Five men to be ordained deacons May 17
Ordination at 10 a.m. at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Green Bay
By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor
Bishop Robert Morneau will ordain Kevin DeCleene, Timothy Downey and Michael Mervilde to the permanent diaconate, and Jason Blahnik and Timothy Brandt as transitional deacons at 10 a.m. Mass, Saturday, May 17, at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, 140 S. Monroe Ave., Green Bay.
Kevin DeCleene, who will serve as a deacon at the linked parishes of St. Mary and St. Francis Xavier, De Pere, said the seeds of his faith were planted by his family, but fertilized in Milwaukee.
DeCleene, a De Pere native, and his wife, JoDee, moved to Milwaukee in 1986 for his job. He has been employed by Schneider National of Green Bay for 25 years.
"We didn't have any family around and we were starting our family, so we felt this need to find a church community," said DeCleene. "JoDee was not Catholic, she was Protestant. We made
a decision that we wanted to be of the same faith to raise our kids. It was a challenge. She explored her faith. We looked at some Lutheran churches. I began asking myself questions such as 'What is Catholicism?' I reflected a lot about my faith. We ended up finding St. Leonard Parish in Muskego, which was very welcoming."
JoDee completed the RCIA program. Fr. Ken Derfus, pastor at St. Leonard at the time, asked DeCleene to become involved in various ministries including lectoring, worship committee
and parish council. He and JoDee also participated in the parish's FOCCUS program.
"His asking fueled my faith," said DeCleene. "When we returned to the Green Bay area, it was easy to get involved. We said to ourselves, 'Let's keep this going.'"
While DeCleene's ministry involvement continued to grow, he cannot pinpoint a defining moment when he first considered the diaconate. Instead, his call was spurred by numerous influences and experiences.
"It was certainly through a lot of prayer," he said. "My parents persuaded me as a child to get involved in serving. My family was always involved in parish activities. I became more
involved. You have these experiences that grow on you.
"My faith absolutely started with my mom and dad (LaVerne and Fran DeCleene) and my grandmother (Germaine Hutjens) really inspires me," he added.
DeCleene's grandmother is vibrant at 96 years old. She prays the rosary each week with her grandson. DeCleene's neighbor has multiple sclerosis and diabetes, so she uses a wheelchair. Every Wednesday, a group gathers at her home to pray the rosary.
"My grandma gets picked up and goes over there every week," said DeCleene. "She is incredibly faithful."
Being asked by others also fueled DeCleene's interest in the diaconate.
"I believe that God speaks through others," he said. "My dad, parishioners and even people at work asked me if I ever considered becoming a deacon. I was certainly listening to people."
As a deacon, DeCleene plans to continue many of his current ministries including nursing home visits, funeral vigils, volunteering at the New Community Shelter, FOCCUS, teaching
confirmation class and a Liturgy of the Hours men's group at Schneider.
"My view is to be shallow in many versus deep in one or two," he said. "There will be opportunities to expand my ministry as a deacon. I look forward to baptizing children into the faith. That is a work of God. Fr. Jack Harper (pastor) has asked JoDee and I to head up the social justice and peace committee at the parish."
In addition to formal ministry, DeCleene also wants to continue to be present for people.
"There are little moments that happen at work or in the community," he said. "I want to be approachable. If you can get people to turn to prayer, that helps a lot."
DeCleene, who serves as the global business leader for Kimberly-Clark on behalf of Schneider, was pursuing a degree from Silver Lake College in Manitowoc at the time of his entry into the diaconate program. He needed 10 electives to complete his degree so he decided to take courses in the commissioned ministry program.
"The diaconate and commissioned ministry programs are absolutely best in class," he said. "At Schneider, we buy some of the best leadership formation programs in the world. The things I learned through the diocese are on that same level.
Kevin and JoDee have three children, twin sons, Arik and Adam, freshman at St. Norbert College, and a daughter, Lindsay, a high school freshman. Kevin said he is looking forward to the ordination, but is keeping things in perspective.
"It is a day to celebrate that commitment to God and the community," he said, "It is absolutely a big day, but I want to see beyond it. We have a lot of good ministries going on that we want to continue to build."
Reflecting on his journey to the diaconate, Tim Downey of St. Thomas More Parish in Appleton recalls a time when his faith was "connected by a shoestring."
