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September 22, 2013

‘Do the will of God from the heart’: Five men ordained permanent deacons

From left are Deacon John Etter, Deacon Mark Schipper, Bishop Timothy Doherty, Deacon Paul Lunsford, Deacon James Rush and Deacon Matthew “Mike” Mescall. The five men were ordained in Lafayette on Sept. 14. (Photo by Caroline B. Mooney)

From left are Deacon John Etter, Deacon Mark Schipper, Bishop Timothy Doherty, Deacon Paul Lunsford, Deacon James Rush and Deacon Matthew “Mike” Mescall. The five men were ordained in Lafayette on Sept. 14. (Photo by Caroline B. Mooney)

By Kevin Cullen

LAFAYETTE — After years of discernment, prayer, classes and internships, five candidates for the permanent diaconate waited, anxious for the rite of ordination to begin.

“I can’t believe it’s here,” Paul Lunsford said as he stood inside the doors to the cathedral. “I’m so excited to receive the sacrament. I’m without words ... and that’s unusual for me.”

“My mind is swimming,” said Mark Schipper. “It seemed like a long five years (of formation) when I was doing it, but now it seems to have flown by. I’m ready to get into the parishes and the world and bring the Gospel of Christ.”

Both men, with classmates John Etter, Mike Mescall and Jim Rush, were ordained by Bishop Timothy Doherty on Sept. 14 at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception. Dozens of clergy filled the sanctuary and hundreds of friends, family and well-wishers filled the pews.

Bishop Doherty was the principal celebrant of the Mass. Principal concelebrants were Bishop Emeritus William Higi; Father Theodore Dudzinski, vicar general and vicar for the permanent diaconate; Father Dale Ehrman, vicar for clergy; Father Patrick Baikauskas, OP, Father Richard Doerr, Father Brian Dudzinski, Father Kevin Haines, Father Jeffrey Martin, Father Timothy McFarland, CPPS, Father Michael Welch and Father Eric Underwood.

Master of ceremonies was Father David Hasser, vocations director. Deacon Steve Miller and Deacon John Jezierski assisted.

The ordinations brought the total number of permanent deacons in the diocese to 21.

  • Deacon Etter, 60, is assigned to Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, Cicero, and to ministry at the state prison in Pendleton. (Learn more about him here)
  • Deacon Lunsford, 58, is assigned to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish, Carmel, and to the Third Option and Pathways to Healing, marriage and divorce ministries in the Carmel Deanery. (Learn more about him here)
  • Deacon Mescall, 61, is assigned to St. Louis de Montfort Parish, Fishers and to the formation team for the permanent diaconate. He also will pursue a master’s degree from the Saint Meinrad School of Theology in southern Indiana. (Learn more about him here)
  • Deacon Rush, 55, is assigned to St. Lawrence Church, Lafayette, and will work as an ecumenical officer for the diocese. (Learn more about him here)
  • Deacon Schipper, 60, is assigned to Holy Spirit Parish, Geist, and to elder care in the Carmel Deanery. (Learn more about him here)

Permanent deacons are ordained for life and called to play vital roles of service in liturgy and ministry. They do not celebrate Mass or hear confessions, but they are empowered to baptize, officiate at weddings and funerals, preach the Gospel, and assist at the altar. A married deacon cannot remarry if his wife dies.

There are more than 18,000 permanent deacons in the United States, including more than 15,000 engaged in active ministry.

Bishop Doherty, bishop since 2010, thanked Father Theodore Dudzinski, who heads the permanent diaconate office, and Bishop Emeritus Higi, who authorized its establishment. The 2013 ordination class was the third; the first was ordained in 2005 and the second in 2008.

“Somebody else reaps when someone else has sown,” Bishop Doherty said, adding that the formation program “bears fruit today and will continue to.”

The ordination rite, coordinated by the Pastoral Office for Worship and RCIA, began with the presentation of the candidates to the bishop. There was the promise of the elect, the laying on of hands, the prayer of ordination and the investiture with stole and dalmatic. The bishop handed on the Book of Gospels to each new deacon. Each pledged obedience to him and his successors.

“Do the will of God from the heart … serve the people with love and joy as you would the Lord,” Bishop Doherty said.

During the Litany of Supplication, the men lay face-down on the marble floor of the sanctuary as the Litany of the Saints was sung. The bishop and deacons embraced the new deacons during the “kiss of peace.”

Deacon Rush said that the laying on of hands “took me back 2,000 years” as he promised to remain faithful to the faith of the apostles. He thanked his wife, Loretta, for her role in his formation.

“Now it’s time to go to work,” he said. He will meet with Father Dan Gartland, pastor of St. Lawrence Church, “to see how I can fit into his plans,” he said.

Deacon Etter said that the formation process transformed his life.

“The biggest change is trusting in God for everything,” he said. “Some think that’s hard, but it’s really easy.”

Deacon Schipper said that he and his wife, Cathy, are “very excited. We can’t wait to get started together.”

A family friend, Jim Hatke, said he admired Schipper’s willingness to accept the call to the permanent diaconate.

“I was not surprised,” Hatke said. “He was a Eucharistic minister, a sacristan, and what I call a ‘church mouse.’ This is not only a major commitment for the man, but for his spouse as well. It’s a total family thing. It’s good. It’s a happy day.”

Deacon Lunsford, who will remain president of Guerin Catholic High School, said that marriage and divorce ministry are especially meaningful to him. He and Etter helped bring the Third Option and Pathways to Healing to the Carmel Deanery.

Divorced Catholics, he said, “are in serious pain. We expect them to hurt, but it is a lot like death. To help them grieve is a blessing to us and it’s a blessing to have that ministry to stand in that gap.”

Cathy Rahill, the wife of Deacon William Rahill, said she attended to show her support and encouragement to the new deacons.

“It’s exciting to see the (permanent) diaconate growing in the diocese,” said Mary Reid, the wife of Deacon Bill Reid.

Deacon Mescall said he experienced a sense of surrender as he lay prostrate, a symbol of the death and rising of Christ. He felt the presence of the Holy Spirit during the laying on of hands.

“You’re releasing yourself to the hands of God,” he said. “It washes over you. It envelops you.”

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