A decade of deacons

by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

North Texas Catholic

Deacon Jose Aragon with altar serversDeacon Jose Aragon with altar servers
Deacon José Aragon hands the flagon and ciborium to altar servers during Mass at St. Jude Parish in Mansfield Sept. 22. (NTC/Ben Torres)

José Aragon always knew the dedication and commitment it takes to serve as a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church.

As a youth growing up in far west Texas, his next-door neighbor was in the first class of men ordained to the ministry in the Diocese of El Paso.

“My brothers and I would be in the driveway playing basketball, and we would see him come home from work, pick up his vestments, and leave in the evening,” he remembered. “I used to think to myself that being a deacon was a lot of work. He always looked so busy.”

Years later, Aragon would follow in his footsteps.

“My faith grew and I became closer to the Church,” explained the government auditor. “Finally, I had the courage to ask about the diaconate.”

Aragon and 31 other men, ordained by former Fort Worth Bishop Kevin Vann in 2009, are marking their 10th anniversary as deacons this year. Twenty-eight members of the group continue to serve Catholics across the diocese in prison and hospital ministry, parish administrative posts, and in the sacramental life of the Church. A total of 75 permanent deacons work in the diocese.

Historically, the order of deacons can trace its roots back to the Acts of the Apostles. In the early Church, deacons held a special place in the community along with bishops and presbyters. The first recognized martyr of the Church was the deacon Stephen, who was stoned to death for preaching the Gospel.

Saint Pope Paul VI restored the permanent diaconate in 1967 following the recommendation of the Second Vatican Council.

“Deacons work with families preparing for Baptism, couples preparing for marriage, and families experiencing the effects of grave illness or the loss of a loved one,” explained Deacon Don Warner, diocesan director of deacons. “Along with the pastor of a parish, deacons are ministers that help parishioners recognize the presence of Christ in the everyday struggles of living. They represent the ministry of Christ the servant.”

Serving people on the fringes
A former catechist at St. Joseph Parish in Arlington, Aragon was assigned to St. Jude Parish in Mansfield on the day of his ordination. Reaching out to Spanish-speaking parishioners is one of his responsibilities. Like other deacons, he baptizes, officiates at weddings, and presides at funerals, but his favorite duty is assisting at Mass.

“Because it’s the source and summit of our faith,” he explained. “I’m there as a deacon to preach and proclaim His word and He gives me the talent to do that for Him. I’m always praying to the Holy Spirit to guide me.”

Aragon, who teaches Baptism preparation classes with his wife, Patricia, and serves in prison ministry, tries to reach out to people on the fringes of society. Some may not be comfortable walking into a church to ask advice about annulling a marriage or getting an older child baptized.

“For some people, I’m more approachable,” he suggested. “I was ordained to bring God to the marketplace — the neighborhood where I live, the place where I work, and home with my family.”

Even non-Catholics he knows will ask for prayer.

“God calls me to be pastoral,” Aragon said. “If they come to me, I talk to them. We’re all on this journey together.”

Visiting the imprisoned

Deacon Jim Bindel
Deacon Jim Bindel teaches RCIA at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Wichita Falls Sept. 26. (NTC/Rodger Mallison)

Every other week Deacon Jim Bindel travels to the James V. Allred prison near Iowa Park to assist Father Richard Collins with the celebration of the Mass. Preaching to inmates differs from the way he delivers his Sunday sermons at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Wichita Falls.

“I get a little louder out there because I think they want someone to wake them up,” he explained. “And I talk about more personal things I’ve been through that I think will help them.”

Ten years ago, standing in front of a congregation and delivering the Gospel message in an interesting and inspiring way seemed daunting to the former retail developer.

“I would see deacons preach and thought I could never do that,” Bindel admitted. “But God equips you and now I love it. The more you read the Bible and the more you pray, God fills you up.”

The crux of his homily may not be anything new.

“But it’s the way you say it that allows people to hear it differently,” he added. “We’re all instruments. The more we allow God’s grace to touch us, it flows to other people.”

