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Spouses embrace deacons’ role

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An ancient calling meets modern marriages; taking Fridays off

By Walt Schaefer

Kathy and Deacon Michael Hinger, St. Maximilan Kolbe Parish, (CT photo/ David A. Moodie)

Deacon Mike and Kathy Hinger
The plan is for Deacon Mike Hinger to take Fridays off with his wife.

     Hinger, a deacon at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Liberty Township, finds his vocation to God and His church can be, at times, a difficult and time-consuming calling. That calling affects his spouse as well – the woman behind the scenes who makes her husband’s work possible.

     Hinger’s wife, Kathy, has a mantra of sorts, something a spiritual director shared with her years ago: “It’s not a sacrifice; it’s not worth offering it up, if it isn’t hard.”

     “I look at being the wife of a deacon as a sacrificial offering on my part for the kingdom,” she explained.

     Deacon Mike, a former software sales representative, retired to devote his life to full-time ministry. His new title is parish minister of the new evangelization. He ventures out days and evenings to connect with non-practicing members, or to welcome newcomers to the large Butler County parish. He also assists at many Masses and goes to Mount Notre Dame Convent in Reading to assist at benedictions and Masses.

     “Let’s see,” said Kathy. “He left the house last Sunday at 7:30 a.m. and got home about 6:30. On Saturday, he had a clergy meeting and then assisted at the 4:30 Mass. Then we had to meet with a priest and there were a couple of other meetings.

     “So, it is a sacrificial lifestyle. This might depend on the parish and the assignment, but there’s a lot of need in our parish. The priests don’t get a lot of sleep because they are doing their jobs.”

     To ease the burden on both of them, the Hingers are planning to make Fridays their time for each other. “Sometimes I wonder if that’s pie in the sky,” Kathy said. “Honestly, we have to go out of town as a couple because there is always need here. People know he serves and get their feelings hurt if he’s not available.”

     That prompts a key question: Do the people realize Kathy serves, too, by sharing her husband with the flock?

     Kathy, a retired school psychologist, has a full plate to cope with as well. She cares for her 95-year-old mother and helps out with caring for her three grandchildren, one of whom is coping with medical issues.

     “It is all something I have to reconcile,” she said. “I struggle with it at times because I can’t be in enough places at one time and I truly feel it’s adoration and prayer that sustains me. Being a deacon’s wife is a sacrificial call and a very important role. A deacon cannot do this without the support of his wife. She is critical. 

     “I remember when my father was dying,” she said. “A deacon came every day for 40 days to give him Communion. He served so many people in their final stages, and he had other duties, too. In the background was his wife – fixing meals, ironing shirts, doing those traditional things.”

     Kathy said the archdiocese should begin a preparation program – a class or two – geared specifically to wives of deacons. “To me, that was sorely lacking,” she said. Classes and meals for wives “were always optional. I understand they do not want wives to feel burdened, but I do not know if I was fully prepared for this.”

     Still, Kathy Hinger dedicates her life to God and loving her spouse and his calling.     

     “What really consoles me” she said, “is that there is something better waiting for us. Right now we are here to serve, to save souls. We should enjoy life, but that is not our primary purpose.

     “I truly believe in the power of redemptive suffering whether it is physical, emotional, or sacrificial. The sacrifices we make are united with the cross and that brings down grace. Thate is what keeps me going.” 

Mary Kay and Deacon Michael Thomas, St. Thomas More Parish, (CT photo/David A. Moodie)

Deacon Michael and Mary Kay Thomas
Michael Thomas popped the question to Mary Kay and she said “Yes.”

     This time it wasn’t about marriage. He asked: “What do you think about my applying to be a deacon?”

     Mary Kay knew he had been mulling over the diaconate for quite a while. She answered, “If that is what God is calling you to do, go ahead. Going in, I knew a little bit about the diaconate. I grew up in Youngstown and my cousin was one of the first deacons to be ordained there. He was at the parish I grew up in. 

     “And a thing that really helped me was the class they had for the men thinking about becoming deacons,” she said. “They talked about what a deacon is and what a deacon’s wife can do to support her husband and work with him in the parish. I was taking all of this in and I knew where Michael wanted to go.”

