Q & A: Future deacons talk family, formation

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Diaconate candidates for the Diocese of Superior, who will be ordained on Sunday, Aug. 9, at Christ the King Cathedral in Superior, were asked to answer the following questions about themselves and their journey:

1. What instruments and/or circumstances did God use to call you to the diaconate?

2. What has been the most unexpected benefit or blessing during the time of formation for the diaconate?

3. What class or area of study has been the most enriching? The most challenging?

4. How has your preparation for the diaconate, including its demands of time and attention, been a growth experience for your marriage and family?

Robin Major is a military veteran. While stationed in Italy, his experience at a Mass celebrated by St. Pope John Paul II moved him to return to practicing his faith. (Submitted photo)

Robin Major, St. Anne’s Parish in Somerset

Robin and his wife, Robyn, live in Star Prairie. They have two sons, Christopher, 27, and James, 25, who is married to Rachael. Major graduated high school and served in the U.S. Navy for 11 years and then for the Army National Guard for another 11. He currently works for the U.S. Air Force in Minneapolis.

After high School, I joined the Navy in 1981 and stopped practicing my faith. In 1990 while stationed in Naples, Italy, I went to an Easter Vigil Mass at the Vatican with St. Pope John Paul II.

After his homily, he pointed and looked in my direction. I felt he was pointing and looking at me! He asked, “What are you going to do for Jesus?” So here I am. I wish I had the time and space to tell you the whole story.

One of the big blessings is having a better understanding of our Catholic faith. Another blessing was to share in this understanding with my wife, Robyn. An unexpected benefit I found was that no matter how busy I thought I was, the Lord showed me that all we have to do is say yes to the Lord, and he will show us the way to make it happen.

The most enriching class was canon law, because now I know why we do certain things in the church and it gave the knowledge to protect myself and others.

Having graduated high school in 1981 and completing various military courses, the last one being in 1998, it was very challenging to get back into the studying and writing habit with proper formatting, taking notes and researching information. With the help of Robyn and my classmates, I was able to complete the program.

My marriage and family life flourished with the diaconate program. Robyn was able to attend most of all my classes, so she benefited from the lessons also. She helped take notes and helped me understand some of the material. We always looked forward to the weekend away from everything.

The program helped make me more patient and understanding, also. It brought my family closer as they helped and supported and prayed for me.

Patrick Gierl, pictured with his wife, Jeanette, and their nine children, is “excited and profoundly humbled” to be called to serve as a deacon. (Submitted photo)

Patrick Gierl, Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Stetsonville

Patrick has been married to his wife, Jeanette, for 35 years. The couple has nine children. Currently the director of facility and grounds for Lincoln County, Gierl served for six years with the U.S. Air Force and also worked as an emergency medical technician and fire officer.

I am excited and profoundly humbled to be called to the permanent diaconate and look forward to the work of this sacred office and serving the people of the Superior Diocese.

Oftentimes a call from God strikes fear and trepidation into the hearts and lives of his people, especially when it will infringe on the so-called normal lifestyle. As a man, I enjoy having control of things.

I am not talking about the everyday run-of-the-mill control, but the stuff in our lives that we hold onto with everything we have, like our pride, our money, our recreational time, and our freedom to come and go. These giants in our lives oftentimes overshadow God’s call to surrender for the sake of the kingdom. I had to come to the point of letting go of these areas in my life and giving it all to God, and in doing this, I have experienced a great deal of peace.

That’s not to say that it’s easy or that I have it all together, but these years of formation have been beautiful growth years for me. God has taken up shop deep within my heart and soul and now commands my life.

Men, a call to the diaconate is not a call to giving up your life, it’s a path to finding it!

From day one of formation, our formation team talked, not about the end, but about the journey. For some it will end with ordination, for others it ends with one or more years of solid intellectual, spiritual, and human growth; but for all, it will be an experience in growing in the image of Christ the servant and how can we go wrong with that!

From a husband and a father’s perspective, I struggled with the balance of time shared with Jeanette and the kids.  There were days when it seemed like all I could get done was reading and writing and studying, but it was in those moments that I learned to trust that God was calling me to go be with the family, and I would set aside my studies, enjoy time with family and then go back to my studies at a different time.

The interesting thing about “that time” was that when you give time for the most important things in your life, God makes the time to get his work accomplished. Spending “that time” with God in my prayer and studies truly opened my eyes and my heart to how gentle and loving and productive God’s time really is.

I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the formation schedule. From sacred Scripture to church history to liturgy, I was engaged in it all. Catholic social teaching truly taught me a great deal about how much growing I need to do in the area of loving all people where they are at.

The most challenging, but also the most rewarding area of study for me would have to be the pastoral field work. Not so much on an intellectual level per say, but more on a human level. Being an introvert by nature, I struggled to open myself up and live the Gospel in an authentic way, emulating Christ to the world like a modern day Mother Teresa.

I have gained a profound amount of respect and insight into what it means to be a “husband” and a “father.”

Isn’t it true that nowadays anyone can be married and have kids, but that does not make a “family?”

My preparation for the diaconate has been and continues to be a formation in the image of Christ the servant. Christ served without measuring the cost. He gave his life (literally) for the sake of the family and we are called to follow his example. Dying to self and all our personal agendas and laying down our lives for those God has entrusted to our care on this side of heaven.

I firmly believe that each husband and father will be measured on how well he cared for and supported and loved and nurtured and sacrificed for his family. As the building block of society, we must get this right!

