Director of Diaconal Life looks to strengthen deacon community

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Deacon John Grek shown at the Chancery Chapel blessing, Friday, Sept. 23. “The reason I do this is ... to serve my bishop, serve the people of the diocese,” he said during a recent interview. (Catholic Herald photo by Anita Draper)
Deacon John Grek shown at the Chancery Chapel blessing, Friday, Sept. 23. “The reason I do this is … to serve my bishop, serve the people of the diocese,” he said during a recent interview. (Catholic Herald photo by Anita Draper)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

Strengthening relationships among permanent deacons is Deacon John Grek’s first aim as director of the Diocese of Superior’s Office of Diaconal Life, a position to which Bishop James P. Powers appointed him Aug. 15.

Ordained in 2009, Deacon Grek serves parishes in Iron River, Ashland, Moquah, Dauby and Ino.

After graduating from UW-Superior in 1972, the deacon spent 20 years in the Air Force. He was a major and a master navigator when he retired; he and his wife, Barb, have one daughter, Jennifer Grek-Martin, who lives in Nova Scotia with her husband, Jason.

Deacon Grek’s vocation story is short and sweet. He was an active member of Ss. Peter and Paul, Moquah, when the pastor asked if he’d ever considered being a deacon. Deacon Grek said no.

“I was the only guy essentially that was helping out at our little parish in Moquah,” he explained.

Apparently, the pastor knew how to handle his parishioner. The priest only asked one more time, in passing, whether Deacon Grek was thinking about it.
“The more I’m badgered about something, the more I dig in my heels,” the deacon admitted.

But, in the absence of badgering, the seed had been planted and was growing.
Then, he started seeing signs. Deacon Grek hadn’t shared his conversation with anyone, when suddenly everyone around him was talking about the need for a deacon.

“So yeah, it went downhill from there,” he joked.

The experience is one reason Deacon Grek firmly believes in the power of personal invitation.

You can ask for help – put messages in the bulletins and speak from the ambo – but you won’t get a bite from parishioners, he said. “It’s one-on-one invitation that will truly get results.”

When he started formation, Deacon Grek didn’t realize deacons were clergy. Each class in which he was enrolled was a revelation.

He likens the responsibility to a pile of bricks on the ground. You can’t pick them all up at once, he said, but if you pick them up one by one, you say to yourself, “I can carry one more.”

“Piece by piece is the only way I would have accepted the whole thing,” he added.

Commitment – and comfort – were also part of the struggle.

“It’s so easy to get wrapped up in your little world,” he said.

His life at the time was comfortable, and he wasn’t looking to make any new commitments, but he’s convinced God has a plan for every life, and this was God’s plan for him.

Drawing other men into the permanent diaconate – being available to answer questions for those discerning the possibility – is also part of his plan for Diaconal Life.

In 2009, there were between 70 and 75 deacons in the diocese. Now, there are fewer than 60.

“Priests are getting pretty scarce,” he said, “and maybe deacons are as well.”
To revitalize the vocation, he hopes to travel to a deanery each quarter, meet with retired and active deacons in the morning, and perhaps have afternoon meetings with men considering the vocation.

Deacon Grek also believes deacons will have to take on more responsibilities as the number of priests dwindles, and more deacons will be spending time on the altar rather than serving in background ministry.

The vocation has already moved in that direction, he said, noting that when he was ordained, preaching faculties were optional. Then, when former Bishop Peter F. Christensen came to the diocese, he wanted all deacons to have that training.

Deacon Grek was painfully shy when he was younger – in a room full of people, he’d look for a corner in which to hide. But he sees his vocation as one of service, and he does what is needed.

“The reason I do this is to serve the priest I’m tasked to serve, to serve my bishop, serve the people of the diocese,” he said.

The Vatican is currently exploring the possibility of allowing female deacons, and Deacon Grek supports the discussion. But, he observed, given how slowly the church makes decisions, he doesn’t expect the outcome will affect him.

Mostly, as he takes on his new responsibilities, Deacon Grek wants to get to know the other deacons. He’s hoping to create a newsletter and blog to foster communications, “establish better relationships, find out what they need and want and expect from a program.”

Deacon Grek can be contacted 715-394-0235 and .

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