BANGOR — Their mission is threefold — service to the Gospel, liturgy and charity.
It sounds like a tall order for men who are working full-time jobs and have wives and families.
Yet on Saturday, eight men in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland took on the challenge of serving as deacons. They were ordained by Bishop Richard Malone at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland, then headed home to begin work in their home parishes.
Deacons Timothy Dougherty, 53, of Holden and Michael Whalen, 62, of Brewer assisted at Mass on Sunday morning at St. John Catholic Church. Dougherty is the treasurer of the Darling Corporation and Whalen is an accountant for Affiliated Healthcare Management. Both will fulfill their callings part time in St. Paul the Apostle Parish, which includes churches in Bangor, Brewer, Hampden and Winterport.
“The first call to be a deacon came many years ago from Father Richard Harvey,” Dougherty said Sunday after Mass. “He was pastor at St. Joe’s [in Brewer] for about 25 years and a big influence on me. I didn’t really think serious about it then, but it kept coming back up until, finally, I answered the call.”
So did Whalen. Both men were recommended for the permanent diaconate about five years ago by the Rev. Joel Cyr, now pastor of Christ the Divine Mercy Parish in Millinocket, when he served St. Joseph Catholic Church in Brewer.
“It is a five year program of study,” Whalen said Friday in a phone interview. “We had a year of discernment, then were considered for admission. Then, we went through four years of formation that involved working on a master’s degree [from Loyola University in New Orleans]. We would meet one weekend a month at chancery in Portland for classes and spiritual development.”
Their primary duties as deacons will be to visit the sick and shut-ins at their homes and parishioners in nursing homes, the Rev. Seamus Greisbach, a parochial vicar for the parish, said Friday in a phone interview. Dougherty will head the Commission for Family Life and Whalen will head the Commission for Parish Life.
Both men will work for the parish as volunteers, not as paid staff.
The word deacon comes from the Geek diakonos, meaning servant, according to information printed earlier this month in the parish bulletin. The first deacons delivered what today would be considered the social ministry of the church. They cared for the widowed, orphaned and the poor.
Deacon is one of three titles given to ordained men in the Catholic church. The others are priest and bishop. Unlike priests and bishops, deacons may be married when ordained but may not marry after their ordinations.
They may perform some of the same duties as priests such as read the Gospel at Mass, offer prayers of the faithful and direct the worship and prayer of the people. Deacons also may baptize infants and converts and preside at weddings and funerals that do not include a Mass when a priest is not available. Like priests, deacons wear the white clerical collar and black shirt.
Although the diaconate played an essential role in the early church, it was not utilized much after the Middle Ages. it was revived following the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. The first deacons in Maine were ordained in 1998. One of the motivating factors for encouraging the program is the shortage of priests in the diocese, according to a previously published story.
Having two deacons in the diocese will ease the burden on the two priests serving the large parish, Greisbach said.
“We, myself and Father [Timothy] Nadeau are focusing on the sacrimental and liturgical life of the parish and faith formation classes,” he said. “Yet, there is a great need to be pastorally available to those who are sick and need sacrimental care.”
Both Dougherty and Whalen grew up in the parish and have known many of its members their entire lives. Dougherty grew up attending St. Joe’s in Brewer and Dougherty attended St. Mary’s when it was located on First and Cedar streets before a fire destroyed it in the early 1970s.
“I had a severe cardiac arrest about 12 years ago,” Whalen said Friday. “The two things I took away from that was that I felt I had a purpose in life. I was in a coma for seven days and when I came out of it, [a] priest was sitting next to me and spent a lot of time with me. It impressed upon me the importance of pastoral ministry.”
Others ordained to the diaconate Saturday and the parishes they serve are:
• Robert Curtis, Jr. of Limerick, St. Matthew Parish.
• David Denbow of Dexter, St. Anne Parish.
• Richard Michael Phillips-Doyle of Perry, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Parish.
• Jeffery Lewis of Gardiner, St. Michael Parish.
• Dr. John Michael Murphy of Brunswick, St. Charles Parish.
• Dr. Ronald Ouellette of Houlton, St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Houlton and St. Agnes in Island Falls.
With their ordinations, there are 36 permanent deacons serving Catholics in Maine.