On November 21st, Bishop Kagan will ordain four men to the permanent diaconate for the Diocese of Bismarck. Having completed a five-year formation program – two years of aspirancy, three of candidacy – these men will serve as deacons for their parishes, the diocese, and the universal Catholic Church.
Jim Baker struggled with a life of confusion and aimlessness before he joined the Catholic Church, but his desire to be a good father was the catalyst that led him to his vocation as a deacon. “When I heard my kids saying they didn't have to go to church because I didn’t go, I knew I had to make a change,” he states.
Resolving to amend his life, Baker joined the RCIA program at his home parish in New Town, St. Anthony's. He recognizes Fr. Stephen Kranz (now retired) as a great help in his faith formation, as well as a role model who served as an inspiration to investigate the ordained life.
Baker states that one of the most powerful outcomes of his formation in the diaconate program has been the intimate relationship he’s developed with Christ. “At one point I thought that Jesus was just someone I was going to meet after I died, and I figured I had already broken too many rules to care.” But now, he says, “Jesus is a close personal friend of mine.”
His wife, Delphine, and his children have seen a real and positive change in him over the past years, and have been examples of support and encouragement through both his struggles and triumphs. “It brings tears to my eyes when I think about how blessed I am,” Baker expresses.
Baker is also an Oblate of Assumption Abbey in the Order of St. Benedict.
Having been surrounded by Catholicism their whole lives, many cradle Catholics begin to take it for granted. Years ago, Lance Gartner was not much different. “My faith sort of went by the wayside,” he recalls. “It wasn't a big deal if I didn't make it to Mass or know any prayers.”
When he and his wife Annisa started homeschooling their children using Catholic curriculum almost two decades ago, however, they began learning the faith alongside their kids. “That's what sparked it,” Gartner says. “We were all learning together, and we kept diving deeper.”
Gartner remembers his call to the diaconate beginning on a pilgrimage to Fatima – a pilgrimage that he very nearly missed. In June of 2008, a traveling statue of Our Lady of Fatima, en route to Russia, made a stop at the parish of Christ the King in Mandan. He thought it would be best if he stayed home to work in the fields, but his wife and children decided to go and listen to the talk. "They were already out the door when I decided to go with them," he remembers.
During the presentation, Gartner felt a strong desire to visit Fatima – so much so that he immediately told his wife they should pack their bags. During their time in Fatima, he began to feel a call to the diaconate, and began to pray deeply about it. Still unsure, he decided to ask God directly. “One night I prayed for a sign if this was something God wanted me to do. And I got my sign the next morning during holy hour.” Returning to his home parish of Sacred Heart in Glen Ullin, Gartner joined the program a few months later.
The support of his family has been an enormous blessing as well. “When we sat the kids down and told them about it, they were all excited,” Gartner says. “Of course, there can always be reservations, but we entrust it all to God.”
“I’d say I was led to the diaconate by women,” Tom Magnuson laughs. “Holy women.” His mother, a devout Catholic, took her five children to Mass and led them in praying the rosary regularly. As a teenager, Magnuson claims he “fell into the world,” straying from the religion his mother had instilled in him. He continued to attend Mass and prayed occasionally, but gave little thought or concern to living out his faith.
His wife Nancy was the next holy woman in Magnuson’s life; after they got married, she helped to guide him on his journey back into the Church. “I saw a peace in her, and there was a real beauty to her faith,” he recalls. He began to get involved in the life of the Church, reading for Mass and helping out in a variety of ministries.
The last woman Magnuson names, is the Blessed Mother. In 2008, Magnuson and his youngest son (Jacob, now a seminarian studying for the diocese) went on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. “It was an overwhelming experience,” states Magnuson. Over the course of the pilgrimage, he came to feel that God desired him to be a deacon; through the intercession of Mary, he became more and more certain. “She solidified my vocation entirely,” he claims.
On his hopes for his new life as a deacon, Magnuson conveys humility and obedience. “I feel called just to be a simple servant,” he states. “Whatever the bishop and pastor need, whatever is asked of me, that’s what I’m called to.” He also mentions his joy to be serving at the Church of the Little Flower in Minot, which he calls “a great Marian parish.”
Dan Tuhy, of St. Joseph’s parish in Killdeer, has had a love for the Church since his childhood as an altar boy. Raised in the faith, he witnessed two men close to him accept the call to the diaconate: his uncle and godfather, was ordained in the 1980s, and a good friend just a few years ago. “Seeing their examples got me thinking about it myself,” he states.
In 2007, Tuhy was given the chance to go on a pilgrimage to Lourdes with a group led by Fr. (now Msgr.) James Shea, and he seized the opportunity. While experiencing the beauty of Lourdes, he committed himself to pray about his vocation to the diaconate, and by the time he returned home he had gone from simply thinking about it to seriously considering it.
Still uncertain as to whether or not the diaconate was for him, however, Tuhy put off any immediate decision. But he kept praying and, through the encouragement of family and friends, became more confident in his discernment. He was driving back from working at an oil field when the call became too strong to ignore any longer – “I pulled my pickup over and called David Fleck, Director of the Diaconate Office, right then and there,” he chuckles. “I just needed to pull the trigger.”
Since joining the program, Dan and his wife Nancy have “loved every minute of it.”
“We’re so grateful to be a part of the program,” they say. “It’s taught us both so much and deepened our faith tremendously.”
Tuhy states that the aspect of his diaconate ministry he is most looking forward to is baptizing his newborn granddaughter in a few weeks.
Each of the four diaconate candidates is supported, inspired, and strengthened by his wife; when discussing their formation and vocation, the men often say “we” rather than “I,” indicating both the joint effort the formation program requires and the deeper spousal intimacy that it results in. The couples all greatly appreciate the spiritual growth and other graces that the program afforded them, and ask for the prayers of the people of the Diocese of Bismarck as they go on to do the work of Christ in our churches and communities.
Men considering the vocation of the permanent diaconate are encouraged to inquire further with David Fleck, Director; Office of the Diaconate. He can be reached at (701) 204-7210 or at firstname.lastname@example.org