Downey was born in Chicago and grew up in Manitowoc. He made his first communion at St. Paul Church. When he was 12, his family moved across town and became members of Holy Innocents Parish. Downey struggled with his faith in high school before reconnecting with the church in college.
"It was more than 20 years ago at UW-Oshkosh when I was getting my bachelor of science in nursing," he said. "I started taking a religious studies class each semester to balance out all the science classes. The classes helped me grow in my faith."
Downey added that he was also inspired by the celebration of the Triduum at St. Peter Church in Oshkosh.
During college, Downey met his wife, Lisa, also a nurse. The couple was married in 1987 at St. Bernard Parish in Appleton. They moved to Minneapolis where Downey earned a masters degree in nursing and anesthesiology and returned to Appleton in 1989. Downey works as a nurse anesthetist at Appleton Medical Center. His medical experience also includes a more than two-year stint at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton. Working in health care has provided several moments of grace, he said.
"When I was working in intensive care, we had a patient who was clinically dead for 45 minutes," he said. "She took pills after being beaten by her supposed husband. We were able
to revive her and she said 'thank you for saving my life.' She then described everything we had said and done. She also described this presence, a welcoming, loving presence that told her she had to go back. This woman eventually became a counselor for battered women.
"This experience taught me that it's not just words, not just prayers, not just going to Mass," he added. "There really is a divine presence."
Downey said he has also witnessed the calm strength patients receive through the Eucharist while in the hospital.
"Those moments make you realize that there is a plan bigger than yours," he said. "The real blessing of our girls (twin daughters, Erin and Emily, 16) and my wife's strong faith combined with those moments really got me to get confirmed in 2000."
Downey became more involved in the parish by serving as a lector, eucharistic minister, RCIA coordinator and catechist.
"My involvement seemed to stoke the fire more and more," he said. "The diaconate seemed to be the next logical step."
Downey said that he looks forward to baptisms as a deacon. He also plans to remain active in social justice. He volunteers for Loaves and Fishes on Monday evenings at Trinity Lutheran Parish in Appleton.
"I feel that I get more out of that than I give," he said. "Working with the chronically homeless, the mentally ill, the poor and marginalized of the community is a pure form of
In addition to Lisa and his daughters, Downey credits Fr. Gerald Falk, pastor at St. Thomas More for his support.
"The deacon faculty at our parish really stems from him," he said. "He is a trusting servant leader. He brings out the grace of all the people of God. He is behind me 100 percent."
Downey anticipates that his ministry as a deacon and his work at the hospital will continue to cross paths. He sometimes shares passages from a pastoral prayer book with patients he knows. He also brings the Eucharist to recovering patients and staff members who often work long hours and cannot attend Mass.
"The prayers often bring calmness to really anxious people," he said, "and it is still amazing to see how people are strengthened by the Eucharist in the hospital. It's almost beyond words, but it's real."
Downey will serve as deacon for the first time at the 9:30 a.m. Mass on May 18 at St. Thomas More.
"It has all worked through the grace of God," he said. "I'm looking forward to serving the parish. It is a really good group of people."
Mike Mervilde is looking forward to meeting the people of the quad-parishes on Green Bay's west side where he will be serving as a deacon, but he must warn them.
"I'm not always very good with names," he said. "I hope they forgive me if it takes me awhile to learn their names."
Mervilde and his wife, Karen, are natives of South Bend, Ind., but have called Green Bay home for the past 32 years. Following graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis,
Mervilde accepted a position in Algoma as the outpatient mental health coordinator for the unified board in Kewaunee County. He later worked for Bay Psychiatric Clinic in Green Bay, and now has his own outpatient mental health clinic.
"We always planned on moving back to South Bend someday, but that has not happened," he said. "I am a Notre Dame fan. You have to be if you are from South Bend. I have a nephew who is in a mixed marriage. He married a woman who graduated from Purdue."
Mervilde recommends that all people make a move at least once in their lives.
"I'm a big believer in going someplace else," he said. "It widens your perspective. Even if you come home, I think you will be a better person."
Mervilde is making a move to serve as a deacon. He is a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in De Pere, but is assigned to serve the linked parishes of Annunciation, St. Joseph, St. Jude and St. Patrick in Green Bay.
