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May 28, 2017

Deacon Nevinger celebrates 25th ordination anniversary

From left are Jacquie Nevinger, Deacon Ron Nevinger and Father Tim Alkire, pastor of St. Boniface Parish in Lafayette. Deacon Nevinger has served the parish since 1994. (Photo provided)

From left are Jacquie Nevinger, Deacon Ron Nevinger and Father Tim Alkire, pastor of St. Boniface Parish in Lafayette. Deacon Nevinger has served the parish since 1994. (Photo provided)

By Caroline B. Mooney

LAFAYETTE — Deacon Ron Nevinger celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the permanent diaconate on May 9. He and his wife, Jacquie, were honored with a reception on May 7 at St. Boniface Parish, where he has been assigned since 1994.

The couple, who met at the University of Illinois in Champaign, Ill., are approaching their 48th wedding anniversary.

“I came into the Catholic Church in 1982 while we were living in the Diocese of Peoria, Ill.,” said Deacon Nevinger, who had been raised in the Methodist church. “We have two children and wanted them to share a single faith.

“After going through Christ Renews His Parish, I felt drawn to ministry,” he said. “A newly ordained deacon in our parish asked me to consider going into formation. I wanted to serve, but didn’t know what to expect.”

He hoped to join the diaconate formation program immediately, but after talking with his wife, decided to wait until their children were older. Formation demands a lot of time, including one weekend every month.

“I thought, dear Lord, I only asked for him to be Catholic,” Jacquie Nevinger said. “I just wanted someone to go to church with and someone to help raise our children in the Catholic faith.

“But now I’ve been a deacon’s wife for so long that it’s just part of our life,” she said. “You just live it. You take care of your family and you take care of your parish.”

Deacon Nevinger began formation in 1987, and was ordained May 9, 1992.

Deacons may perform baptisms and officiate at marriages and funerals that are held outside of Mass. They don’t consecrate the Eucharist, hear confessions or offer the sacrament of the sick.

One month before ordination, Deacon Nevinger found out his employer wanted him to relocate to Lafayette. He worked for Caterpillar as an engineer manager until his retirement six years ago.

When he moved to Lafayette, then-Bishop William L. Higi granted him faculties as a permanent deacon and assigned him to the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, then under the pastorate of Father Richard Weisenberger.

“I spent two years with Father Weisenberger and got to know Bishop Higi while I served at the cathedral,” Deacon Nevinger said. “This is a good diocese; I’m more than happy here.”

After two years, he was assigned to St. Boniface at the same time that Father Tim Alkire, current pastor, was assigned there as an associate pastor.

“Deacon Ron and Jacquie have been with us at St. Boniface since 1994,” Father Alkire said. “They’ve been involved in so many things that it would be hard to list everything. They’ve provided pre-marital classes and counseling, post-marital guidance, spiritual guidance and direction to anyone who came to them in need.  They’ve organized some of our wonderful parish pilgrimages — and were always very flexible when something unexpected happened. 

“Here’s a great example: Jacquie and I needed to change some money for a pilgrimage group in a small Italian town,” he said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t cross the street to get to the bank because there was a parade in progress. So, Jacquie and I joined a group of Italian army veterans in the parade until we could sneak out the other side to get to the bank — surely a first for a priest and a deacon’s wife from our diocese.

“Deacon Ron has baptized lots of babies at St. Boniface, too — surely one of the greatest joys of his ministry. He has preached countless sermons (as he says, ‘Jacquie gives me some of my best ideas’), tries really hard to preach in Spanish — he’s not afraid of the language — and has humbly accompanied those who were in most need — even financially,” Father Alkire said.

“They make quite a team,” he said. “Jacquie will be our lead on the RCIA team this coming year. And did I mention, they have such a good sense of humor? They do! Deacon Ron and Jacquie have lived a commitment of service to the Church and the parish beautifully for more than 20 years. I am grateful to God for their visible commitment. I am grateful to God to call them friends.”

In 2002, Deacon Nevinger, as director of formation, helped establish the first formation class in the Lafayette diocese for the permanent diaconate.

“I had been ordained 10 years by then and done a lot of marriage preparation, applications for annulment, and taught RCIA with Jacquie. While I was working on the formation program, Jacquie started working at Notre Dame and got a master’s in theology.

“Marriage preparation was very rewarding,” he said. “A lot of those kids came in not understanding what it meant to get married. So we tried to convince them to live a Christian married life. We look back a lot at those families, and while some are divorced, others are still married and have a lot of kids. Our hope was to get people to be open to having a lot of children.”

The couple somehow finds time for hobbies, including traveling with their three beloved Collies. Deacon Nevinger also enjoys NASCAR and recently got his ham radio license. Jacquie enjoys beekeeping and maintains half a dozen hives.

“It has been rewarding — it’s been harder than I thought, but all very rewarding,” she said. “I am very proud of Ron, for so many things.”

The couple is particularly proud of starting a spiritual adoption program at St. Boniface.

“Women in the parish make bracelets with names on them,” Jacquie said. “On the feast of the Annunciation, when the Blessed Mother accepted Jesus in her womb, we begin to pray, and we pray for nine months. The idea is to give an unborn baby in danger of abortion a name.”

Naming the babies helps to keep those praying focused on the reality that their prayers are helping to save a specific baby from abortion. At the end of nine months, a birthday party, or a shower, is held for the babies.

One day when Deacon Nevinger was wearing a bracelet with the name “David” on it, he ran into a friend, Steve, who told him about a woman who was planning to have an abortion.

Steve and his wife offered to adopt the baby and the woman, after a time, agreed.

That baby’s name was David.

“It was kind of a miracle for me,” Deacon Nevinger said. “I used the story to tell parishioners that this is why you want to pray for that baby in the womb. This is a powerful, fabulous witness, especially when you can see some of the fruit of the labor you try to share with people.

“Our marriage had to be strong to put with scheduling issues of the diaconate,” he said. “It has all strengthened my faith to understand what it really means to be a faithful Christian as a husband.

“I really did enjoy doing diaconate formation and I enjoy preaching very much, although I have never been a good public speaker. I couldn’t do it by myself — the Holy Spirit helps me preach. It’s never easy to write a good homily, but once a month I give the weekend homilies. I spend time in prayer and wait for the Holy Spirit to speak. ...

“Father Tim has told me a couple times that after I gave a homily, some people came to confession who hadn’t been for years and years. That makes me feel good,” he said. “I want to say something the Holy Spirit gives me to say that people need to hear, and it’s nice to be a part of things like that.”

He even preaches in Spanish.

“After writing my homily, a parishioner translates it and I read it. People say they understand me,” Deacon Nevinger said.

“Father Tim has been a great mentor, pastor and friend to us,” he said. “I feel very close to people in the parish and have learned so much about faith by watching them live their lives.”

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