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Deacon William Pivarnik: service on land and sea

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This is part of a series of articles throughout the year celebrating the 50th anniversary of the reinstitution of the permanent diaconate in the United States.

The boundaries of Deacon Bill Pivarnik’s ministry range from the sea, to a retreat center, and straight to church. A deacon for 32 years, he initially discerned a vocation to the priesthood. Though he didn’t receive a clear answer, he remained an active altar server.

He was born Jan. 4, 1936, to William and Catherine, in Portchester, N.Y. He earned his bachelor of science from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958.

He went on to a 27-year career in the U.S. Navy, married his wife, Barbara, 60 years ago, and had seven children. His son, William, died of cancer in 2001.

At sea, Deacon Pivarnik served as a Catholic lay leader on every ship to which he was assigned. It was his wife who said he ought to be a deacon. The idea struck him. “I never stopped to consider it,” he said.

Richmond Bishop Walter F. Sullivan didn’t allow deacons at the time, but Deacon Pivarnik was moving to the Diocese of Arlington shortly after being reassigned to the Pentagon. He applied to the diaconate and was ordained May 24, 1986, by Bishop John R. Keating at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

Deacon Pivarnik’s retirement from the Navy allowed him to work full time for the church. He and Barbara co-administrated Bethany Retreat House in Huntly, before Deacon Pivarnik was ordained. They wanted to move to the property to help his Naval Academy classmate Deacon Jim Bayne and his wife, who were running it at the time.

Deacon Pivarnik received permission from Deacon Daniel F. Resendes who was running the diaconate formation program at the time. Deacon Resendes told them it would be fine, but there was a complication. The Baynes were leaving, so it was up to Deacon Pivarnik and his wife to run the retreat center.

He retired from the Navy Jan. 1, 1985, and the following day he started work at the retreat center in the middle of a snowstorm. He led and assisted at retreats; monitored liturgies when priests gave retreats; and helped with maintenance.

His first parish assignment after his full-time work at Bethany House was at St. John the Evangelist Church in Warrenton (1988-92). He served as the assistant director of the diocesan Family Life Office (1988-92). In 1992, he was assigned to St. Leo the Great Church in Fairfax.

Deacon Pivarnik moved to Hendersonville, N.C., where he was assigned to Immaculate Conception Church (1996-99). When he returned to the Diocese of Arlington, Deacon Pivarnik was assigned to St. Mary Church in Alexandria (1999-2002). After serving at St. Patrick Church in Fredericksburg (2002-2011), he retired from active ministry June 30, 2011.

He still helps out at St. Patrick and teaches religion to first- and fifth-graders at the school.

Being a deacon allowed him to participate in family events in a different way. He baptized three of his four grandchildren and officiated at his niece’s wedding. Religious vocations didn’t fall far from the tree. He served as a deacon at the first Mass of his son, Dominican Father R. Gabriel Pivarnik, at Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria.

Deacon Pivarnik encourages those considering the diaconate to “pray and then pray some more.” Speak to your family, pastor and a permanent deacon, he said. “If you still feel called by God, call Father Paul D. Scalia, episcopal vicar for clergy.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018