     Michael always kept God and church in his life and when he lost a job at a data processing firm he became pastoral associate at St. Thomas More Parish is Withamsville – a job with the Church and the diaconate became a natural extension of his love for the faith.

     Saying “yes” to diaconate studies and the lifetime commitment afterward comes with sacrifices for both husband and wife. The first sacrifice for Mary Kay came before Michael even began the discernment program. 

     “I was working for Verizon at the time,” said Mary Kay, then marketing director for a project the cell phone giant was pursuing. “Verizon decided to close the project and I was asked to go to Lexington the very same day Michael got his acceptance letter.

     “I knew I was not going to Lexington.”

     Mary Kay attended classes with Michael when possible and appreciated a Saturday night class focusing on the role of wives and the demands on them as their husbands become deacons. “You need to be committed,” she said. “If you have children it’s much harder – wives need to know the constraint.”

     Friends and wives of other deacons helped Mary Kay along the way, “and I was on my own before we got married so I’m pretty independent,“ she said. “But I do think we need to have more education for the wives. The program is geared toward the husband, of course, and they encourage wife participation. But there should be some classes for wives, taught by wives of long-time deacons. There also should be something for the wives before they get
into this.”

      Today Michael and Mary Kay run a marriage program together and serve on the parish worship commission. She calls the diaconate program “wonderful for husbands to go through.

     “We are blessed to have so many deacons in this archdiocese,” she said, “and blessed for the work they are doing, from working with underprivileged children, involvement and running St Vincent de Paul, the prison ministry, and so many more things. It’s amazing.”

Mary and Deacon Ralph Guzman, Our Lady of the Immacuate Conception Parish (CT photo/David A. Moodie)

Deacon Ralph and Mary Gutman
Ralph Gutman said “yes,” when God called him to become a deacon. His wife, Mary, also said “yes,” to that decision.

     A deacon’s faith is shared by his spouse. “You are giving your husband for three years, to discern a vocation, and then forever after that,” Mary said. “Ralph’s ministry is partly my ministry, too. We wives play as huge part in it and it has strengthened our marriage.”

      Deacon Ralph serves primarily at Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Dayton, but on occasion he ventures to Incarnation Parish in Centerville. 

     “He goes to all of the visitations [for the deceased] and is the deacon at funeral Masses,” Mary said. “He visits the sick at home and those in nursing homes delivering Communion.

     “He works in our food pantry and I’m in the loop there with him, and in the bereavement ministry. We do marriage preparation for couples, and a program called Grief Share at Incarnation.”

      Mary said strong friendships develop among wives, just as their husbands bond with fellow classmates. “That was important for me,” she said. “Ralph was ordained in 2013, and one of the wives from an earlier class talked to us about what to expect and that because a husband is being taught all of this, his wife is at the beginning of a new calling, too.”

     She had concerns in the beginning, she said, when Ralph first felt his call to serve as a deacon. He was working as an engineer and Mary was in insurance management at a Dayton hospital. 

    “It really stretched him, because engineers will be engineers, and he worked very hard at that, and then he was working on Saturdays writing papers and studying … I was amazed how serious he was. 

     “The hardest part was watching him struggle with it all and not be home in a week. I asked, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ And every time when he had his doubts, something would happen. He’d
see a passage in Scripture, or someone would say something and reaffirm him. He was convinced this is what God wanted him to do.”

      To cope, Mary said she attended classes with Ralph and did some volunteer work. She took over running the household, including paying the bills. She and Ralph also found time to go out for dessert once a week or enjoy an occasional date night.

     “As a wife, you also have to understand their husbands are learning all of this material while, at the same time, they are discerning whether God is calling them, and the formation team at the seminary is discerning whether they are qualified to be a deacon. It’s not a program where they can say: ‘I’m going to be a deacon.’ It’s more a program where you say ‘I don’t know if I’m going to become a deacon until I stand before the archbishop’

     “The wives who attended became very close. We watched it all happen – the guys becoming brothers in Christ.”      

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