August 5, 2011

Deacons take on leadership positions in archdiocese

Assisting Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, right, Deacon Kerry Blandford, left, elevates the chalice during the doxology of the eucharistic prayer during the March 2 episcopal ordination of Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, center, at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. (File photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

Assisting Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, right, Deacon Kerry Blandford, left, elevates the chalice during the doxology of the eucharistic prayer during the March 2 episcopal ordination of Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, center, at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. (File photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

By Sean Gallagher

When Deacons Kerry Blandford and Michael East were ordained with their 23 classmates in 2008, they made history as the first class of permanent deacons in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

But now with three years of life and ministry as deacons under their belts, the two men have been assigned as leaders among deacons and deacon candidates in the archdiocese.

“We’ve taken the training wheels off, so to speak,” said Deacon Blandford with a laugh. “We’re out there. It’s for real.”

Deacon Blandford is now serving as the director of deacon formation for the archdiocese, and is overseeing the 17 deacon candidates in the final year of their formation before they are ordained next June.

As archdiocesan director of deacons, Deacon East helps to optimize the mission of deacons already ministering in central and southern Indiana.

“I work with pastors and I work with deacons to make sure it’s a good fit for the parish, the deacon and everybody,” said Deacon East, who also ministers at St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour.

Deacons Blandford and East are succeeding Benedictine Father Bede Cisco, who led the archdiocese’s deacon formation program from the time it was launched in 2003. He also served as the director of deacons following the 2008 ordination.

“I can never say enough about the example he set for us, the time he spent with us, the degree of care that he gave us as a group and individually over the past, basically, eight years,” said Deacon East. “I don’t know that I have words to express my appreciation of that.”

In a sense, Deacons Blandford and East had been in training for their new ministry for the past three years since they had served respectively as associate director of deacon formation and associate director of deacons since their ordination.

Working closely with the archdiocese’s future deacons in their formation program for the past three years has been helpful for Deacon Blandford, who also ministers at St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis.

“As you see the call grow in these men, you begin to reflect more on your own call,” he said. “God has brought me to this point. Where does he want me to go from here?”

In working with the deacon candidates and other deacons, Deacon Blandford is in a good position to see how deacons are becoming more and more an integral part of the life of the Church in central and southern Indiana three years after his historic ordination.

“I think we’re beginning to reach a point where there is a basic understanding of it in the archdiocese,” he said. “And that’s reflected not only in what I hear from the guys in formation and the guys from my ordination class, but, frankly, from folks who call in and are expressing an interest in the next class coming up.”

Deacon East acknowledged that it wasn’t always that way. Average parishioners and parish staff members at first weren’t sure how deacons would fit into a faith community’s ministries.

“To some extent, that went across the board,” Deacon East said. “We weren’t sure what we were going to be doing. We were the first class.

“The pastors weren’t sure what to do with us in some cases. There’s been a wonderful working together of deacons, pastors and the laity to bring it to where it’s at today as a viable service to the archdiocese.”

The integration of deacons into the life of the archdiocese is also symbolized, Deacon Blandford noted, by the fact that some deacons are now being reassigned to new parishes.

Upon their ordination in 2008, most of the deacons were assigned to minister in their home parish.

Now some are ministering in parishes that have not had deacons assigned to them in the past.

From the start, the deacons were also assigned to ministries beyond their parishes in such settings as jails, hospitals and nursing homes. This expansion of the reach of the archdiocese by deacons has brought with it a greater collaboration with lay Catholics in these areas.

“We have seen more people involved in jail ministry than we had before,” Deacon East said. “We also see a lot of nursing home and hospital calls. We have deacons serving as chaplains in various organizations.”

Both Deacon Blandford and Deacon East are honored to be named to their leadership positions. They also know that these posts are ultimately defined by service, which is at the heart of the vocation of deacons.

“It’s an assignment of service,” Deacon East said. “It’s being of service to my fellow deacons. That’s what it amounts to.

“I don’t look at it as a step up. Of course, it’s an honor. And I consider it that. But as far as it putting me above my fellow deacons, I don’t see it that way.”

(For more information on deacons in the archdiocese and the deacon formation program, log on to www.archindy.org/deacon.)

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