Eleven men journey toward the permanent diaconate

An aerospace engineer and an insurance agent, an accounting instructor and an electrical marine designer, a company CEO and a hospital chaplain — they have different careers and come from different parts of the state, but 11 men are on a journey together, discerning calls to the permanent diaconate.

“I think God has been gently nudging me along this path for many years. Over the years, many people have asked if I would consider becoming a deacon. However, the timing wasn’t right, or I wasn’t listening. It’s something that kept coming back, and I felt like I needed to respond,” says Richard Roussel of Gorham.

“I’m convinced that it was the Holy Spirit who called me to discern this vocation, largely because it isn’t something I would have come up with on my own. The unbidden and unformed notion was in and out of my mind for some time before telling my wife that I was thinking about it, without really knowing what ‘it’ meant,” says Steve Ritchie of Eliot.

“I believe I am called to the permanent diaconate based on my love for our holy Mother Church and my love for others and my desire to serve both,” says Timothy Winkeler of Falmouth.

The 11 men reached a milestone in their discernment journey when they were admitted as candidates for ordination to the permanent diaconate during the Rite of Candidacy celebrated by Bishop Robert Deeley on Saturday, November 19, at St. Francis Xavier Church in Winthrop.

“These men who ask today for admission to candidacy for Holy Orders, and specifically for the permanent diaconate, are asking to serve Christ the King by bringing His message, the good news of the Gospel, into the world here in Maine. It is a wonderful day,” Bishop Deeley said.

During the rite, the men publicly resolved to complete their preparation for Holy Orders. They have already completed a year of application and a year of reflection and discernment, but now, as candidates, they will enter into a more intense period of pastoral and theological study.

“It is both exciting and humbling to have reached this point in the process. It’s been a lot of work and a lot of learning, but the brotherhood that we have developed as aspirants is a very special bond, and I’m looking forward to the future of this journey with them,” says Winkeler.

“It is, in a way, daunting, but also, I feel so much support from the community. It’s hard to describe that feeling really. It’s a wonderful thing,” says Jon Blanchard of Presque Isle.

A permanent deacon’s ministry is threefold. He assists priests at the altar, shares the word of God, and is committed to a life of service. Because they are often married with families, permanent deacons are often considered a bridge between the Church and the secular world.

“As a deacon, you’ve worked. You’ve lived in the community. You’ve tried to balance all those things, so you can bring a different perspective than maybe the priest can in those places and be that steppingstone for people to come back into the Church,” says Peter Koch of Rumford.

“I have a strong pull to evangelize and share the Gospel and the mercy of Jesus Christ. As a deacon, you are called to preach the Gospel at Mass, but deacons also serve as a bridge to our communities where I would continue to share the Word of God. I would share it by living out my vocations as a husband and a deacon so that, through my voice and actions, I might be God’s instrument of mercy and love in order to draw others to the fullness of His kingdom,” says Sean Fidler of Bath.

All of the candidates and their wives have long been active in their parishes and communities. Among them, you will find extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, readers, and sextons. Fidler, Roussel, and Winkeler serve as coordinators of That Man is You groups at their parishes. Fidler and his wife, Melanie, are foster parents. Winkeler is a member of the Parish of the Holy Eucharist’s finance council, while his wife, Tracy, coordinates the eucharistic adoration program, is a youth faith formation teacher, and coordinates parish outreach to people in nursing homes. Peter Czerwinski, from St. Michael Parish in Augusta, is a hospital chaplain at MaineGeneral Health, while his wife, Gina, is pastoral life coordinator for the parish. Jon Blanchard is program manager for Catholic Charities Maine Hunger & Relief Services, while his wife, Hillary, is youth ministry coordinator for the Parish of the Precious Blood in Caribou. Doug Guerrette and his wife, Louise, have led marriage preparation at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Bangor, while Steve Ritchie and his wife, Nicole, lead a weekly eucharistic Holy Hour at the Parish of the Ascension of the Lord in Kittery. Anthony Jolicoeur is a Knight, an adult catechist, and helps with church maintenance for the Parish of the Ascension of the Lord, while his wife, Brenda, is an office assistant at St. Christopher Church in York. Peter Koch has led RCIA and Bible studies and helped set up livestreaming for the Parish of the Holy Savior in Rumford, while his wife, Laura, formerly served in the parish office. Arturo Ayala, from the Parish of the Holy Eucharist, is a Knight of Columbus, has led faith sharing groups, and is on an ACTS retreat team, which was also supported by his wife, Maria. Adam Stearns, from Christ the King Parish in Skowhegan, is a cantor, serves in prison ministry, and he and his wife, Vanessa are active in the soup kitchen.

“The Lord continues to pull at my heart as He has done for 40 years, calling me closer every day for service to the people of God,” Adam Stearns says.

“I truly love to serve others. I want to use my gifts of teaching, contributing, administration, and leadership to serve and spread the love of Christ,” says Doug Guerrette.

“I think it’s an ongoing service, just to give to others, like Jesus told us. We need to love our neighbors,” Arturo Ayala says.

“There really is no easy way to express the love I have for our Lord and my joy to serve Him,” says Brenda Jolicoeur.

Despite their commitment to the Church and God’s people, for a permanent deacon, marriage and family remain priorities. These deacon candidates stress they would not have reached this point in their journeys without the support of their wives.

“There is no possible way I could do it without her support, and she has been truly amazing through the whole process,” says Koch. “It’s a team effort for sure.”

“Because I have a career and a family of six, I prayed to God, telling Him that I don’t have the time, but if He cleared the way, I would do it. So far, He has cleared the way, or, rather, Brenda, my wife, has cleared the way in His name,” says Jolicoeur.ev

The wives of the candidates say they see in their husbands a call to serve as permanent deacons and want to be there to accompany them.

“My role in it is to really just be of support to him in everything. We’ve always been that way,” says Gina Czerwinski.

“We’ve always felt the call to serve the Lord and the Church, so I’m totally in support of his journey,” says Louise Guerrette.

“I just think that when an opportunity to grow closer to Christ crosses your path, you say, ‘Yes,’” says Hillary Blanchard. “I couldn’t imagine answering any other way.”

He is very happy to do it, and I am happy for him,” says Maria Ayala. “I think it’s a blessing.”

While candidacy marks a turning point in their discernment process, the 11 men say they know there is still a long road ahead.

“If God is calling me to be a deacon, yes, that’s good, and if He doesn’t, I’m still going to be a part of the Church. That is not going to change,” says Peter Czerwinski.

“I still have my eyes open and [am] discerning because, sometimes, He just wants our obedience, and it doesn’t have to lead anywhere,” says Jolicoeur. “We have a long way to go.”