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Meet the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s new permanent deacons (part 1)

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

John Paul Back

ARCHDIOCESE — In the course of one year, several people approached John Paul Back and told him he would make a good deacon.
He looked into the vocation, and when he learned that the archdiocese’s Lay Pastoral Ministry Program classes were going to be held in nearby Monroe, he began studies there. Entering formation for the permanent diaconate followed.

“I went into the LPMP with an open mind but no commitment [to the diaconate],” he said. “It was not overnight. I’m comfortable with my calling at this point.”

new permanent deacons
New permanent deacons for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati include Jim Walwarth, Brian Campos, Michael Erb, John “Jay” Rettig, Mike Cassani; (second row, l to r): Steve Ryan, Martin Brown, Leo Cordonnier, Mark Johnson and Ron Dvorachek. (Photo courtesy of the Athenaeum of Ohio)

A charter member of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Liberty Township, Back has been active on parish council, in Christ Renews His Parish and has helped with outreach.

Diaconate formation has opened up his prayer life and given him a deeper relationship with Christ. Back has become “more aware of seeing Christ in other people.”

He and his wife, Jill, have also grown closer during his formation.

Prison ministry was part of his fieldwork for the LPMP program, and he hopes to continue that ministry as a deacon.

“I’m absolutely looking forward to baptisms at this point and, even, weddings,” he said. “You feel just peace and joy when you’re doing that work…the work of the Lord.”

A former business executive, Back and his wife have three grown children and two grandchildren. He will be assigned to St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish.

Robert Basye

When Robert Basye is ordained a permanent deacon, it will finish a decade-long journey that has seen the illness and death of his first wife, remarriage and retirement.

“I’m really looking forward to ordination and getting to work in the parish, said Basye. “It’s been a very, very fulfilling experience.”

Basye was an active parishioner at St. Theresa of the Infant Jesus Parish in Covington when Father James Duell, pastor, suggested that he consider diaconate formation. He started the Lay Pastoral Ministry Program but had to discontinue the classes when his wife, Carole, became ill. After her death he eventually returned to the classroom, finished the LPMP and later entered diaconate formation.

The process has enhanced his prayer life and the ability to see Jesus in his own life and in others. He also enjoyed spending weekends at the Athenaeum of Ohio with classmates.

“Classes were not a chore, they were a joy. You looked forward to attending classes,” he said. “We’ve developed a closeness with God.”

He is looking forward to baptisms, wedding preparation and visiting the sick. Now a parishioner at St. Peter in Huber Heights, he and his wife, Pamela, have served as extraordinary ministers and been active with the parish festival.

Retired from business, Basye has three grown sons, Robert, Michael and Mark, and five grandchildren. He will be assigned to St. Peter Parish.

Martin Brown

For Martin Brown, ordination to the diaconate continues his ministry to the church.

“I’ve always had a calling to serve,” said Brown. “I’ve always been in service to people. I’ve always been doing diaconate ministry; I was just never ordained.”

A parishioner at Holy Rosary Parish in St. Marys, he has been an usher, an extraordinary minister and chaired the construction committee for the festival. He also works as the head of maintenance for the parish.
The former dairy farmer said his relationship with God has deepened through diaconate formation.

“It has made me aware of God’s presence everywhere, not just at church,” he said. “That ties in well with the agricultural community in which I live.”

The formation process has taught him to see another person’s side of issues, enabled him to better handle his temper and made him more of a mediator. He also has a greater appreciation for the church.

“It’s [made] me aware of how many different roles the church serves in. There are so many ministries operating out here,” Brown said. “I know so much more about my faith now than I did five years ago. I would highly encourage every adult Catholic to do some sort of faith formation.”

Brown and his wife, Angela, have five children and one grandchild. He will be assigned to Holy Rosary Parish.

Brian Campos

After spending more than two decades in the U.S. Air Force and raising a daughter as a single parent for much of that time, Brian Campos was planning to retire from the military and enter the police academy. He had an offer from the police department in Raleigh, N.C., in hand and he and his wife, Corrina, were ready to head south.

At the last minute, a call from God changed their plans.

“I made a decision that I was being called to the diaconate,” said Campos, 44. “It’s just one of those things where God intervened and put me in the right place at the right time.”

He and Corrina discussed the diaconate, and Campos talked with his father-in-law, a permanent deacon in the Toledo diocese. Campos wanted to actively be involved in ministry and had discerned a call to the priesthood in the past. He didn’t want to pursue diaconate formation while serving in the police department.

“I didn’t want to wait,” Campos said. “It was a desire to serve God and serve the church in a much deeper way. I wanted to become more educated about the faith and, in doing that, [my] vocation just started to unfold as a way I could serve God and the church in a different and more profound way.”

He stayed in Dayton after retiring from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, took a job in information technology at the base library and began classes in the Lay Pastoral Ministry Program, followed by diaconate formation.
 
The formation process has strengthened his relationship with the God and other people in his life.

“It’s deepened,” he said. “I was able to vastly improve my prayer life. I was able to relate to people in a different way.”

