The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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February 23, 2001 Issue
Local News

Answering summons to serve for 25 years

Five deacons celebrate silver anniversaries

By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor

On Feb. 26, five deacons in the Green Bay Diocese will celebrate the 25th anniversary of their ordination. Through their ministry, the five, ordained by Bp. Aloysius Wycislo in 1976, have touched the lives of many people in their parish communities and beyond.

-- Dcn. Earl Charlier currently serves St. Mary Parish, De Pere, where he was assigned in 1998. He assists with wake services, coordinates the Baptism program, brings Communion to the elderly and visits the sick.

Visiting the sick has always been an important ministry for Dcn. Charlier. He spent much of his 25 years of service as a hospital chaplain, including service as the diocesan co-director of Chaplaincy from 1978 to 1981, and head of Chaplaincy at St. Vincent Hospital from 1989 to 1996. He has also been active in many national chaplaincy organizations including serving as the president of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains from 1986 to 1988.

"I feel very comfortable visiting the sick," said Dcn. Charlier, a native of Coleman. "Going to nursing homes or hospitals is rewarding. To reach out to people is important."

Dcn. Charlier has also embraced his liturgical role at St. Mary Parish.

"Having to prepare a homily forces me to study scripture," he said. "The diaconate has been a very important part of my life. If you feel it in your heart to help people I recommend it. You give a lot, but receive so much more in return.

Dcn. Charlier, who is married to Lois, sees no end in sight to his service as a deacon.

"You never really retire from the diaconate," he said. "It's a part of who you are."

-- Dcn. Vincent DeGroot knows St. John Nepomucene Parish in Little Chute as well as anyone. He was born and raised in Little Chute and has served the parish during his entire 25 years in the diaconate. His ministry has included serving the poor and working with the marriage tribunal.

"To help the poor find jobs and find homes has been quite an experience," said Dcn. DeGroot, who is married to Lee Ann. "We have helped a Bosnian family, which was a great thing for us, and have sponsored a Hmong family. To be a part of that is special."

Highlights for Dcn. DeGroot over the past 25 years include officiating at the weddings of his five children and at the Baptisms of nine of his grandchildren. The time has gone by quickly, he said.

"Some people that I've baptized are now marrying," he added.

Dcn. DeGroot sees a bright future for the diaconate at St. John's.

"We have a couple of men in our parish aspiring to be deacons, which is very satisfying," he said. "It has taken a long time for people to understand the role of deacons. We do more than assist at Mass. They don't see all the things we do. I'm encouraged that people are starting to see how we help people."

-- Dcn. Paul Klein has served St. Thomas More Parish, Appleton, since 1989, when Fr. Gerald Falk invited him to serve the parish. Previously he served at St. Mary Parish, Menasha, and St. Mary Parish, Greenville. Much of his present ministry focuses on the elderly.

"There are a lot of opportunities to share the scripture," said Dcn. Klein, a former engineer at Kimberly-Clark. "It's a tremendous experience visiting Golden Years, and giving out Communion at Manor Care. I enjoy working with the nursing homes."

Dcn. Klein, who is married to Laura and is a native of Burlington, Wis., also serves the Madonna House, a senior facility. He hopes to see more men consider the diaconate. The role of the deacon has become even more important with fewer priests, he said.

"There is plenty of work for deacons and always a call for service," he said. "I wish I could do more."

"It's hard to believe that it has been 25 years," he added. "I'm thankful for all the people I've met and the opportunity to help others."

-- Dcn. Don Wetzel feels fortunate to have spent his entire 25 years of service at St. Thomas More Parish in Appleton.

"Fr. Falk has inspired me a great deal," he said. "He has been my mentor."

Dcn. Wetzel, a native of Chicago and veteran of the United States Army, has applied his work experience in counseling to his ministry as a deacon.

"I've worked with Marriage Encounter and marriage preparation," he said. "I've also provided counseling or guidance to people who were struggling with things in their life. In many cases, I refer them to people who can help them. I know many agents from my previous work."

Dcn. Wetzel said the diaconate has allowed him to develop his own spirituality.

"Seeing the church developing spiritually and living out Christ's life in your daily life is rewarding and beneficial," he said.

In reflecting on the past 25 years, Dcn. Wetzel is thankful for the support of his family.

"My children have been very mindful, accepting and open to what we (Dcn. Wetzel and his wife, Joan) continue to do," he said. "We look upon ourselves as a couple. She takes Communion to the hospital. We do things together and do have separate ministries."

-- Dcn. Russ Lowe was appointed to his home parish, St. Mary Magdalene, Waupaca, following ordination. He also served as deacon at the Newman Center at UW-Oshkosh, where he taught graphic communications for 11 years.

Dcn. Lowe also served as director of the Office of Parish Council Services and Development for the Diocese of Green Bay, which included fostering faith community among local parish leadership and facilitating the development of effective parish councils. In 1986, he accepted a four-year term on the Bishops' National Advisory Council, which addressed such matters as communication, education, social development, and world peace.

Dcn. Lowe,who was granted retirement from diaconal service by Bp. Robert Banks in 1996, is currently on an extended vacation and was unavailable for an interview.

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