GREEN BAY — Five years ago, Jim Lonick began wearing a visible cross on a chain. It causes some people to treat him differently. For example, he received an apology from someone who was using foul language in a conversation in a public place, but the main reason he wears it is about how he treats other people.
“It’s to hold me responsible for who I need to be,” he said.
In the past, Lonick, who was ordained a deacon on May 16, was not always happy with himself as a person. He admits that he was caught up in the corporate lifestyle; focused on making money and earning trips. In 2006, he started his current job, which he credits for helping to make him a better person.
Lonick joined Thrivent Financial as a financial consultant. Two months on the job, he learned that his work would be different than past experiences. Lonick met with a mother and daughter for a death claim. The mother’s husband had died. The couple had been married 52 years.
“When I sat across the table from them, I just expressed my condolences and asked, ‘How did you meet?’” he explained. “It took her to a happier time when the future was ahead of them. I realized that’s what mattered.
“This job fits extremely well with the call to the diaconate. We are there to serve. I have to see with my heart if I am really going to be authentic to people.”
Lonick will be assigned to serve as a deacon at Sacred Heart Parish in Shawano, which has been home for the past 25 years. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay area before moving to Northern Virginia in high school. He attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., where as a graduate student he met his wife, Debbie, at a World Series party. They were married in 1986. Following a stint in Chicago, the couple and their eldest daughter, Abbi, made their way to Shawano, Debbie’s hometown.
Ministry for Lonick at Sacred Heart includes serving as a lector and singing in the men’s choir. He points to Fr. Len Evers, former pastor at Sacred Heart, for his influence which fostered the call to the diaconate.
“Fr. Len wanted me to take care of Thanksgiving so he could go deer hunting,” said Lonick. “I became a lay minister of prayer.”
For seven years, Lonick has led Communion service on Tuesdays. He has also served as a lay minister of prayer at wakes and committals for six years.
“A lot of times those are people who don’t want to be in a church setting, but want someone to pray with them,” he said. I find that to be extremely powerful. God has a plan. I try to get in touch with the family ahead of time to talk about the person’s life and help them connect with their emotions and feelings.”
The diaconate was unfamiliar to Lonick when it was discussed at an event highlighting parish ministries and committees. Sacred Heart had not had a deacon for more than 20 years.
“The calling for me was, ‘you need to be doing more because you can,’” said Lonick. “When I first applied for the diaconate many years ago, it was more about me. It was a self-centered approach.”
A Christian Experience Weekend (CEW) in Manitowoc changed him. The next time he explored the diaconate it “was not about me, but about being there for others.” Lonick entered formation, but stepped away for a year. Following Debbie’s CEW retreat experience, she encouraged him to resume formation.
“It changed my life and changed her life,” said Lonick. “Deb is further along in her faith than I am.”
Debbie’s ministries include leading the Sunday liturgy for the young children at Sacred Heart.
The Lonicks have two other children: Jay, a law school student at Michigan State, and Adriana, better known as “Beep,” a dance major at the University of Minnesota. They also have two grandchildren, Kiara, 6, and Taylen, six months.
In addition to Fr. Evers, Lonick is thankful for the support of Fr. Luke Ferris, pastor at Sacred Heart, and his numerous spiritual directors: Norbertine Fr. David McElroy, Msgr. Jim Feely, the late Fr. Dave Kiefer and Fr. Willie Van De Loo, Debbie’s great uncle. The call to serve was affirmed when Lonick attended the priest ordination Mass last year. He recalls the moment when the men knelt down in front of the bishop for laying on of hands.
“I thought to myself, ‘Their lives will never be the same. They are no longer the same person,’” said Lonick. “There is no going back. They are 100 percent giving their lives to God. I want that so I can never step away from it. I want to never be able to say to God, ‘not today.’”