Campos is employed at Chaminade-Julienne High School, and he and Corrina are the parents of Monica and Giancarlo and Campos’ daughter, Cecelia. He will be assigned to Ascension Parish in Kettering.

Michael Cassani

Michael Cassani’s journey to the diaconate began with his wife’s discernment process when she converted to Catholicism, moved through his participation in the Christ Renews His Parish program, to more active involvement in his parish.

“It’s been a long journey. My calling was recognized over a long period of time,” said Cassani, 47, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Anderson Township. “It wasn’t something that suddenly hit. But looking back through my life, I can see that God was preparing me for this throughout my entire life.”

Cassani began with a single Lay Pastoral Ministry Program class seven years ago. He finished the LPMP and then began diaconate formation.

“My faith has grown and deepened,” he said. “Going through diaconate formation is a life-changing experience. There is wisdom in the process and much joy. It has definitely changed me as a person in so many ways. It has enriched my family life.”

Cassani is looking forward to getting to know people, serving parishioners as a deacon and sharing the varied emotions in people’s lives.

A senior vice-president at First Financial Bank, Cassani and his wife, Marjie, have two daughters, Maria and Emma. He will be assigned to Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish.

Leo Cordonnier

Sometimes a simple suggestion turns out to be a calling.

Leo Cordonnier was attending the ordination of a deacon in Covington, Ky., several years ago when someone asked why Cordonnier hadn’t become a deacon himself.

“I was always close to the church in a lot of ways, but I guess I didn’t feel I was worthy to do it,” said Cordonnier. “That got me thinking. I considered it and my employment, and everything just fell into place. I could retire and start the process just like it was planned. It’s like the Lord planned it that way.”

An active member of St. Peter Parish in Huber Heights, Cordonnier has worked with St. Vincent de Paul, the Knights of Columbus, the parish festival and in a ministry for widowed, divorced and separated persons.

Cordonnier started the Lay Pastoral Ministry Program in 2004. The diaconate formation program has deepened his faith.

“I think the formation process was very good,” he said. “I learned a lot about my faith and how to put your faith into action on the sacramental side.”

He is retired from General Motors, where he spent 38 years in the maintenance department.

Cordonnier and his wife, Martha, are the parents of Mike, Mark, Jacqueline and Monica. They have 11 grandchildren. He will be assigned to St. Peter Parish.

Jon Danner

Jon Danner has been active in St. Helen Parish in Dayton for years so it really wasn’t a surprise when he entered diaconate formation.

“When I did tell people I was interested in being a deacon, they thought it was natural,” said Danner, 51. “The Catholic faith is important to me.”

The retired U.S. Air Force member talked to his wife, Deb, about diaconate formation and completed the Lay Pastoral Ministry Program in 2006. In his parish, Danner has served as lector, extraordinary minister and as a member of the choir.

The service aspect of being a deacon was appealing and the formation process has strengthened his spiritual life.

“I’ve developed a fuller appreciation of the Catholic faith, and it’s definitely brought me closer to God and a better understanding of myself,” Danner said. “On a personal level, I think it’s improved my ability to relate to other people.”

Danner, who now works as a support contactor at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and his wife have three grown children and one grandchild. He will be assigned to St. Helen Parish.

Ronald Dvorachek

Ronald Dvorachek is moving from the organ to the altar.

For 30 years Dvorachek, 70, has been an organist at St. George Parish in rural Georgetown, but notice of an informational meeting about the permanent diaconate touched off his calling to ordained ministry.

“I wanted to find out more about it,” said Dvoracheck, who is a lawyer and a judge. “I was really looking for more scriptural and spiritual meaning in my life. I’d been involved in the church in various ways for years.”

He completed Lay Pastoral Ministry Program classes and then began diaconate formation. The experience has enhanced his relationship with Christ.

“I would have to say that my daily prayer has increase tremendously. All the readings and Scripture references — there’s a lot more of that in my life than there’s ever been,” Dvorachek said. “Being a deacon is supposed to be a closer tie to all the people in the parish, and I’m looking forward to that. I’m definitely looking forward to preaching down the road. I’m glad I’m not going to be tied to the organ bench anymore.”

Dvorachek and his wife, Mary Anne, have two children. He will be assigned to St. George Parish, St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Ripley and St Mary Parish in Arnheim.

Jeff Ehrnschwender

new permanent deacons
New permanent deacons for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati are ( l to r): Jeff Ehrnschwender, Tracy Jamison and Russ Feldkamp. (Photo courtesy of the Athenaeum of Ohio)

Jeff Ehrnschwender’s decision to become a deacon came from a most unlikely source — the clergy abuse scandal.

“We had a pastor very much involved in that who was a very good friend. To see the church go empty, [I] began to question everything,” Ehrnschwender said. “This was not about the church. It was about him. I wanted to stand up for the church.”

Ehrnschwender, 52, was inspired by the leadership of Deacon Willard Brunsman as parishioners dealt with the crisis in such a personal way.

