The special role of deacon dads

MILWAUKEE - Deacon Dale Paczkowski proudly walked his daughter Lisa down the aisle for her wedding. Dressed in a tuxedo, he was on one side of Lisa while his wife, Lucy, was on the other. After presenting Lisa to Patrick Defors, her husband-to-be, he walked into the sanctuary and into the sacristy where he performed an almost superhero feat in record time.

"I had the best man help me change from my tux into my vestments," said Deacon Paczkowski, ordained a permanent deacon in the Milwaukee Archdiocese just two months before his daughter's November 2012 wedding. "I came out after that, and a few of my relatives didn't know who I was and were wondering why the presider was late. It was exciting, but a little difficult to pull off."

While he was hoping Lisa would ask him to preside at the wedding at Three Holy Women Church in Milwaukee, he was ill-prepared for the overwhelming swath of emotions the family felt.

He said his daughter cried because she was happy and excited, and he was amazed that he somehow managed to get through the ceremony without crying.

As a deacon at Holy Family Church in Fond du Lac, Wis., Deacon Paczkowski understands his primary role as a deacon is to serve the poor, the sick, the imprisoned and the lonely.

But in a church faced with a critical shortage of priests, he and other deacons preach, baptize, conduct funerals and communion services and witness weddings. With the majority of deacons married with families, juggling life at home, jobs and church can be creative.

Much of the time, Lucy sits alone in the pew while her husband preaches. She sat alone the day he presided at their daughter's wedding.

Stating that she is not a jealous bride, Lucy explained that she made the journey through the diaconate with her husband, and the relationship between the two of them and God continues to grow.

"His role as a deacon is an extension of our lives together," she said. "It is the three of us working together."

Dale Nees, deacon at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Racine, Wis., recently presided over his son Peter's marriage to Erin. Since his daughter-in-law is Lutheran, the wedding wasn't during a Mass but he witnessed the wedding ceremony.

"It is so hard to put into words how I felt. It was very emotional," said Nees. "The whole preparation and getting ready for it was very special to all of us. I did have the overwhelming sense of how God had been working in both their lives to bring them to that time and place to affirm their love in God's name. It was our love as parents that led us to baptize them and nurture their faith life."

He said the dual role of father and the person officiating at the ceremony requires balance to keep everything together.

"And for me, it is a joy to be able to serve in those different capacities. I am always a deacon, no matter what situation I am in," he said. "I think that really is why it is more about who you are than what you do."

The formation director for permanent deacons in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Deacon John Ebel has a son, Christopher, who likely will be getting married soon. While he is open to presiding at the wedding, he said he is just fine being the dad.

"I don't mind being the dad at the wedding," he said. "That is OK, too, and it is a big role, too. After all, I was Dad before I was deacon."

Ordained in 1996, Deacon Ebel has much experience working with engaged couples through marriage preparation classes and counseling. He often draws on his own experience as a married man.

"It helps to be insightful and know when I am being snowed," he said. "For example, when couples talk about reasons for living together, I can approach that subject as a married man and give them the reasons for this not being pleasing to God or the church."

Since he and his wife have been married for 35 years, he also shares with couples how their marriage has evolved and grown over the years.

"We learn and stumble, and ultimately, if you have worked on it, an intimacy grows and the sacrament becomes obvious to them. It gets through to them," he said. "It is important to try to assess that you should be marrying your best friend and life partner."

Couples need to have realistic expectations about marriage, not just about themselves, he added, saying marriage needs nourishment and effort.

"You have to realize that you constantly marry each other every day," he said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015