CLEVELAND — Starting in his high school years, Steve Zimmer quit going to church for three decades.
“It’s not that I didn’t believe and wasn’t Catholic anymore,” said the 58-year-old Cleveland resident. “It just wasn’t important to me at the time.”
That all changed in 1998, when his wife of 18 years, Diane, was diagnosed with cancer and passed away.
“When she was admitted to hospice, a priest and (religious) sister came over and comforted her spiritually and did things that were truly phenomenal,” said Zimmer. “That meant a lot to her and me, and it really had an impact on how I thought about things. It was incredible what they did. That’s what really brought me back to church. Their spiritual caring is what really did it.”
Zimmer has remained steadfast since re-committing to the church.
So much so, in fact, that on May 16, he was ordained as a deacon for the Diocese of Green Bay.
“It has been quite a journey since I went back to church,” said Zimmer, who is being assigned to serve as the deacon at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Newton, located in rural Manitowoc County.
“With the ordination right around the corner now, I think I will be a little anxious, but it will be beautiful. I’m a little apprehensive of everything that will be expected of me after that, but there are a lot of wonderful people at St. Thomas the Apostle who have been incredibly welcoming so I know they’ll be there to help me.”
Also helping Zimmer on his journey has been Becky, his wife of the past 12 years.
Becky said that “traveling through this process of the diaconate with Steve has strengthened my faith and has brought me closer to God. As with Steve, I, too, fell away from the church for many years. But by my conversion to Catholicism and walking this road with Steve, my heart has once again opened up to the joys of being involved with the church and our Lord. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.”
Zimmer was born and raised in Manitowoc, but since his father was a construction worker the family moved around occasionally. Much of his high school days were spent in St. Paul, Minn.
He went on to serve aboard a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine in Scotland from 1975 to 1979.
Eventually, Zimmer worked his way back to the Lakeshore, where he currently works as a mechanical maintenance supervisor for Manitowoc Public Utilities. In his spare time, he’s also a licensed charter boat captain who takes people on Lake Michigan fishing for salmon and trout.
Zimmer attended St. Andrew church (which then merged into St. Francis of Assisi Parish) in Manitowoc upon returning, but three years ago he transitioned to St. Thomas the Apostle.
Becky was Lutheran so they used to go back and forth to different churches, but she wanted to become Catholic so he accompanied her to Right of Christian Initiation of Adults meetings. Fr. Dan Felton presided over their Catholic marriage.
Becky now lectures at Holy Family Memorial Chapel services and volunteers in their pastoral care department and hospital gift shop, in addition to working for the stewardship committee at St. Thomas the Apostle.
Zimmer is very active, as well. In addition to helping as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, server, sacristan and homebound ministry representative at St. Thomas the Apostle, he maintains ties to St. Francis of Assisi by serving in the Care ministry and pastoral outreach.
Zimmer also supports children in Costa Rica and Africa through the international Unbound group. In addition, he works with Lakeshore Ecumenical Outreach and supports Missionaries of the Poor, with whom he has traveled to Haiti, Kenya and Uganda.
“It was great … an overwhelming experience to help people who are so poor,” said Zimmer, noting that one of the 12 people who went along was Deacon Rich Bahnaman of St. Francis of Assisi. Bahnaman was the person Zimmer first talked to when he felt a calling to serve as a deacon several years ago, and he is also Zimmer’s deacon mentor.
Zimmer said he’s overjoyed to be helping so many people and being an integral part of the church again.
“I’ve felt deep down inside of me there was always something missing in my life,” he said. “And as I’ve found out, it was God. I really enjoy serving.”