“[Deacon Brunsman’s] focus remained on the liturgy and on the church,” Ehrnschwender said. “He was the one constant through everything. He just stayed steady. Everyone was questioning everything.”

It was during that time that Ehrnschwender decided he wanted to be a deacon. He discussed it with Brunsman and began the journey.

Ehrnschwender works as a photo engraver. He and his wife, Connie, have five children and one grandchild. He will be assigned to Queen of Peace Parish in Millville.
 
Michael Erb

Father Jack Wessling first suggested that Michael Erb consider diaconate formation 18 years ago when Erb’s oldest son was baptized. The encouragement progressed through the baptisms of two more children.

“He thought it would be a good idea that I [use] my piety, my formation, and put it into action in the parish,” Erb said. “What he said was ‘I really think there’s something here that God is calling you to.’”

In the end it was a Cursillo weekend in 2000 that motivated Erb, 50, to pursue the diaconate. Several permanent deacons participated in the event.

“I got to see their work in action and, after that weekend, the seed was planted,” he said. “I began to look at what this diaconate was all about.”

The process has deepened his spiritual life, particularly in prayer. Erb said his relationship with Christ has become more personal, and instead of asking for something during prayer, he’s now able listen.

The journey has also changed him as a person and parent.

“I think I’ve become a better father for my kids,” he said. “I think the most import thing as a parent, especially as a father, you can give you child is a relationship with Jesus Christ, and I think this process has helped me understand my role as a parent.”

Erb is an account representative for Lithocraft, Inc., and has been in the packaging industry for more than 20 years. He and his wife, Carole, have three children, Tony, Andy and Sarah. Erb will be assigned to Our Lady of the Visitation in Cincinnati.
 
Russ Feldkamp

Russ Feldkamp’s desire to be of service was kindled in high school, blossomed in the military and continued with his ministry at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Anderson Township. That desire for service eventually led Feldkamp, 45, to diaconate formation.

“I got really involved in parish ministry. We had three deacons at IHM that gave me a great witness to diaconal ministry. I had a lot of respect for them and appreciation for what they did,” Feldkamp said. “At that point, I had all these examples of great individuals, but I just entered the Lay Pastoral Ministry Program to gain competence and knowledge to become a better minister.”

Over time Feldkamp began to sense a call to the diaconate. His pastor and members of the parish were supportive.

“I’ve been fundamentally changed and changed to the core,” he said. “My appreciation for the church and my love for Jesus Christ, my trust in His power to save and to love, has grown exponentially. My ability to see goodness and God’s presence in other people has been expanded. I’m a better father, I’m a better husband and I’m a better man because of my experience of going through deaconate formation.”

Feldkamp, who is a partner in a family-owned marketing company, and his wife, Melissa, have two children, Rebecca and Emily. He will be assigned to Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish.

Thomas Graber

Thomas Graber’s path to the diaconate can be traced to an informational meeting he attended at the Church of the Transfiguration Parish in West Milton in mid-2000.

“I was just exploring it,” said Graber, 56, a 31-year parishioner at St. Mary Parish in Greenville.

He began taking classes in the Lay Pastoral Ministry Program, figuring that at the very least they would help with the parish ministries in which he was involved. Over the years he has been a lector, extraordinary minister, a member of pastoral council and has served on the parish’s education and finance commissions.

“I’d always been active with our parish in various ministries with the church ever since I moved to Greenville in 1979,” he said. “I began to explore it [further] and took the LPMP classes.”

Being a deacon will enable him to better serve the parish, particularly with the shortage of priests. “I think it opens the door for a little more involvement,” he said.

Graber, and his wife, Julie, have two grown children and one child who is deceased. An attorney in private practice in Greenville, Graber will be assigned to St. Mary Parish.

Timothy Helmick

Ask Timothy Helmick about his path to the diaconate and the late Father Jim Willig’s name comes up.

“Anybody that came in contact with Father Jim [knows] he always made you want to go deeper within yourself,” said Helmick, 60, who attended Father Willig’s “Lunch with the Lord” series at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Chains in the 1990s. “I was so enticed with Father Jim.”

Others who have inspired him over the years include Father Rob Waller and Matthew Kelly, a popular Catholic speaker.

“There have been a number of people that have been instrumental in my life,” Helmick said. “It’s just a seed that’s been growing.”
 
Helmick completed the Lay Pastoral Ministry Program in 2004 and began diaconate formation three years later.

“The diaconate formation (program) cannot help but make you much more a person of prayer,” he said. “Morning prayer and evening prayer are the bookends of my day.”

As a deacon he is looking forward to working with marriage preparation and baptism, calling them “teachable moments.”

A finance analyst for Convergys Corp., Helmick and his wife, Rosalie, are the parents of three grown children, Michael, Laura and Dan. They have one grandchild. Helmick will be assigned to St. Mary Parish.

See related stories: 36 men ordained deacons for archdioceseMeet the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s new permanent deacons (part 2), Meet the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s new permanent deacons (part 3)

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