"I'm excited about it," he said. "I started attending some quad-parish meetings in December. The people are very nice and welcoming. Fr. Don (Everts, pastor) and Fr. Andy (Kysely, associate) have incorporated us into the parish team. Fr. Don has plans for the deacon and he is not shy about saying that, which is great."
Mervilde will work on evangelization for the parishes. He will also assist with sacraments and other ministries.
"I already have two baptisms scheduled," he said. "Fr. Don has a rule that if it's baptism outside of Mass, the deacon gets it. I'm looking forward to the liturgical aspects, not only
being up there helping Fr. Don, but occasionally some preaching to give them a week off."
Mervilde said his profession and service as a deacon have similarities.
"It's a little different on the pastoral end, but not all that different," he said. "People in the parishes are dealing with issues. I think I bring a certain level of skills that may be helpful. I like people. I enjoy working with people. The parish is not about the building. It's about the people of God.
"Working with quad-parishes will add a lot of variety," he continued. "It's never going to get stale. One of the things I admire is how committed Fr. Don is to keeping the individual
characteristics of each of the four parish communities while bringing them together. It would be a loss to have that taken away."
Mervilde traces his interest in the diaconate to a conversation he had with Deacon Paul Grimm at a conference. Deacon Grimm was working for Catholic Social Services at the time.
"He mentioned to me that he began the training program," said Mervilde. "I was curious about it. When Mike Vander Bloomen at Our Lady of Lourdes was in the program, I began thinking about it again. I fought if for a long time. I thought if I don't explore this, I will never forgive myself. I started the process and have never looked back."
Mervilde was active at Our Lady of Lourdes as a eucharistic minister and lector. He and Karen served as VIRTUS facilitators at the parish. He will serve as a deacon for the first time at the 4:40 p.m. Mass on May 17 at Our Lady of Lourdes Church.
"It's a nice way to say thanks to the parish for all their support," he said. "Plus they are throwing a picnic for me (the parish picnic is the next day)."
Mike and Karen have a daughter, Lisa Hanson, who lives with her husband, Josh, in Bellevue and runs a home-based business. Their son, Michael Jr., works in the movie industry in Brooklyn, NY.
Mike said the diaconate program has changed him.
"I cannot find words to describe how different I feel from the beginning of this process until now," he said. "It's a growth I never expected. It's a credit to the classes."
Being ordained a transitional deacon is both a beginning and an end on the journey to priesthood, said Jason Blahnik, who grew up between Egg Harbor and Fish Creek in Door County.
"It's a beginning because it's that first stage to priesthood," he said. "You have to be ordained a deacon to become a priest. It's an end in the sense that I no longer live for myself. I become that man of the church. I devote myself entirely to the service of God and God's people."
Blahnik recently completed his fourth year of theology at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary, Mundelein, Ill. He will serve as a deacon at St. Raphael the Archangel Parish, Oshkosh, until
his ordination to the priesthood in January. Candidates for priesthood must serve a minimum of six months as a deacon. Traditionally, seminarians are ordained deacons prior to their fourth year of theology, but Blahnik took a detour in his discernment. It was a good decision, he said.
"I took a year off to be a campus minister at St. Thomas More Parish in Bowling Green, Ohio," he said. "I did a lot of things there. I was a coordinator for social justice. I did a lot of things related to liturgy. I decided to leave the seminary because even though for several years I had the feeling that I was called to be a priest, I wanted a stronger level of certainty."
Blahnik served as advisor for the Catholic Newman Club at Bowling Green State University in 2006-2007. Ministry flourished on campus during that time. Three hundred students attended
Sunday Mass and 50 were regulars at daily Mass. Blahnik also led a mission group to Appalachia.
"Serving college students is rewarding," he said. "When they leave home, it's a chance to define themselves. It's important that we are there as a loving presence. The students there had a love for the faith. Half way through the year, I couldn't see myself doing anything other than being a full-time minister and full-time priest. If you give space to the Lord, he will guide you."
Blahnik, a graduate of Gibraltar High School, traces his call to the priesthood to his own college days at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
"I only attended Mass twice my first year at college," he said. "I met a young woman and started going to church with her that summer. The Lord writes straight with crooked lines. It
launched me into a deeper life of faith."
Blahnik, who was a member of St. John the Baptist Parish in Egg Harbor, now a part of Stella Maris Parish, was also inspired by the devout faith of the people in Fayetteville, many who are Baptist.
