Deacon candidates prepared for upcoming ordination

Friday, Jan. 17, 2020
Deacon candidates prepared for upcoming ordination
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The proper vestments for a deacon at Mass is a stole and a dalmatic, such as this historical garment used at the Cathedral of the Madeleine.
By Linda Petersen
Intermountain Catholic

SALT LAKE CITY — On Jan. 31, Bishop Oscar A. Solis will ordain five men to the Office of Deacon during a 7 p.m. Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine. They are Jeff Allen of St. Vincent de Paul Parish; Jeremy Castellano of the Cathedral of the Madeleine Parish; Robert Cowlishaw of St. Francis Xavier Parish; Tom Devereux of St. Mary Parish; and Greg Werking of St. Thomas More Parish.

This is the fifth class of deacons the diocese has sponsored.

These men have spent more than seven years preparing for their role as deacon by completing the four-year lay ecclesial ministry formation course, followed by an accelerated diaconate formation program.

This is the first time the Diocese of Salt Lake City has held an abbreviated class to prepare individuals for the diaconate; typically, the diaconal formation program is five years.  

“I am looking forward to ordaining these five Catholic gentlemen, who have undergone some years of challenging formation in order to prepare themselves to become permanent deacons,” Bishop Solis said. “Their ordination marks the beginning of their commitment as deacons to a life of service for God and the Church by helping our priests in their threefold ministry of the Eucharist, the Word and charity.

“With a shortage of priests and religious in our diocese, they will have significant ministerial roles in the sacramental and pastoral life of our Church by officiating at baptisms, weddings and funerals, by proclaiming the Gospel and preaching at Mass, and by their charitable outreach to the poor and those in need,” the bishop continued. “They are God’s answer to our prayers to send laborers to the vineyard and new missionary disciples who will share our faith with joy and enthusiasm as I mentioned in my 2017 pastoral letter, ‘A Springtime of Evangelization.’ I enjoin everyone to give thanks to God for this blessing and pray for these candidates, who have responded with all their hearts to this call.”

The men in this particular class have done well, said Deacon Drew Petersen, director of diaconate formation for the diocese, but he would be reluctant to recommend another abbreviated program in the future because most diaconate candidates need the full four to five years of a standard program to be ready to assume the responsibilities.

“This group was a very mature group, so it was successful,” he said, adding that men who want to become deacons “have to have the time to be able to change their lives, because it is a major change in your life.”

After the Jan. 31 ordination, Petersen plans to consult with Bishop Solis about commencing another diaconal formation session, he said. There has been a great deal of interest in the program over the last five to six years, he said. “There’s 59 names in the file” of men in the diocese who have expressed a desire to become deacons.

Petersen said he thinks there is such a strong interest because, while they indicate various reasons for their inquiries, most candidates “want to be able to serve at a different level, to feel like they are putting their full selves into the service they are providing.”

As they prepare to be ordained, two members of the class, Jeff Allen and Greg Werking, shared their perspectives on the program with the Intermountain Catholic.

Jeff Allen

Jeff Allen considers himself a convert to the faith even though he was baptized a Catholic at the Cathedral of the Madeleine as an infant. That’s because after his parents divorced when he was 1, his mother remarried and left the Church.

“I didn’t grow up with any real religion,” he said.

Allen was born and raised in the Salt Lake Valley and attended public schools locally. It wasn’t until his early 30s, when he met his future wife, Mindi, a newly baptized Catholic, that Allen began attending church again. Mindi Allen had grown up in the L.D.S. faith but became disenchanted with the religion as an adult. She was looking for God in her life when her father, a Catholic, suggested she attend Mass with him. Shortly after, she joined the Church.

“She was active in the Church and I started going to Mass with her,” Jeff Allen said. “It reconnected me with my baptism and my past.”

Then, at the suggestion of his parish leaders, Jeff Allen went through the RCIA program in 1990.

“I could have just gone through a Confirmation program, but my knowledge was really limited about the Church, so they suggested it,” he said.  

The couple got married a few years later and eventually had five children, three daughters and two sons. They now have four grandchildren.

From the beginning, the Allens were very involved in the Church. They have continued that commitment their entire married life. Both serve as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and Jeff Allen became a lector.

Allen said he first felt the call to be a deacon several years ago but enrolled in the lay ecclesial ministry formation program when he was told a diocesan diaconate program had just been completed and there were no immediate plans to begin another. Two years after his LEM training, when the diocese began a new diaconate program, he joined it.  

“When I went through the LEM program, it deepened my call and my spirituality,” Allen said, “so joining the diaconate program when the opportunity arose was a natural outgrowth of that.”

