Twenty-one years ago tomorrow, on 25 March 1990, I was ordained to the Order of Deacons by my archbishop, James Cardinal Hickey of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC. The photograph below was taken during the concluding doxology of the ordination liturgy, with me elevating the chalice for the first time alongside the Cardinal.
Standing there that day, I had no inkling of the path of ordained ministry on which I was embarking. At that moment, I was a Commander in the United States Navy, and I was being ordained ahead of my class because the Navy was sending me to Okinawa to serve as Executive Officer of a base there. My first diaconal assignment from Cardinal Hickey was to be released from the archdiocese for service with the Archdiocese for Military Services, USA. My intention at the moment of ordination was to finish my tour on Okinawa and then to return to Washington to teach and to serve as a deacon. Clearly the Holy Spirit had other plans.
That first assignment on Okinawa was a wonderful introduction to ordained service. I worked with some great Air Force chaplains at Kadena Air Base, where we lived. Many of my sailors, who also lived on Kadena, were also parishioners, making for an interesting blend of service! There were challenges during the tour, but overall it was a most positive experience. I focused a lot on adult faith formation, as well as sacramental preparation, preaching and serving with local Franciscan Capuchin missionaries in the local community. At the end of that tour, having served 22 years on active duty in the Navy, I retired and returned to the United States.
Unfortunately, I couldn't find a good job in Washington to support my family, so we returned to the Midwest where I served as Associate Principal and Director of Curriculum and Instruction at a regional Catholic high school. In addition to serving at the high school, I was a deacon assigned to a large parish, along with two other deacons. Again, we were blessed with wonderful pastors; again, I worked closely with adult faith formation and the RCIA team. I also worked with the diocesan diaconate formation office.
Out of the blue, after two years, I received a phone call from Cardinal Hickey, inviting me to come back out to Washington to take over the archdiocesan diaconate office. After being a deacon for only five years at this point, I was now going to be responsible for the formation, ministry and life of more than 250 permanent deacons; that was a scary thought, but it was an exciting prospect, and it was a wonderful experience. I also became a consultant to the national office associated with the diaconate at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, DC. In particular, I was blessed to be asked to serve as a member of the editorial committee developing the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States. Additional diocesan ministry followed, serving as Director of Pastoral Services in two other dioceses before finally joining the senior staff of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. I served there for more than five years, and in that capacity, became involved with the diaconate, not only here in the States, but in the international community as well. All of this has become the foundation of the last four years teaching undergraduate and graduate students.
In short, the past twenty-one years have been an unbelievable and totally unanticipated and unpredictable path, and I'm looking forward to the continued surprises the Holy Spirit has in store for the NEXT twenty-one years!