The largest diaconate class to discern in the diocese concluded its six-year journey with an ordination Mass June 25.
A group of 20 men celebrated both the bonds of two sets of brothers and the resiliency of men from all walks of life answering the call of God in their lives. The second diaconate ordination, following the first held June 11 in Little Rock, was significant for a number of reasons. It was the diocese’s largest class with 46 men, but it was the first class with two brothers ordained deacons and another set of brothers sharing in committing themselves to the Church as a deacon and as soon-to-be bishop.
In front of more than 900 parishioners, friends and family at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Rogers, the men from around the Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley, professed their vows to Bishop Anthony B. Taylor as he laid hands on each of them.
One of the new deacons is Jason Pohlmeier, 39, brother of Bishop-elect Erik Pohlmeier. Present on the altar was his brother, who will be ordained bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Fla., July 22, but also his two oldest children, Isaac and Claire, who were altar servers. The presence of the brothers’ father, Tom Pohlmeier, who will be celebrating his 20th anniversary as a deacon at St. Joseph Church in Paris, only added to the familial significance of the occasion.
Pohlmeier, principal for St. Joseph School in Fayetteville, said his journey to ordination coinciding with his brother’s ordination as a bishop “has been a really remarkable time for his family.”
Not surprised that his brother would be interested in pursuing the diaconate, Bishop-elect Pohlmeier said he felt his brother’s chosen profession pointed toward a vocation ministry.
“I was able to witness where Jason encountered God in his life through the half-page papers he submitted each month,” said Bishop-elect Pohlmeier, whose final ministry for the diocese was as the formation director for this diaconate class. “Sharing in his and others' journeys was like a mirror back in my own ministry. Without knowing it, I was preparing for another step in my own journey, and it helped me in my formation to take a new step in God’s plan.”
Bishop-elect Pohlmeier said he felt all of the candidates gave themselves to the goals of increasing the intellectual, pastoral and human pillars in their formation.
“Each one of them had an openness and willingness to be formed, and I feel very confident they will bear fruit in their ministry,” he added.
Dan and Larry Grelle, two brothers from St. Vincent de Paul Church who entered the diaconate process together, said the journey deepened their faith life and bonds of brotherhood.
Larry, the younger brother to Dan by 13 months, said many of their spiritual conversations occurred while mountain biking, which provided some stress relief from often feeling overwhelmed with their professions and the diaconate training.
“We have grown closer not only as blood brothers, but as brothers in Christ, and I believe God put us on this journey together to help strengthen our faith during formation and to continue long after ordination,” said Larry, who plans to serve under the marriage ministry with a new “Surviving Divorce Ministry” at St. Vincent de Paul.
Dan, who feels called to minister to those who have experienced loss with the bereavement ministry, also sees the time spent with his “best friend” and brother as a time when they have “grown even closer” in being able to share spiritual insights with someone who is going through the same process.
Eight parishes in northwest Arkansas and the River Valley presented men to be ordained:
The first deacon to be ordained in his rural, mission parish in Yellville, George Gussy, said the journey had been wonderful, but “both long and short.” Gussey admitted he did not answer the call the first time but is thankful for his “yes” this second time.
He said the best advice from Bishop-elect Pohlmeier was to “not think about the end, but to enjoy the journey and take it day-by-day.”
By far, one of the most difficult journeys of all of the deacon candidates was the one that Arturo Hernandez, 52, of Rogers experienced in his six-year path to ordination. Hernandez was understandably emotional when recounting the hardships and challenges he encountered during this time.
Four years into his formation, Hernandez’s liver began failing and consequently, the pancreas, kidneys and lungs also began to shut down. Only his heart continued to beat strongly. Doctors told Hernandez he had seven days to live and was advised to say goodbye to his loved ones as he was sent to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock for treatment.
Through the power of prayer, a liver was located within three days. Although his doctor was doubtful of the success, the transplant was performed June 4, 2021. His family in Mexico even made the trip to Arkansas to prepare for his funeral.
Through all of this, Hernandez said he was not scared but had peace. He was placed in a wheelchair following the surgery, unable to walk or move his legs. Within two weeks, with prayer and physical therapy, he was walking and went back to his work as a welder.
Hernandez admits he went through so much but said he believes everyone goes through some trouble to be here at the ordination.
“I didn’t see it as a problem, but I saw this as the Lord showing his mercy. He wanted to let us know he is alive, and it is the Holy Spirit who picks us up,” Hernandez said.
In his remarks to the class, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor echoed these same sentiments of hope calling the newly ordained “agents of renewal” and challenging them to be “in the world, but not of the world.” Bishop Taylor told the men that the ordination sets them apart for special tasks, but God also equips them what they need to serve and that by “God’s grace, he will give you all you need to fulfill it.”
Rob Brothers, 68, of Rogers admitted there was a sense of relief that the formal studies had been completed, but there was excitement to begin this new form of loving, Christian service to the people in his parish.
“I do believe the diaconate is an important ministry,” he said. “As a deacon, I really will have a foot firmly planted in both the ministry and in the laity. I will be an ordained minister, but I have lived and worked among the people of my parish as a husband, a father and someone who had to work to provide a living for my family by living in the world.”
Another important participant that was an integral part of the men’s six year journeys was their wives.
Like many of the newly ordained, Brothers credited his wife, Becky, with the support and encouragement needed during the process.
“Even though we had good faith lives separately, the process of discernment led us to grow in our faith and prayer lives together, not just as individuals. I believe our faith in God and in each other has grown significantly during these last few years, and our already-good marriage has grown much stronger,” he added.
Becky agreed the program had helped enrich their love for one another.
“I believe the best part is the spiritual growth that I have seen in both Rob and me. We see and understand each other more, are patient with each other and our love for each other has increased the closer we get to the Lord,” she said.
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