ALLOUEZ — Art Gerstner likes to tell stories, and likes to hear stories even more, which he looks forward to doing as a deacon at St. Bernard Parish, Green Bay.
“We all have a story to tell, a story of where we’ve been, where we’re at and where we’re going,” he said. “My personal story has some very sketchy past stretches. I don’t hide that. I don’t think we talk about those kinds of things enough. One of my favorite prayers is Psalm 40: “I have waited, waited for the Lord, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry. He pulled me out of the pit, made firm my steps, and put a new song into my mouth.”
Gerstner’s story began in Plainview, Texas, where he was born. He primarily grew up in Frankfort, Kan., a small rural town. Following high school, he earned a degree from the American Diesel and Automotive College. In 1994, he met his wife, Pam, in Copper Mountain, Colo. They were married two years later in Waupun and have two teenage sons.
Gerstner’s call to the diaconate grew out of “sacrificial service” to his family as a stay-at-home dad for the past 15 years, he said. Pam is an associate dean at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay.
“As I strived to be the best husband and father I could be, my involvement at the school and church (St. Bernard) led me closer to the person of Jesus,” he said.
“Pam was the one who suggested my inquiring about the diaconate program.
“As I prayed and discerned this call, doors continued to open, bringing me closer and closer to Jesus and to ordination,” he added.
Gerstner is thankful to Fr. Mark Vander Steeg, pastor, for ministry opportunities at St. Bernard. He has served in adult faith formation, altar server training for fifth grade students and as a lector. Gerstner also is a prayer leader at Bornemann Senior Communities in Green Bay and a Boy Scouts volunteer, including five years as scoutmaster.
Among those who have served as faith examples for Gerstner was his late friend, Dale Johnson, who dealt with physical challenges of mobility and sight for much of his life.
“He taught me how a relationship with Jesus can transcend and overcome any physical limitations or suffering one might have in life,” said Gerstner.
Another faith example is Pastor Chad Clements of Manna For Life Ministries in Green Bay, which provides services to the needy through its thrift store, food pantry and lunch program. Gerstner has volunteered alongside Clements for the past two years.
Fr. Maximos Davies of Holy Resurrection Monastery in St. Nazianz serves as Gerstner’s spiritual director.
“Fr. Maximos is a man of deep prayer, shrewd humor and radical hospitality,” he said.
Deacon Bob Hornacek of St. Matthew Parish, Allouez, whom Gerstner describes as “an invaluable friend and resource,” is his deacon mentor.
Gerstner, who recently earned a degree in theology from Holy Family College in Manitowoc, said that he feels called to serve as a deacon in ministries that help families and those most in need in the community. He also hopes to provide Scripture study, additional presence in the school community and support missionary discipleship.
He will continue to draw inspiration from saints.
“My favorite pope is St. John XXIII because he was fat, funny and underestimated,” he said. “My favorite saint is Augustine because he thinks too much, has a questionable past and got a late start with the Lord. But most of all, I treasure our Blessed Mother because she taught me how to treasure all those things in my heart.
“My service to the people of St. Bernard will be authentic, joyful and humorous,” said Gerstner. “We need to laugh, laugh at ourselves, laugh at our past mistakes, laugh about being nothing without Jesus.”