PHLOX — Tony DeBroux took a crooked path to the diaconate, but it was paved by strength, love and service. The Phlox native will be ordained May 14 at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay, capping a journey filled with potholes and gentle nudges.
“God pushed me towards this while I was kicking and screaming,” said DeBroux.
The son of Theresa and the late Dan DeBroux, he grew up just a mile from his home parish, St. Joseph, now St. Joseph/Holy Family Parish.
The rutted path started within moments of his birth 50 years ago at Langlade County Memorial Hospital in Antigo, now known as Aspirus Langlade Hospital. He wasn’t expected to live, and plans were being made for an autopsy while he fought for survival.
Sr. Dolores Demulling of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph was at his birth, and she, along with Sr. Adele Demulling and Sr. Jean Bricco, have been influential in his life ever since.
“They have been spiritual beacons to me,” said DeBroux.
His first exposure to the love and grace of God came from his grandmother, Rosemary Koeppel. He explains that unconditional love and the strength that comes from living a life devoted to God and family were always waiting for him with her and that was a haven he was drawn to time and again.
DeBroux also developed a strong relationship with his aunt, Lucy Cuellar. She spoke often of the love she had for Jesus and he began to see a different type of life than the one he was living based on the relationship she had with God. He didn’t realize it at the time, he said, but he believes it was the power of the Holy Spirit working through her to reach out to him, to call him back home to God.
DeBroux graduated from Antigo High School in 1984 and drifted toward work on dairy farms and in the woods, with no clear path in mind.
His road detoured into alcohol and later drug abuse. Eventually, he sought help through Alcoholics Anonymous, learning more than he says he thought possible. He also met his soul mate, his wife, Tresa, whom he says has been his rock and biggest supporter for the last 16 years.
“God took control because he needed him,” she said.
The DeBrouxs have three children in their blended family. They include Arnold Arrowood and his wife, Cara, whose daughter Liberty, age 12, grew up in Phlox attending St. Joseph/Holy Family. Their daughter Angelina Braun and her husband, Scott, of Clintonville, are also members of St. Joseph/Holy Family. They have three sons, Dominick, Alexander and Kaileb, who serve Mass and attend religious education classes there.
The couple’s third child, Tiffany DeBroux, is a student in the nursing program at Northcentral Technical College.
The couple found their calling in the home care field, something DeBroux calls “life-changing.” Right about then, God gave another nudge. They needed a large place to operate an adult facility, and the sprawling St. Joseph Rectory, with its six bedrooms, was available. DeBroux Adult Family Home was born a decade ago and now serves four adults.
The rectory is located immediately adjacent to the church, a quick walk across a shared parking lot, and soon, with encouragement from the late Fr. David Kiefer, DeBroux found himself being drawn back into his old parish, another step on the path.
“They needed people to help out, so I stared working around the grounds, setting up the church for Mass and doing jobs like that,” said DeBroux. “There was a need for people, so pretty soon Fr. Kiefer had me taking a class so I could lead prayers and offer Communion.”
He entered the diaconate program five years ago, but the route was challenging with his learning style and lack of confidence regarding written work.
“The first several years included many study and writing sessions with family members and I found myself being bolstered by the confidence and faith of the community,” he said. “As the classes became easier, I began to focus less on the work and more on the message, engaging in stewardship and getting people involved in their church.”
This last year of formation focused on service and stewardship and it was by far the most enjoyable of the program, said DeBroux.
DeBroux appreciates everything that Deacon Tom Hartman, pastoral coordinator at St. Joseph/ Holy Family, has done for the community and for him in particular.
“The examples set by Deacon Tom Hartman and his wife, Clara, have been so very helpful and enlightening,” said DeBroux. “Deacon Tom is a wonderful teacher and his help has been invaluable.”
DeBroux will be assigned to St. Joseph/Holy Family Parish, with Fr. Charles Hoffmann, another spiritual mentor, as priest celebrant. DeBroux looks forward to guiding parishioners “through joyous things and hard things.”
“Our job is to bring people to Christ,” he said. “We want to make sure everyone gets to heaven.”
It has opened up his compassion and love for other people,” said Tresa about her husband, “not only to see Jesus in other people, but to be like Jesus for all people. That has all come out in the past year.”
“I saw one guy I grew up with the other day and he said, ‘When you were a kid, we wouldn’t have given two pennies for you,’” said DeBroux. “It is almost shocking, the difference in me today.”
Following ordination, DeBroux says he knows he will be in service to a community filled with love and joy. It’s a place he calls home, with his earthly family and with God.