Sign led Elfering to renew formation following return to the diocese

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | May 19, 2015

ALLOUEZ — Two years ago, Rick Elfering found himself at a crossroads in his discernment. He had entered diaconate formation for the Diocese of Green Bay in 2006. Four years later, he moved with his family from Wausaukee to Winona, Minn., where his wife, Jennifer, had accepted a position as a school president. Elfering planned on completing formation for the Diocese of Winona.

Prior to his ordination, Deacon Richard Elfering poses for a photo with his mother, Anna Marie, daughter Amanda and grandson Ian Pozanc, 15 months. His wife, Jennifer, is taking the photo. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)
Prior to his ordination, Deacon Richard Elfering poses for a photo with his mother, Anna Marie, daughter Amanda and grandson Ian Pozanc, 15 months. His wife, Jennifer, is taking the photo. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“I was supposed to finish, but the program was put on hold,” he explained. “That was the hardest thing. I would have been in the (ordination) class of 2011.”

When he moved back to Marinette County, settling in Crivitz in 2012, Elfering had the opportunity to renew his pursuit of becoming a deacon.

“I was a little disappointed when I left Winona,” he said. “I was waiting for a sign. I had served at the 2010 permanent diaconate ordination. I saw a picture for the Bishop’s Appeal from the ordination. Pictured were Bishop (David) Ricken and (Deacon Shuying) Joe Vang along with me. I was holding the book of rites. That was my sign to call Deacon (Paul) Grimm (director of the diaconate for the Diocese of Green Bay at the time).”

Elfering took a year to continue discerning before completing his final three classes in formation. Following ordination on May 16, he will serve as a deacon at St. Augustine Parish, Wausaukee; St. Mary Parish, Crivitz; and St. Agnes Parish, Amberg.

Elfering is originally from Lake Forest, Ill. His father, Walter, grew up on a farm in Wisconsin. His mother, Annamari, was raised on the south side of Chicago. Rick and his wife, Jennifer, who also hails from Chicago, had seven children in 1999 when they moved to Wausaukee, where Jennifer’s grandparents resided. Stella and Chuck Knudtson were members of St. Augustine. Rick credits Fr. Joe Dorner for getting him involved in ministry at St. Augustine, which eventually led him to the diaconate.

“I’m blaming the whole thing on (Fr. Dorner),” he said with a laugh. “I started with building and grounds and then became an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, and a lector. I also helped with adoration. I kind of needed that invitation from Fr. Dorner. After he left, Fr. Vincent (Ssewagudde) and Fr. Matt (Settle) were supportive.”

“I had thought about the diaconate a long time,” he added. “I think it began when I was teaching religion class in Buffalo Grove, Ill. at St. Mary Parish. It was always resonating in the back of my mind. Holy Thursday in 2006 really stands out for me as a special moment (in discernment). I made a holy hour before Jesus in the (church) basement where the ladies had arranged for the repository for the Blessed Sacrament.”

Rick, who also serves the homebound at a nursing home in Crivitz, is a strong proponent of Eucharistic adoration and wants to incorporate this devotion into his ministry as a deacon.

“I would love to do weekly adoration, living out Bishop Ricken’s ‘Disciples on the Way,’” he said.

Preaching opportunities as a deacon may not be popular with his children, whom he said provide him with plenty of stories. By 2003, the family had grown to 10 children. Sadly, one child passed away on the very day Rick was accepted into the diaconate program. Today, their nine children range in age from 14 to 27. Rick and Jennifer served as foster parents first before they adopted all of their children.

“I just couldn’t say no to any of them,” he said. “It’s a special grace. We adopted them at different ages. One from Guatemala was 15 at the time. Two were infants when we adopted them. We accepted sibling groups. In less than six months, we grew from zero to five kids. My wife is from a large family, so she was used to it. We lived on 19 aces in Wausaukee, which was good for the kids. We even tried the animal thing, the hobby farm.”

The couple also has a 15-month grandchild. The family will fill a pew at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral for the ordination Mass, but it won’t be the first time.

“We had our pew at St. Augustine,” said Rick, who works in maintenance for Tyco, a Marinette company that manufacturers fire suppression systems. “We always sat (our children) up in front so they could see what was happening. I’m looking forward to the ordination. There will be people coming from Minnesota, Illinois, Texas and South Carolina.”

Rick will continue to seek guidance from the patron saint of fathers in his spiritual life and in his continuing role as a father and grandfather.

“St. Joseph has really helped me,” he said. “He has walked with me arm-in-arm. He was a foster father and I began parenting as a foster father. I know he is walking with me as I begin my service to our Lord as a deacon.”

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