In addition to serving as a pastoral assistant at OLQP, Bindel oversees the parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, helps with marriage preparation, and volunteers for Meals on Wheels with his wife, Susan. Working with the parish’s many volunteers is one of the joys of his ministry.

“I’m an unworthy servant doing only what I was obliged to do,” the deacon said, paraphrasing a favorite Gospel passage from Luke. “And this is what I’m obliged to do.”

Comforting the grief-stricken

Deacon Scott France
In this NTC file photo, Deacon Scott France carries the Paschal candle during the Easter Vigil service at Holy Redeemer Parish. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Even before he was ordained, Deacon Scott France offered guidance, strength, and direction to members of one of the fastest-growing parishes in the diocese. During his last year of candidacy to the diaconate, the Florida native helped oversee construction of a new church and handled administrative details during a time Holy Redeemer Parish in Aledo was without a priest.

“We come on Sundays now, and the church is full of so many young families, it can sound like a nursery,” France enthused. “It’s a young parish because of all the homes going up around us.”

Married to his wife, Kittie, for 34 years, the retired finance professional works closely with the pastor, Monsignor Publius Xuereb, and assists several parish programs as an advisor. But the heart of his ministry involves more than just meetings and Sunday homilies.

“There’s a peace in knowing you’re doing the work you’re supposed to be doing in a very tumultuous world,” he explained.

The disorder in today’s society hit close to home a few years ago when members of a parish family were murdered in their home. The deacon became friends with the parishioners when they entered the Church through the RCIA program.

“I still recall that sadness,” France said somberly. “I had to bury a little girl I knew. Her mother taught my kids.”

Presiding at the funerals of close friends and children are the most difficult part of his ministry. To guide him through those moments, he remembers something the late Father Robert Wilson told him during a mission trip to Honduras. France confided to the priest the sight of sick babies might make him cry.

“He told me, ‘Scott, you’re going to cry. You’re going to feel that loss. If you don’t, you’re not human,’” the deacon recollected. “I still struggle through those homilies but what he said helped me.”

Encouraged by Fr. Wilson to apply for the diaconate more than a decade ago, France now volunteers in the formation process for men aspiring to become deacons.

 “When we pray ‘thy will be done’ in the Our Father, we need to focus on what those words mean,” he advised. “If you truly pray that, you may be taken down a path you didn’t expect.”

Modeling hope

Deacon Walter Stone
Deacon Walter Stone spoke at a family conference at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in this file photo. (NTC/Adrean Indolos)

When visitors walk into the home Walter Stone shares with his wife, Diana, they see a bulletin board crowded with photos of babies he’s baptized and couples he’s married. The collage is a conversation starter and provides an opportunity to tell people about his ministry as a deacon.

As chief of staff at St. Patrick Cathedral Parish, the Indiana native is responsible for budgeting and administrative functions, as well as some pastoral duties. On Sunday mornings, you’ll see him inside St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Carrollton where he preaches and teaches Bible study.

“That’s what I do. But what do I really do? I try to model a sense of hope for people,” Stone emphasized. “Our society is full of fear and anxiety. Hope is the most profound gift you can give anybody.”

The former farm boy, who enjoyed a long career in information technology, believes the formation process and ordination to the diaconate changed him. One area affected more than others is his marriage.

“The grace of Holy Orders enriched the grace of our marriage,” he said, explaining all the deacon candidates and their wives went through marriage enrichment sessions. “When we serve each other as a couple, it helps us serve those around us.”

Some people wear different masks, he continued. They’re one person at home, another in church, and someone else in the workplace. But a deacon is always a deacon.

“I view everything in my life through the lens of the ministry I’ve been ordained to,” Stone said. “I’m a Catholic deacon ministering to the people of God in any way I can. I’m not just Catholic on Sunday. It permeates everything.”

Deacon Jose Aragon

José Aragon always knew the dedication and commitment it takes to serve as a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church.