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Diaconate community welcomes Archbishop Schnurr

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ST. ANDREW DEANERY — The diaconate community of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati welcomed Coadjutor Dennis M. Schnurr with prayer, food and fellowship on March 29 at St. Andrew Parish in Milford.

The event began as permanent deacons, deacon candidates and their wives came together for evening prayer in the church. Father Rob Waller, pastor of St. Andrew, welcomed them saying, “In the spirit of our patron and in accordance with the charism of our parish, it is my delight to introduce Archbishop Schnurr to the diaconate community and, of course, to introduce the deacons and their wives to the archbishop.”

Evening prayer was followed by dinner in the parish center, prepared and served by St. Andrew parishioners. In addressing those gathered, Barry Mersmann, director of the archdiocesan Office of the Diaconate, said, “This is a great way to start our relationship together.”

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Coadjutor Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr was welcomed by the diaconate community during a prayer service at St. Andrew Parish in Milford on March 31. (CT/Tony Tribble)

He noted that there are currently 171 deacons in the archdiocese, with 152 still active in ministry. Mersmann also recognized the deacons ordained in 1976, the first class to ordained after the permanent diaconate program was restored locally, and the current candidates, who will be ordained in 2010.

After Mersmann’s comments, several speakers addressed their role in the diaconate community. Deacon Bill Krumm, ordained in 1976 and recently named the new spiritual director of the archdiocesan Cursillo movement, recalled an article in The Catholic Telegraph regarding the reinstatement of the diaconate program, along with a conversation with his pastor, that launched his ministry. Krumm said his class “went into the world with mixed reviews. No one knew what we were. We didn’t always know what we were, “ he said.

Krumm told the deacon candidates that they are inheriting years of hard won wisdom and experience and noted the many sacramental and pastoral ministries in which deacons are currently involved. “God has called us to this wonderful experiment,” he said. “Gosh, it’s exciting. Praise God.”

Donna Bruce, wife of Deacon George Bruce, ordained in 1998, then shared her experiences as the spouse of a deacon, speaking of both the challenges and blessings. Married for 18 years, Bruce recalled that her husband expressed his call to the diaconate while they were dating. “I knew then that this was an important ministry to him and that I’m here to support it,” she said.

Since then, Bruce said she has witnessed her husband’s transformation as he responded to God’s call and shared his gifts in ministry to others. She feels the couple’s two daughters, ages 14 and 9, have been blessed by their father’s vocation, following the example of both their parents through their active involvement at St. William Parish in Price Hill.

Deacons are “wonderful assets and wonderful ministers, a great support to pastors and their parishes,” Bruce said, noting that the diaconate has brought her family closer to God and enabled them to bring the Kingdom of God closer to the people in their parish.

In his reflection, Mark Westendirf, a deacon candidate, spoke of how his call has deepened his relationship with God, enhanced his personal prayer life and resulted in meaningful friendships with classmates on their journey through the formation process. “Our weekends at the Athenaeum are uplifting and prayerful,” he said. “The Athenaeum has become a very special palace for us where God’s presence is deeply felt.”

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Mark Westendirf, a deacon candidate, shared his reflection during the welcome dinner for Coadjutor Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr. (CT/E.L. Hubbard)

On behalf of all the deacon candidates, Westendirf said, “We have great appreciation and love for our families who have sacrificed for us, loved us and supported us along this journey.”

“Archbishop Schnurr, we welcome you and our prayers are with you as you begin your tenure with us,” he added.

As the evening came to a close, Archbishop Schnurr shared his comments on the role of deacons. He stressed that the permanent diaconate is not intended to be substitute for the priesthood or a solution to the priest shortage. When the first deacons were called forward in the Acts of the Apostles, it was to assist early church leaders who “were not able to do everything for the people of God,” he said.

The archbishop called the restoration of the permanent diaconate after Vatican II, “truly the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

“We are really only beginning to understand what the diaconate has in store for the church,” he said. “I’m very grateful for what those in the permanent diaconate have contributed. There has been a real sacrifice on the part of the men and their families.”

The archbishop noted that it can be very demanding for the men to balance both the vocation of marriage and that of being deacons. He stressed that the vocation of marriage comes first and said, “We have to be very respectful of that.”

The role of those in ordained ministry, said Archbishop Schnurr is to “help people see Jesus. Many people come to us for advice, for comfort. They want us to speak with the authority that Christ did.”

When we are faithful to what has been entrusted to us in word and sacrament, we can speak with authority,” he added. “We have to be very careful not to substitute our words for the words of Jesus. If we do, we no longer speak with authority. We no longer speak with words of healing and comfort. We no longer speak in a way that enables people to discover who they are in God’s plan.”

“I am very grateful to all of you in this room,” Archbishop Schnurr said, “all of you who are deacons and priests, and those of you who are family members who support the deacons.”

“The permanent diaconate is a blessing to the church,” the archbishop concluded. “God has much more in mind for the permanent diaconate and the church. This is an exciting time for all of us.”

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