WHITELAW — Mass has always been an integral part of Randy Meidl’s life.
In fact, Meidl can’t remember ever missing Mass since he was a youngster.
And that includes the eight and one-half months he served with the U.S. Marines in the Middle East during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991.
“One time we had a Mass in the desert in a tent and there was a general standing right next to me,” Meidl said. “There’s no status at Mass. You’re all equal.”
Meidl will be assigned to his home parish, St. Michael in Whitelaw, as well as St. Mary in nearby Clarks Mills.
The 50-year-old Whitelaw native and his wife, Karyl, have five adult children. It’s believed that Meidl will be the first St. Michael parishioner to ever become a deacon.
“But this ministry isn’t for myself at all,” he said. “It’s for others.”
Meidl, who is self-employed in the water well industry, was born and raised in Whitelaw as a fifth-generation parishioner at St. Michael. The church served as the site of his baptism, first Communion and wedding. His wife’s family is rooted in the parish as well.
Meidl began in ministry at the parish early on as an altar server. He also assisted with funeral Masses and weekday Masses in the summer. By eighth grade, he was helping to oversee the readers and train servers.
After graduating from Valders High School, Meidl enlisted in the Marine Corps and served for six years, culminating with the rank of sergeant/E5.
“I’ve been in church in different countries, many different states, many different situations, even out in the desert in the Middle East having Mass in a tent during combat operations,” said Meidl, who worked on radar electronics in fighter jets.
As part of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Meidl landed in Saudi Arabia, not far from the Kuwait border, in September 1990.
“A lot of the time I felt in danger,” he said. “When I got there, we ended up on the same plane as a major combat unit from the Army. We landed in a zone that was very dangerous, so just getting off the plane made you think a little bit. … I can tell you I prayed a lot over there. That’s where I got a stronger devotion to the rosary. I’d pray all the mysteries at one time.”
Meidl also attended Mass on board an aircraft carrier in the Middle East region.
“We had a Mass right before the invasion,” he said, “and things were so immediate they performed general absolution — when in danger of imminent death, priests can give that.”
Meidl transitioned out of the Marine Corps at the age of 24 and got into the plumbing trade.
Civilian jobs never stopped him from regularly attending Mass either.
He became a trustee and treasurer at St. Michael Parish for several years, and served as parish council president when he was in his 30s. During that time, he made an initial inquiry with the priest, Fr. Richard Heymen, about becoming a deacon.
But it wasn’t until about six years ago that Meidl actively began pursuing the diaconate.
“Our kids were older by then and my business was established,” he said. “And I could see the struggle with not having enough priests and being stretched too thin. I just saw a need to step up.”
Meidl said Fr. David Zimmerman, the pastor at that time, wholeheartedly supported his desire to become a deacon, so he approached Deacon Paul Grimm, director of the diaconate, and started his journey.
“In general, it was meant to be,” Meidl said. “Everything worked out so smooth, and I have had so much support from so many people.”
Now that he is soon to be ordained, Meidl doesn’t foresee any big changes.
“It’s going to be a little different,” he said. “But I’m still going to be doing everything I do. I’ll still be me. I’m just glad I can do my part to help others.”
Other deacon candidates include: