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Wives support new deacons’ call to service

Behind 10 newly ordained deacons in the Archdiocese of Denver stand supportive wives who share their husbands’ new service to God.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila ordained the men the morning of Jan. 25, before family and friends at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Denver.  The archbishop emphasized that the men did not come upon this service on their own.

“As Jesus in the Gospel told his disciples: You did not choose me, but I chose you,” Archbishop Aquila said.

The archbishop officiated despite battling the flu and a cough. During the two-hour Mass and ceremony, he urged the new deacons to find joy and confidence in “the gift bestowed by God.” He said there is no room for pessimism, despair or fear in Christianity.

“Service the people in love and joy as you would the Lord,” the archbishop said.

The men, who range in age from 47 to 61, said their wives played pivotal roles in their decisions to become deacons. They spent nearly five years studying spiritual, intellectual, pastoral and human formation at the St. Francis School of Theology for Deacons at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in south Denver.

Deacon Michael Raymond Grafner, 61, said God spoke to him one night about becoming a deacon but he didn’t tell his wife, Veronica. Yet she also felt a pull from God after Communion one Mass when she said God told her to give her husband to him.

“My thought was my husband was going to die or become a deacon,” Veronica recalled.

After the couple shared their messages with each other, Michael announced to a small church group that he was going to discern becoming a deacon.

“He is so loving, so gentle and really cares about people,” his wife of 43 years said. “The sincerity of his heart is why he will be a good deacon.”

During the ordination ceremony, each man swore to faithfully discharge the office of deacon with humility. Individually, they knelt before the archbishop and swore obedience and respect. As a group, the men lay prostrate while the congregation chanted the Litany of Supplication over them. After the laying on of hands and Prayer of Ordination, the men were vested in stole and dalmatic and received the Book of Gospels.

The men join 162 deacons in the archdiocese that serve 118 parishes.

The archbishop urged the men to remember to put their marriages first and recognize the gift of their families. He encouraged their wives, who participated in the ceremony by proclaiming the readings and presenting the offertory gifts, to offer daily prayers for their husbands.

Deacon Timothy Scott Unger, the youngest new deacon at 47, has been married for 15 years.  He and his wife, Diane, have the youngest children in the group with Julia, 13, and Tim, 12.

Diane understood her husband, who spent time in the seminary as a young adult, continued to feel a call to service.

“This is something that has always been on his mind and is from God, and you can’t argue with God,” she said.

But Diane initially was concerned about the time commitment because of the possible impact on their young family. Some of the classes are offered online, which gave her husband flexibility to manage his family time, she said.

“Everything I was afraid of didn’t happen,” Diane recalled. “In fact, it was an opportunity for all of the family to deepen our faith and become closer as a family.”

Besides juggling families and careers—that range from owning a heating business to engineering, parish director of Liturgy and Family Life, software developer, case manager in a homeless shelter and account management—the men will dedicate an average of 12 hours a week to their assigned parish.

Deacons officiate at baptisms, weddings, wakes and funerals, and preach and distribute holy Communion. They cannot consecrate the Eucharist, hear confessions or anoint the sick.

Deacon Paul Louderman and his wife, Marilyn, agreed to be open to the Lord’s call after they prayed together. Marilyn said the couple, who have been married for 42 years, had some of the same questions as the other couples: Are we sure this is what we should be doing? Are we worthy?

“Once we made the decision, there was no going back,” Marilyn said.

To help the men’s wives better understand what being a deacon means, the women met with the wives of active deacons several times over the nearly five years of study.

“We spoke about spirituality and prayed together,” Marilyn said. “It was very helpful to listen to the women who are there and understand what it means to be a deacon’s wife.”

New Deacons

The 10 newly ordained deacons and their parish assignments:

Christopher Michael Byrne, 57, Sacred Heart of Jesus in Boulder

Michael Raymond Grafner, 61, Christ the King Parish in Evergreen

Kevin Charles Heckman, 59, Blessed Sacrament Parish in Denver

Paul Louderman, 56, Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Northglenn

James Francis Mackin III, 52, St. Louis Parish in Louisville

John Michael Otero, 59, St. John the Baptist Parish in Johnstown

George Alex Thierjung, 59, St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Longmont

Donald Paul Tracy, 56, St. Rose of Lima Parish in Denver

Timothy Scott Unger, 47, Risen Christ Parish in Denver

Mark Francis Wolbach, 52, Light of the World Parish in Littleton

Roxanne King
Roxanne King is the former editor of the Denver Catholic Register and a freelance writer in the Denver area.
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