Steve Welter, pictured with his wife, Alice, considered the diaconate more than 20 years ago, but the timing was not right. When roadblocks to formation were removed, he saw it as confirmation of his calling. (Submitted photo)

Steve Welter, Sacred Heart Parish in Almena

Steve and his wife, Alice, have been married 43 years and have three children – a son, 40, and two daughters, 38 and 36. They have six grandchildren ranging in age from 13 to 3. Both Steve and Alice are “imports” from Minnesota and graduates of Anoka Technical College.

Welter’s family members are fifth-generation dairy farmers. His great-grandfather started the farm in Saint Michael, Minnesota. After the death of Steve’s father in 1982, they continued to farm in Minnesota until encroaching housing developments caused them to move the cows and machinery to Almena in 1990.

Over the years, I have had a couple people say to me out of the blue that I would make a good deacon. I went to a couple classes that Fr. Dennis Mullen was leading 20 years ago, but the timing was not right with a young family and a dairy farm.

Five years ago, through divine intervention, my mom passed on to us the ownership of the farm. This allowed us to sell some land to the neighbor, to sell our dairy herd and start a small beef herd. This opened up the door for the possibility to start formation.

God took away all of the excuses and roadblocks that were in the way in the past and opened up a new door for ministry! I told God that I lived the majority of my life on my own terms and now the rest is for him to decide!

The most unexpected benefit has been our growth in understanding and maturing in spirituality.

The greatest blessing was the camaraderie and the development of real friendships. Also, the blessing of a retreat-type atmosphere for over 45 weekends in five years – most people don’t even get the chance to do an annual retreat.

I enjoyed philosophy and the insights of Thomas Aquinas. The class on homiletics gave us the art of expressing God’s word. The most challenging was writing papers, as I had not had any formal education for over 40 years. As a farmer, I am not an academic!

It has been enriching for Alice and I and given us the opportunity to learn how to pray the liturgy of the hours together. We do that daily.

Our extended family has been encouraging and supportive. We found that much of our journey fit well with the slow pace on our semi-retired organic beef farm. I tell people that anything after dairy farming is retirement!

Tim Mika and his wife, Becky, celebrate the baptism of their fifth child, Jacinta. A farmer, volunteer firefighter and wrestling coach, Mika plans to pursue certification as a spiritual director. (Submitted photo)

Tim Mika, Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Ashland

Tim Mika is a cradle Catholic who has been married to his wife, Becky, for 18 years and is father to five children – three girls and two boys, aged 15 years old to 2 months. Mika grew up in Sanborn and currently owns and operates a grass-fed beef farm, primarily selling frozen beef products directly to customers. He has a degree in small engine repair, is state certified as a firefighter and is a volunteer firefighter. Mika also coaches high school wrestling.

A few of the main circumstances God has used to call me to the diaconate is, first, my farming background.

Farming requires a special kind of trust in God to provide the ability to farm. Rain and sun, life and death all ultimately rely on God’s intervention. Growing up, I also spent many nights in fields or on top of silos gazing into the heavens in wonder and awe, contemplating why we are here.

Another circumstance is through my marriage.  My wife and I have lost eight babies to miscarriage.  To bury multiple children carries its own kind of suffering, and through the pain and hardship we relied on God’s loving grace to guide us. With the children we have on earth, we recognized the importance to serve God, be grateful for all our gifts and bear our crosses with Christ’s suffering in mind.

Lastly, I cannot deny the mystery that fills the Catholic Church. Like many, I have had unexplainable encounters with God through people or situations. Through my journey to the diaconate, I have relied on trust, peace and an open heart.

My wife and I attended the deacon discernment retreat before we officially entered formation. I remember walking into the chapel around 6:30 a.m. during adoration and was blown away. I was so uplifted by a room of about 100 Catholics, chanting hymns. This room was dominated by male voices praising our God in song, something I had never experienced before.

Since then, I have absolutely cherished the formation weekends with my wife, growing spiritually and intellectually. Together, we often found each weekend of formation a “mini-retreat.”

The people I have encountered have been such a blessing, getting to know other Catholic men and women who are on fire for their Catholic faith and in love with Jesus Christ.  I also feel so very blessed to have had such talented, knowledgeable formators that know the truths of the Catholic Church and presented in a relatable yet challenging way that helped me learn and grow.

I really enjoyed philosophy and our class on spirituality. I found myself wanting to learn more about being a spiritual director and plan on pursuing certification after ordination. People have all kinds of “life coaches,” and as a spiritual director I could assist people on their spiritual journey.

The most challenging classes were moral theology and Scripture. There are so many different situations that affect the moral life. Bringing people to the truth of Christ in their hearts takes time, wisdom and patience.

As for Scripture, let’s just say there is so much packed in every verse of the Bible that even for a practicing cradle Catholic, it is overwhelming. That said, I fully enjoyed Scripture studies and it opened my heart to deeper depths of mystery.

Prior to formation I was not much of a studier; however, throughout my formation, I had to read multiple books each year and write many papers. This was daunting at first but the desire to learn and growth far outweighed the challenges.

My wife and I have a young family, but the support we received from our extended family was the reason my journey was so peaceful, as we were gone to classes or retreats 12 weekends each year.

Over the past six years of formation, my wife and I had two miscarriages as well as two beautiful baby girls born. Both our extended family to assist us at home and our new “formation family” was a gift beyond measure as they supported us in our joys and trials. Formation has also helped me grow to be a better husband and father.

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