The three-year program, which spanned more than three years, included daylong classes every other Saturday where participants and their wives were educated on different aspects of theology and Church studies, along with practicums in their home parish and another assigned parish.

Allen said he particularly enjoyed the practical aspects of the program.  He served a practicum in his home parish, St. Vincent de Paul, followed by a practicum at St. Thomas More Parish.

It was, he said, “an outstanding” experience.  The two deacons at the parish, Mark Solok and John Keyser, and pastor Father John Evans, “were all very kind and gracious to me and got me involved.”

During the diaconate formation program, Allen discovered an affinity for clinical pastoral work while visiting the sick at St. Mark’s Hospital.

 “I would like to get more involved in outreach and service in general,” he said. As deacons, “our focus is really on service, not just service at the altar, but service to our brothers and sisters whether in the Church or in our community.”

Allen believes there is a great need for lay people to get involved in service in the Church “not only for the Church but for the people,” he said. “It is a way to become closer to Christ; to become more faithful, a holy person by becoming more involved in your faith.”

Allen was struck by the bond that developed among the five candidates who have completed the LEM and diaconate programs together.

“I think there’s this sense of brotherhood that we have, a friendship and the ability reach out to each other,” he said.

His experience in the abbreviated program has been successful, he said.

“Absolutely it has for me,” he said. Participating in the program has left him with a sense of gratitude, humility and understanding that we’re all children of God, he said.

“We’re all called to be part of the body of Christ, and we all serve in different ways,’ he said. Allen said he feels humbled and honored to be a deacon “and to be part of that. Seven years is a long time to go to school; I’m excited to put into practice what I have learned and just spend time being a deacon.”

Greg Werking

With his wife, Teri, deacon candidate Greg Werking has three sons; the couple has two granddaughters.

While Teri Werking is a cradle Catholic, Greg Werking grew up “an Air Force brat” without any particular religion, he said. Although he was born in Indiana, the family moved often and he calls Sacramento home only because he attended high school there. However, he attended both a Catholic high school and the University of Portland, a private Catholic university. At the latter, he met his future wife, which led to him to joining the Church.

Werking has tried to attend daily Mass as often as possible over the last 15 years. As a professional pilot, he has had the opportunity to attend Mass in many locations during layovers.  

 “I can go to Mass anywhere in the world and it just feels like home,” he said.

At his home parish of St. Thomas More, Werking is a member of the Respect for Life committee and a fourth degree Knight of Columbus. Building on his LEM training, what was added in his diaconate training was “a lot of the liturgical norms – why we do the things we do on the altar,” he said.

Last year he completed a one-year practicum at Blessed Sacrament Parish, where Father Samuel Dinsdale continued his training on the duties of a deacon. He was able to assist during the Easter Triduum as a thurifer (the person who swings the incense).

His family has shown a lot of pride in his journey to deacon.

“I see from my wife and my sons and my father a growing sense of respect and pride,” Werking said. “Each day I get further along, they’re just more and more excited for me.”

While he has not been religious for much of his life, his father understands the significance of the step Werking is taking in becoming a deacon and is “just bursting with pride,” he said. “He would call and ask me questions about the Bible and what different Scriptures meant, and he loved hearing my responses.”

His father now attends Werking’s brother’s church.

A self-described slacker in his youth, Werking said these days he has an insatiable appetite for the work required to prepare a homily, and he hopes to become a good homilist.

“It’s not like I have to write a homily, it’s that I get to write a homily and practice it,” he said.

He is looking forward to working with school children and youth as a deacon if he is assigned to a parish with a school, he said.

“I’m a big devotions guy; I love sharing my love for devotions with the rest of the flock,” he said.

He is also excited to have an opportunity to evangelize, particularly among the youth.

“They are an unformed mold of clay that if you are gentle and wise and patient with them you can mold them into something wonderful; you get wonderful results,” he said.

“I think that we have neglected sharing the beauty of the Catholic faith with our children at an early age, the beauty of all our prayers and devotions, the beauty of all our saints,” he said of the phenomenon of young people leaving the Church. “I don’t think kids today know so many of the wonderful prayers — the Anima Christi, Hail Holy Queen — all the wonderful prayers that my wife and other cradle Catholics used to know in the ’60s and ’70s. I don’t think children are being raised that way anymore.”

During the diaconate program, Werking was moved by the experience of the participants praying together. “The best thing that I got out of the diaconate program was the beauty of Liturgy of the Hours,” he said. “There’s something so beautiful about a bunch of men praying together.”

Werking said he is appreciative of the training he has received and the opportunity he has to become a deacon.

“I am so honored and humbled that the diocese would spend so much time and money and energy training me to become a deacon; I feel very indebted,” he said.

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