Bishop Anthony B. Taylor thanked the “third-class deacons” celebrating 25 years of service to God.
The light-hearted quip drew laughs, with everyone knowing that it was not about the quality of their service, but rather they are the third diaconate class in the Diocese of Little Rock.
“You’ve been serving the Lord as deacons longer than at least one of our seminarians has been alive,” Bishop Taylor said. “I want to thank you for your faithful service and pray that the Lord will continue to bring many blessings into your lives” and the lives of those served.
On April 24, an anniversary Mass honoring 10 deacons celebrating their 1993 diaconate ordination was held at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock. The deacons had lunch, liturgy of the hours, a presentation on Blessed Stanley Rother by Bishop Taylor and dinner following Mass.
The diocese celebrated Deacons Bill Brandon of Blytheville, Al Genna of Bella Vista, Joe Harrison of Hot Springs, Elton Harrison of Pine Bluff (retired), Clarence Leis of Rogers (retired), Chuck Marino of Springdale, Bo McAllister and Bill Wrape (retired), both of Little Rock, John Serio of Ruston, La., and Bob Morris of Heber Springs (retired). The Mass remembered deceased Deacons Joseph Bruick, Kirke Herman and John Connell.
Deacon Tim Costello, diocesan minister to deacons, said the men are “very, very faithful” to their parishes and diocese.
“They’re an ordained minister, but then they also have a foot with the laity, they have a balance. Most deacons have a secular job and then they have their diaconate ministry,” Costello said. “So there’s that bridge between the laity and the clergy … They have a wife and kids and they have that life experience of the laity.”
Retired Deacon Larry Jegley, of Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock and a deacon for 37 years, was director of diaconate formation in 1993.
“They were really dedicated, they were really Christ-like and they were really loyal,” he said of the class. “They really knew why they were becoming deacons. They were just a good group of men and women.”
Each deacon brought unique gifts to the Church, from leading parish ministries to appointed diocesan positions.
McAllister, who serves Christ the King Church in Little Rock, worked for 13 years as diocesan chancellor for canonical affairs and in other diocesan and parish roles. Something he’s “dreaded the most, but I get the most out of” is ministering to the sick and shut-ins.
“I’ve been ministered to more than I’ve ministered to anybody I think. It’s just a great feeling to be able to touch people,” he said. “It’s made me much more aware for the need for prayer in my life, a better appreciation of the sacraments. I think diaconate ministry and the formation program have helped me better understand my Catholic faith.”
Though deacons help the faithful in several ways, Brandon, of Immaculate Conception Church in Blytheville, said RCIA was most fulfilling.
“Helping people complete their Christian journey and watching them come to the Eucharist for the first time is really exciting to watch,” he said.
Morris, of St. Albert Church in Heber Springs, said the anniversary is a “milestone,” recalling how he’d never thought he’d be “doing the things I’ve been doing.” He served 30 years in the U.S. Air Force and was retired when he started the diaconate program.
“It’s like having a second career, a different ballgame sort of speak. I came to Arkansas to fish. Fishing has turned around to be a little bit different,” he said with a smile.
Marie Morris said being a deacon’s wife “allowed me to discover more of my gifts by the grace of God that I probably wouldn’t have developed otherwise, so I can share with other people.”
While the priesthood sacrifices marriage and children, the diaconate oftentimes means balancing a religious calling with family life.
Marino and his wife Anita, of St. Raphael Church in Springdale, said they’ve always been a team in ministry.
“When we started out we taught in Libya as a teaching couple so we learned how to do things together,” Marino said, now working together as spiritual directors. “We did it together and that made it a little bit easier so we weren’t going in different directions. Even if I’m preparing a homily, I’ll bounce it off of her.”
Anita Marino said making time for each other is crucial.
“I would say the most important thing is prayer followed by honest communication,” she said. “It’s been a gift to both of us. I can’t think of any better way to spend your life.”
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