-given purpose through strife

2024 marks the 50th Jubilee of the Permanent Diaconate here in the Archdiocese of Denver. Through preaching, service, worship and prayer, deacons serve the people of God in unique ways through their various ministries and lives. This article is one of a series of articles the Denver Catholic will publish in 2024 which will feature local deacons and/or a diaconal ministry. There are many Deacon Saints who were martyred for their faith. In this year of Jubilee, the deacons of the Archdiocese of Denver are asking for prayers through the intercession of Saint Euplius of Cantania, deacon and martyr. Learn more about this Deacon Saint here.

Editor’s Note: This article contains tough subject matters which may be hard for some to read.

 

God draws straight with crooked lines, and every line matters in the masterpiece
he crafts. Just ask Deacon Richard Milinazzo, whose difficult, crooked path led him to the permanent diaconate and a life of service to the Lord.

Born in the small town of Jansen near the southern border of Colorado, Deacon Milinazzo’s childhood was devoid of all the love a child deserves. His birth father abandoned him, and his mother left him and his younger siblings with his grandparents because she didn’t have the means to raise them. His grandparents severely abused him. Eventually, he was given up for adoption at a foster home, where he became even more despondent. The foster home convinced his grandparents to take him back, and they were unhappy.

Deacon Milinazzo’s mom would show up sporadically, giving him a glimmer of hope that she might take him back. But she never did.

Deacon Milinazzo often ran into the Jansen mountains to escape the turmoil at home and slept under the stars. He had a vague concept of God and remembers crying out to him in his sorrow.

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“I would always talk to God and ask him, ‘Why have you left?’” Deacon Milinazzo recalled. “Why does my mom not love me? Why did she abandon me?”

One such day, a nine-year-old Rich sat on a dirt road in the mountains. School had just been released for the summer.

“I was nine years old, and I thought, ‘I’m going to commit suicide,’” he recalled. “I was going to jump off the top of this mountain and kill myself. So that day went by, and
I went to sleep that night, and I was going kill myself that next morning.”

Come morning, his grandma woke him up, beat him and told him to pack his things. She said he and his siblings were going to Denver to live with their mom. So, they loaded into their uncle’s car and set out for the city.

When they knocked on their mom’s door, they found her pregnant and living with a man who would become Deacon Milinazzo’s eventual adopted father and two other small children.

“The next thing I know, my mom’s trying to commit suicide,” Deacon Milinazzo said. “I see my adopted dad choking her and trying to hurt her, but what was really happening was he was trying to make her spit up the pills that she just tried to down. We had only been in Denver just a few hours.

“That would be my life until I moved out at 18 years old,” he continued. “My mom always trying to commit suicide at least once a month.”

Deacon Milinazzo had no semblance of faith at this point in his life. That all changed one day when two neighborhood boys he and his brother played football with introduced him to Jesus for the first time in an unusual way.

“At one point in time, we take a timeout,” Deacon Milinazzo recalled. “My brother and I are talking, and I look over at the boys, and they’re saying to each other, ‘The body of Christ.’ They were giving each other hosts. I’m like, ‘What are you guys doing?’ They go, ‘We’re giving each other the body of Christ. We’re getting power to beat you.’”

This piqued his curiosity, which led him to follow the boys to their church one morning. He began to attend Mass by himself, and at age 11, he put himself through classes to receive First Communion. The seeds of Deacon Milinazzo’s faith were planted then, though they wouldn’t grow until much later in life.

Over time, his faith wavered as he wrestled with his upbringing. To cope, he began using drugs and alcohol heavily. Despite his religious education, he identified as an atheist for most of his life.

Deacon Milinazzo was officially adopted by his father at 22 and began working a career in the telecommunications industry, where he met his future wife, Michelle, a devout Catholic. After seven years, they were married in the Church, though Milinazzo didn’t attend Mass with his wife. One day, his three-year-old son asked him why he didn’t go to church with them, which led him to return to Mass, albeit reluctantly.

“I started going to church, but always going with a bitter taste,” he said. “I always tried to be the last one there and the first one out.”

All the while, he and Michelle would have huge disagreements about all matters of faith. She patiently endured his skepticism while he rolled his eyes at everything the priest said. Intent on disproving the faith, he voluntarily signed up for a bible study at his parish.

“Famous last words,” Deacon Rich smiled. Not only did God humble Milinazzo, but he also turned him from an ardent denier to a zealous defender of the Catholic faith.

So began his path to the diaconate. He continued to wrestle with God through formation up until his ordination day, when one of his fellow deacons put him in a headlock to ensure he wouldn’t run from the church. He laughs about it now.

“I still have my moments because to serve the Lord is a big responsibility, and I don’t take it lightly,” he said. “But I am a deacon. I love being a deacon. I love serving the Lord.”

Michelle was a grateful witness to God’s changing of her husband’s heart as he studied to become a deacon.

“The biggest thing I saw in him was peace,” she said.

Now, Deacon Milinazzo humbly serves Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in north Denver. His heart is on fire for the Lord, and he now sees how his difficult upbringing has helped him become a better deacon. Most importantly, he now understands how much he matters to God.

“I used to think I didn’t matter. I told myself my entire life that I don’t matter, that God doesn’t care about me,” he said. “I couldn’t have been more wrong. I do matter, and I’ve mattered to God since I was abandoned in Trinidad to when I was rebelling against him being an atheist to when I was just so addicted to drugs and trying to medicate myself; he was there, crying with me, and holding me every step of the way. I mattered, and I never stopped mattering.”

No matter where you find yourself, Deacon Rich hopes his story serves as an encouragement that you matter.

“You matter to the Lord,” he urged. “Every human being matters to Christ. Just give him a chance to show you how much he loves you, and when you find that out, you will never be the same.”

Aaron Lambert
Aaron Lambert
Aaron is the former Managing Editor for the Denver Catholic.
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