A FINANCIAL economist, a renowned technologist, a researcher for the CSIRO, and a former Protestant pastor will walk into a cathedral to become deacons next week.
Adam Walk, Ivan Ortiz, Chad Hargrave and Peter Pellicaan are one week out from their ordination to the permanent diaconate, one of three ranks in the sacrament of Holy Orders.
They are all married men who, in the past 10 years, have felt a tug on their souls to serve the Church in a concrete way.
As deacons, they will have the sacramental authority to officiate at weddings, baptise babies and adults, preside at funerals, preach the Gospel, impart blessings, and expose or repose the Blessed Sacrament.
But they are not priests or replacements for priests; in fact, deacons cannot consecrate, confirm, absolve, anoint or ordain.
So what are deacons?
“As you start unfolding what the diaconate really is about, it’s about service and charity – the Word and the liturgy too – but primarily, being the invisible servant to everyone,” Mr Ortiz said.
He first read about this role of invisible servant on a piece of paper.
“And the little paper said, ‘If you’re interested in a diaconate vocation, then call this number’,” he said.
He had no idea what deacons were, but called the number anyway because he felt sure that God was asking him to take on extra work besides a full-time career in technology and being a husband and father-of-three.
His wife Liliana felt the same way.
“And we said, ‘Seriously?’,” he said.
God was serious; next week he will be a deacon, and the first for the Latin American Catholic Community in Brisbane.
But life will remain largely the same for him after the ordination.
“The next challenge is really looking and seeing how, in God’s plan, the two worlds will blend,” Mr Ortiz said.
“It’s not like you can be a technologist by day, and deacon by night.”
A deeper transformation
According to financial economist Adam Walk, the opportunity to evangelise in the secular workplace is one of the major differences between priests and deacons.
He is keen to see how being a deacon in the financial sector will work.
“You don’t want to have two lives,” he said.
But his journey to the diaconate didn’t sprout from his day job; it came from within his marriage.
Dr Walk and his wife Megan Walk have been married since 1999, but have not been able to have children.
While they were navigating this big question mark, he was also undergoing a significant transformation – he was preparing to become a Catholic in Easter of 2006.
“I feel like God brought me to the Church when I converted, thinking there was something more, and not having kids made me continue to ask that question,” he said.
“This might be part of the answer, maybe, the gifts I’ve been given are all part of God’s plan.”
He said his wife’s support has meant the world, and a constant reminder for him that a married deacon’s first vocation is to marriage.
“You get so caught up in formation, theology and ministry, you can forget, in my case, that the most important priority is to marriage.
“It is meant to take pride of place.”
Fourth time’s a sign
Chad Hargrave became a Catholic in 2001 and a few years later was told to apply for the diaconate, not once, but four times.
Fr Ken Howell, who is now a bishop, was the first to drop the penny, followed by two parishioners from Mr Hargrave’s parish, St Stephen’s Cathedral, former sacristan Br Patrick Tobin and Ursuline Sister Gabrielle Williams.
“By the time the fourth person had said something along those lines, I thought, ‘I might be slow but I should probably take a hint’,” Mr Hargrave said.
Unfortunately it wasn’t that easy for married men to enter the Holy Orders, with the married diaconate in hiatus at the time 10 years ago.
That and a flourishing career in the sciences meant he put off the diaconate until after he received his doctorate in electrical engineering.
“It’s rushing on at terrifying speed,” Mr Hargrave said of his upcoming ordination.
“If you weren’t nervous or terrified, there’d be something wrong with you.”
As a married man, also without children, and living in the 21st century, he is still trying to understand how life as a deacon will work.
Given the diaconate was in hibernation between the Middle Ages and the Second Vatican Council, there are few deacons – only about 20 in Brisbane – who he can call on for advice.
“It’s a really important role but one we’re still trying to figure out what does that mean in the 21st century of Australia,” he said.
“I think that it has been and meant to be a permanent part of the structure of Holy Orders and it is important that there is a clerical state, in some sense, a bridge between the full-time ministry of a priest, and a life of ministry or clerical life that is embedded in the secular world in many cases.
“It will certainly be an interesting experiment to see what happens.”
Pastor to deacon
Of all the men who are waiting to be ordained deacons, Mr Pellicaan is the only one who has tasted the life in ministry before.
For 10 years he was a Protestant pastor in Toowoomba, following the footsteps of his father, a Reformed Church minister.
He led communion services, baptised members of his congregations and preached the Word of God on Sundays.
His life changed when he listened to an audio recording of Catholic theologian Peter Kreeft, and seven years later he became a Catholic.
That also meant his time as a pastor was over.
“When I resigned from being a Protestant pastor, it was not because I’d lost my sense of vocation, rather it was because I could see that what I’d now come to understand, theologically, historically and philosophically could only be lived out authentically in the Catholic Church – which of course had implications for me as a pastor,” Mr Pellicaan said.
After starting the journey in Parramatta diocese, Mr Pellicaan completed his studies in Brisbane, where he is executive director of Evangelisation Brisbane.
“So a return to being ‘clergy’ feels very natural, like returning home, at least to some extent,” he said.
It feels the same way for his wife Leone and their five children.
“She has always understood my calling to serve in the Church,” he said about his wife’s thoughts.
“So it’s no surprise to her. In some ways for us it’s a bit back to the future.”
When these four men stand before their wives, children, colleagues, bosses and their spiritual mentors on November 30, it will be an important moment for the history of Brisbane archdiocese.
Mr Pellicaan said it was a sign that God was moving and calling married men to serve the Church as deacons.
“Married clergy also have a significantly different lived experience to those who are celibate, which helps to complement our celibate priests,” he said.
“The Church needs faithful priests, but also faithful deacons who can demonstrate by their life what it means to live the Catholic life through a more typical human experience – as husbands, fathers and workers.”