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Editor’s note: The Catholic Herald posed four questions to men preparing to be ordained to the permanent diaconate. Here, the first two candidates, Patrick Haines and Jeff Mason, offer their responses.

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 of your formation?
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 family?

Patrick Haines
St. Francis De Sales, Spooner

I have come to understand that there are no coincidences in life. God has a plan and when we become receptive to it, we must answer yes. In my personal journey, I had a major life incident in 2006 that was a turning point in my life as a Catholic. This led me to a Jeff Cavins’ Bible Timeline event at my parish, St. Francis De Sales. A wonderful woman, and someone I call a mentor, told me I was going and that she would watch my boys so I could go. I could not tell her no. The Timeline and the men in my group changed my life and Catholic faith. I was on fire for our faith more than I would ever imagine possible. It became an almost insatiable desire to learn more. Because I was like many, after my confirmation in the eighth grade, my Catholic education pretty much stopped. So many years later, the Timeline came into my life, and so did several individuals.

Throughout the years from 2006 through 2015, the Lord spoke to me many times, but I just wasn’t ready to hear what he was saying or even believe I could be worthy. Me! In 2015, I was a chaperone for a Steubenville conference in Rochester, Minnesota. My two sons went to the conference as well. It was at this conference that two young men came up to me at different times and said, “You know, Mr. Haines, you should think about being a deacon.” I looked up to heaven and said “OK, God, I get it.” I came running back to my parish and to Fr. Ed and asked what I need to do. It just so happened that this was the last day to sign up for the School of Servant Leadership, which is a prerequisite (for) being accepted into the diaconal program in our diocese. No coincidence! God was at work.

I feel that my marriage has grown stronger than I could have ever imagined.  My love for my wife is rock-solid.  Formation has helped me to understand that she is my first vocation. Marriage can be a struggle, and it is for many. We are no exception. My wife and I have something that can only be explained by faith and trust in God. This world would have said otherwise. Our Catholic faith and commitment to our vows have brought us to this point in our journey. We will have struggles, but unwavering faith will persevere as it has for 30-plus years.

I am not so sure that it has been one class that has been so enriching in my formation as the brotherhood that has been formed between us. Many may not know this, but our diocese and the Madison diocese participate in formation that the La Crosse diocese has developed and has so graciously allowed us to be a part of. What I see as so beautiful in this is that this is the universal church working together as one church. We have been formed together and will have a lifelong bond that will not be broken. When you journey with someone, like I did with 14 other men for five years, you develop these bonds. The most challenging part of formation was COVID-19 and our ability to meet as well to work on our pastoral field education (actual field experience). We managed the best that we could, and in the end, we simply just went with God’s plan through all of it.

I already mentioned above the effect that formation has had on my marriage.  It simply has been wonderful. My children are ages 23, 22 and 14. I believe God’s timing was good, because when I began this journey, I knew my oldest two would be going out into the world soon and I would only have my youngest at home. This was important, because I did not want my formation to take away my time with my children. I basically only missed a couple of events with them. I am grateful to my family and their support, especially my wife. I am grateful to my parish and the Friday morning men’s group. This journey has not been simply just mine, but a lifelong one that has had many people and events that have brought me to this point. This point is simply yet another new beginning. God’s peace!

Jeff Mason
St. Anne’s, Somerset; Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, East Farmington; and St. Joseph’s, Osceola

Being in the business world for many years and being self-employed left me vulnerable to all kinds of New Age tactics which the self-help/motivation field is just filled with. It left me spent after many years of struggling – just buying into Satan’s lies! Once I realized how far I (had) drifted from the faith, a very heartfelt confession was a key to unraveling the knots I had tied, cutting myself off from God’s love and mercy! Also along came a CD about the second-greatest story ever told by Fr. Michael Gaitley. I found the book “33 Days to Morning Glory.” I did the retreat in the comfort of my own home and after 33 days, consecrated myself to our mother, Mary. Things started moving, I couldn’t get enough catechism, church history, adoration, the Eucharist. She lit me on fire. “How can I serve the one true church established by Jesus Christ himself ?” was the question uppermost in my mind ever since. The diaconate was one of the responses.

The thing that was stressed in the diaconate was the importance of our prayer life. I think of our prayer life as something, of course, that is unseen by anybody but by God. We learn to route our life by the prayer life. We make a leap of faith just like Abraham did. He brought his son up Mount Moriah in total faith. He didn’t doubt – perhaps he did – but he didn’t let his doubt take over. Every time we offer prayer to the Father in faith, we are imitating Abraham. I often think of God smiling down on us while we are at prayer. There was a lot of stress placed on the prayer life in the diaconate formation; for that, I am truly grateful.

What I found most enriching during our formation were the retreats. The men that ran our retreats were the real deal. They live out their faith. You could tell that they were men of prayer.

The most challenging was (a) module that we had where we were expected to get in virtually all areas of the parish … sacred liturgy, administration, outreach, etc., and there were papers that would be due.

My wife is disabled, which means I have to do everything at home. I have witnessed the truth in my own life … “the two become one.” I am so grateful to God that he has supplied me with everything I need to meet the demands of life. Through this cross (my wife’s disability), I have had to lean hard on God for everything. The harder I lean, the firmer his support!