"It exposed me to a different part of the country and a different culture," he said. "The way the people lived their faith challenged me to study my faith. I fell more in love with our Lord and the church."
He asked for a rosary as a gift from his parents and became more devoted to his prayer life.
"Mother Mary kept putting my hand in the hand of Jesus," he said.
Blahnik entered seminary following his college graduation in 2002. In the spring of 2005, he interned at Holy Family Parish in Brillion.
As a deacon, Blahnik said he is looking forward to opportunities to preach. He will also help couples prepare for marriage and assist with sacraments and young adult ministry.
"I didn't mind studying in school, but this is ultimately what we are called to do," he said.
This weekend, following ordination, Blahnik will serve as the deacon at a Mass at the Stella Maris site at Baileys Harbor.
"My vocation is a gift from my family and the parish community," he said. "I want to share it with everyone who has supported me. At the ordination, there will be people there from different parts of my life, those who ministered to me or who were with me throughout this journey. God's grace is abundant out there."
Blahnik is scheduled to be ordained a priest on Jan. 3, 2009.
It would have been easy for Tim Brandt to dismiss the call to the priesthood. Following his graduation in 1997 from Lakeland College in Sheboygan, he landed a good job making good money as a computer professional in Wausau.
"I had my toys," he said. "I have my own boat. I worked hard to get to where I was in my life. It was easy to talk myself out of a vocation to the priesthood."
Ironically, Brandt's profession played a role in his discernment. He started out studying computer programming in college, but switched to trouble shooting.
"I liked working with people," he said. "I didn't like sitting at a computer terminal all day. I liked that interaction and the opportunity to help people."
Brandt, who was active in the RCIA program at his home parish, St. Anthony, Tigerton, discerned the call to the priesthood for a couple years before deciding to visit St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Ill.
"It was a very beautiful place, but driving home, I thought it was a place I would never see again," he said. "I had every intention of going back to work on Monday morning without
giving the seminary any more thought. I had gotten more into the rosary. While praying the rosary, I thought if I don't try this, I may regret it. Even if I wouldn't become a priest, it would make me a better person, so I decided I was going to seminary."
Brandt recently completed his third year of theology at Mundelein. He will serve as a deacon this summer at the tri-parish of St. John-Sacred Heart, Sherwood, St. Mary, Hilbert; St. Mary, Stockbridge.
"I would often drive through that area on my way back home from Lakeland," he said. "I'm looking forward to meeting the people and working with Fr. Philip (Dinh-Van-Thiep, pastor). It will also be nice to meet other priests in the area. As seminarians, we don't get too many opportunities to get to know the priests throughout the diocese. When I interned at St. Bernadette Parish in Appleton I was able to get to know some of the priests in the area."
The rural setting of the tri-parishes appeals to Brandt.
"Even though I didn't grow up on a farm, I'm from a farming community," he said. "You really get to know people in a small community."
Brandt will assist with the sacraments as a deacon and make visits to the sick. When he returns to seminary in the fall, he will serve as a deacon in the Mundelein area. Following
Christmas break, he will serve on weekends at a parish in the diocese.
"It will be more practical experience this next year," said Brandt. "I believe I will be the fourth person from our class of 45 guys to be ordained a deacon. We've had a few private
meetings to over some things, but will cover it even more when classes begin after Labor Day. During the winter and spring quarters I will get more into the practicum of the priesthood."
Brandt said he is excited that his family and the St. Anthony Parish community will share in the ordination celebration.
"They have supported me," he said. "All four parish communities (St. Mary, Marion; Holy Family-St. William, Wittenberg; and St. Mary Leopolis) have been supportive. They are very excited for me, which is very humbling."
Fr. John Girotti, pastor of the four linked parishes has served as a good resource, said Brandt.
"He is always willing to talk," he said. "He was very helpful with praying Liturgy of the Hours."
In anticipation of being ordained a transitional deacon, Brandt said he has reflected on his journey.
"When I was serving at the Chrism Mass in Cathedral, it was an awesome feeling being aware that the next time I would be there would be for the deacon ordination," he said. "I have great respect for the permanent diaconate. When planning the liturgy with Fr. Tom (Long, vocations director) and Jason (Blahnik), we made it clear that it is their big day, but I'm excited to be a part of it."
Brandt's ordination to the priesthood is scheduled for June 6, 2009.