By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, MN Five years of study and preparation for the permanent deaconate culminated April 21 for John Hansen of Dassel as he was ordained deacon; one of 11 to be the first deacons in the New Ulm Diocese.
The son of Dorothy and the late Jim Hansen, John and his seven siblings grew up in Darwin, attending St. John’s Catholic Church.
As a husband and father of three sons, John first started thinking about the diaconal ministry 15 years ago, after hearing a friend of his from Kansas was considering it.
John had known of deacons in other diocese, but it wasn’t until reading The Prairie Catholic in 2006, that he learned the Diocese of New Ulm would be starting a permanent deaconate formation program. By that point, John had also met the age requirement of 35 years, and was interested in learning more about the program.
In the January edition of The Prairie Catholic, Deacon Mark Kober, director of the Office of Permanent Deaconate, explained what the ministry means.
First, the word deacon comes from the Greek word diakonos, meaning “servant,” which, he said, is appropriate since much of a deacon’s time is given to charitable service.
“All Christians are called to charity, but the deacon is the one who is officially sent by the Church to bring Christ and his Good News to those in need and to make Christ, as servant, sacramentally present,” Kober wrote.
Some of the diaconal powers include reading the Gospel and giving the homily during Mass, witnessing marriages, celebrating the sacrament of Baptism, and conducting funerals. Deacons are not able to consecrate the bread and wine or perform the sacraments of Reconciliation or Anointing of the Sick.
There are a number of other ways deacons serve their parishes, such as leading prayer groups, providing pastoral counseling, and promoting evangelization efforts.
Most appealing to John regarding the permanent deaconate were serving the church and learning more about the Church teachings, he said.
Though there are several qualifications in becoming a candidate for permanent deaconate, one must be a confirmed, practicing Roman Catholic, married or single, and between ages 35 and 55. Since it’s not a paid position, the person must also be economically stable and free of unreasonable debt. A list of the complete requirements can be found on the Diocese of New Ulm website at www.dnu.org, under “Permanent Deaconate.”
In the fall of 2007, John began the process toward becoming ordained.
The first year, the focus was on traveling to Sleepy Eye where he studyied academics for six hours one Saturday a month at the Schoenstatt On the Lake retreat center. Some of the subjects included theology and psychology.
The second year, one weekend a month for 12 hours, John and 10 others devoted their time to the program. This was also when they were accepted as candidates.
“The best part was the community we formed among the 11 of us who were ordained,” he said. “It was also good to learn more about the teachings of the Church and how to apply them in a pastoral setting.”
He found his family and parish to be very supportive throughout the process, including former St. John’s priest Fr. Pat Casey who encouraged John.
“I was glad that he was open to the idea,” Casey said.
It was John’s involvement and leadership in the church that made him a good candidate, Casey explained. John was a grand knight in the early years of the church’s Knights of Columbus chapter, and is also the current director of religious education, along with Nicole Peterson.
“He’ll have a very good and prayerful pastoral presence,” he said, adding that St. John’s Catholic Church is lucky to have him as a deacon.
John was ordained April 21 during a ceremony at the Church of St. Mary in Sleepy Eye.
“It was a glorious experience, with the beautiful music and lots of ritual,” he said. “It was humbling to be called to serve the church.”
As part of the ceremony, each of the men received the Book of the Gospels, calling them to proclaim the Gospel. They also laid prostrate on the floor of the church as a sign of humility and submission to God.
The day following the ordination, John assisted in his first Mass by reading the Gospel and giving the homily.
“It’s different to look out and preach before the people I grew up with people I’ve known all my life,” John said.
“It’s humbling to know that I’m sharing some of the wisdom that they’ve given to me over the years,” he said.
Generally, Deacon John will be preaching one weekend a month and assisting at the Mass each weekend.
“It’s a blessing to be with the people I’ve known most of my life,” John said.
John is married to Ruthann, and they have three sons, Stephen, 20; Nathan, 17; and Grant, 10.
Ruthann has also been John’s biggest cheerleader throughout the process, even going with him to the retreat center for various classes.
“I’m happy for him and proud of him,” she said.
“It will be interesting to see where this life will take us next,” Ruthann said, explaining it’s a new adventure for St. John’s. “It’s an unwritten chapter in the future of the church.”