Diocese’s oldest seminarian ordained a deacon Dec. 14
Jack Sidler Jr., father of three and grandfather of five, is now deacon to us all
FORT SMITH — When Jack Sidler Sr. was discerning his call to the priesthood, he ran across a plaque inscribed with a quote from C.S. Lewis: “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”
On Dec. 14, three years after entering Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corner, Wis., and just one month shy of his 70th birthday, Sidler was ordained as a transitional deacon by Bishop Anthony B. Taylor at St. Boniface Church.
Sacred Heart’s oldest seminarian will return to school to complete his master’s degree in divinity. He will be ordained a priest Dec. 20, 2014, at Subiaco Abbey.
“My energy comes from prayer,” Sidler said. “Daily Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours have helped sustain me in my vocation. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m doing this.”
The first three years in the seminary were challenging for Sidler, who was widowed in 2008. He hadn’t been in school since receiving his bachelor’s degree in biology in 1973 and struggled through the academic writing requirements of 30 credits of theology and philosophy. During those years, his son Jeff underwent three operations and radiation treatments for a sarcoma in his leg. Although his three children and five grandchildren were supportive of his vocation, they were initially concerned that Sidler wouldn’t be able to be as big a part of their lives, but God cleared all his obstacles.
Working with the Writing Resource Center at Sacred Heart, a seminary dedicated to educating older seminarians, Sidler has maintained a 3.35 grade point average. Jeff Sidler is doing well after his latest treatments. His children and grandchildren are even more supportive, reassured by the experience of the last three years and knowing he will return to the Diocese of Little Rock in 2014.
“Priesthood is very compatible with living,” Sidler said. “I still maintain that marriage vows — the giving of yourself to another person — prepares you to understand all the vows you will take as a priest. The words are different, but the commitment is still there, and the intention to live those commitments must be there.”
The bilingual ordination Mass was held at St. Boniface Church because Sidler’s home parish, Sacred Heart of Mary Church in Barling, couldn’t accommodate all the seminarians, priests, deacons, family and friends in attendance. Bishop Taylor, Father Thomas L. Knoebel, vice rector of Sacred Heart School of Theology, and diocesan and religious priests were concelebrants. Father Henry Mischkowiuski, Sacred Heart of Mary pastor, invested Sidler with the liturgical vestments of a deacon, a stole and dalmatic.
Bishop Taylor encouraged Sidler to embrace the vision of Pope Francis as he begins his diaconal ministry, to “proclaim the good news by a life transfigured by God’s presence,” and to “bring about a revolution of tenderness … the life-changing fruit of the Gospel of joy.”
At the reception following the ordination Mass, Elizabeth Balls, Sidler’s younger sister who is a Presbyterian lay pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Van Buren, said, “Our mother took us to church and taught us to serve people. I understand Jack’s calling, and I think it’s great.”
“I couldn’t let my baby sister be the only priest in the family,” Sidler laughed. “But when I first shared my dream of being a priest with her and told her how surprised I was by the call, she said, ‘I knew you got the call six months ago.”’
On Dec. 15, Sidler participated in his first Mass as a deacon at Sacred Heart of Mary Church, with Father Mischkowiuski presiding.
“Sacred Heart of Mary is where I come back to,” he said. “Everybody has to have a touchstone. The parishioners have been so supportive of me, through e-mails, Facebook, inviting me to parties and get-togethers when I’m in town. I’m still a part of that parish in my heart.”
The new deacon said he is “honored and humbled to spend the remainder of his life serving my God and my faith community as their deacon and — next December — their priest.”
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