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Talk to anyone who knows transitional Deacon Douglas Hunter and you’re likely to get the same response: “He’s a people-person.”
Even the soon-to-be-ordained transitional deacon uses the phrase to describe himself.
“I like opening doors, welcoming people in, figuring out what they’re looking for and how can we get them there,” says Deacon Hunter. “That’s what drives me. I like going out and meeting people where they are.”
At 37, that attribute has been a common thread throughout Deacon Hunter’s life, driving both his nearly 10 years in law enforcement and his call to the priesthood.
The road has been long, and it has not been easy. From growing up in a rough neighborhood to losing both of his parents, from nearly a decade in law enforcement to a later discernment to a priestly vocation, Deacon Hunter has persevered and is ready to “serve God and his Church,” he says.
Deacon Hunter admits his life had challenges from the start.
“Most [seminarians] come from a two-parent household,” the deacon says. His parents never married, but lived in close proximity. “I was born in the inner city [in a neighborhood that was affected by] the influence of gangs, drugs and alcohol. But the best influence in my life was my parents.
“My family has really been there for me every moment of my life. I overcame many obstacles throughout my life, being able to keep my focus on Christ and not what others are doing.”
Deacon Hunter grew up as a member with his mother of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis. While in the fourth grade, he became an altar server. He says he truly enjoyed helping at his parish, and continued to do so through high school and beyond.
“Even as a law enforcement officer, I would come in and help however I was needed—answer phones and stuff envelopes or provide security. It was never about me. It was always about service to God and his Church. I enjoyed it very much, and I still do.”
He says his call to the priesthood first began around the same time he started serving at Mass. From the late Providence Sister Marie Wolf who first asked him to be an altar server through every priest for whom he served Mass, Deacon Hunter says he was asked if he’d ever considered becoming a priest.
“I tried to run from the idea many times,” he admits.
His aunt and godmother, Nona Dottery of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, says “Little Doug”—as he was called since he was named for his father—“was always a playful, fun-loving, happy kid.”
She described how, at another aunt’s day care center, Deacon Hunter would help children with their schoolwork and play Santa at their Christmas parties.
“He was a top-notch server,” adds Dottery, 77. “People in the parish thought he would be a priest long before he decided to do that.”
What Deacon Hunter decided to do instead was go into law enforcement.
From 1998-2009, he worked in various law enforcement and security positions for the Marion County Sheriff’s Department, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, the Indiana Pacers, Butler University and the Metropolitan School District of Perry Township.
For Deacon Hunter, his role in law enforcement was a gateway to helping people.
“I worked at Perry Meridian [High School in Indianapolis] for seven years as a cop,” he says. “It let me see what’s missing in [the students’] lives. I didn’t realize how much ministry I was doing until after I left, seeing the young lives I was able to impact. I still keep in touch with a lot of them.”
Deacon Hunter sees his years in law enforcement as valuable to his ability to minister as a priest.
“God gave me a lot of experience up front,” he explains. “He gave me the chance to see where people need the most help, and gave me the necessary tools and seminarian formation to bring those two together.
“I saw a lot of people hurting for various reasons before seminary. One major component was missing—the spiritual aspect in their life. They tried everything else, and everything failed, but when they turned their life over to God, things would turn around.”
As current pastor of St. Joan of Arc, Father Guy Roberts has seen the effects of the transitional deacon’s law enforcement background in how he interacts with people.
“Having been a police officer, he has seen a lot of the ugliness in the world,” Father Roberts says. “He has a real [perspective on] the dark side to people, and also the knack for helping to bring out the good side. I don’t think he’ll be shocked by anything he sees as a priest, having been in the sheriff’s department.”
While still working full time in law enforcement, Deacon Hunter began working toward a bachelor’s degree in business from Marian University in Indianapolis in 2005. It was also in that year that he began to “strongly consider” a call to the priesthood.
He met with then-vocations director Father Eric Johnson to discuss his options. Getting a degree was necessary for moving on to the seminary, so he continued working and earning his degree.
Deacon Hunter graduated in 2009, and entered Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad. He was 31 at the time, several years older than most seminarians who transition from high school to college and then to the seminary.
“As an older seminarian, he really knew this was what he wanted to do,” says Dottery. “He has done other things and knows what life is about. But seminary hasn’t been easy [for him]—it’s been difficult.”
Part of that difficulty was the loss of his mother in January of 2014. He was an only child, and his father died when the soon-to-be priest was just 15. His mother’s death left him with no siblings and no parents.
Benedictine Father Brendan Moss, who served as Deacon Hunter’s pastoral formation director at Saint Meinrad, says the deacon’s pain in losing his mother will help him be a better priest.
“He was very close to his mother,” says Father Brendan, who now serves as president-rector of Conception Seminary College in Conception, Mo. “That challenge of losing a parent opens you in a way that all the tragedy in the world can’t for the ministry of companioning people as they experience their own loss.”
The loss also showed Deacon Hunter’s character, says Father Roberts.
“I was impressed by his faith and the way he embraced the situation with providence and with peace,” he says. “As an only child, he felt a lot of responsibility for his mom. I know that wasn’t easy for him in the midst of going to the seminary.”
Shortly after his mother died, Deacon Hunter was elected to a two-year term as president of the National Black Catholic Seminarian Association (NBCSA), after serving the organization for two years as treasurer. His experience with the NBCSA and as a black Catholic has created in him a desire for unity.
“We need to bring people together for the service of Christ and his Church,” he says. “It’s time to start working together. I’d like to see more unity—that goes across the board, with Hispanics and Anglos. That’s my hope.”
Growing up in a single-parent household in a rough neighborhood, losing his father at a young age, working full time while earning his bachelor’s degree, serving as president of the NBCSA and losing his mother while in the seminary—Deacon Hunter’s road has been full of challenges.
“I don’t think I could be prouder of a former student,” says Father Brendan. “Doug is a man who in many ways had to fight for what he wanted. He had to be persistent in following his vocation.”
With Deacon Hunter, says Father Brendan, “what you see is what you get. He’s genuine. He’s loyal. He gives 110 percent. … He’s going to be devoted to whatever community he’s assigned to.”
And that comes full circle back to Deacon Hunter’s passion for people.
“He has a heart for the everyday follower,” says Father Brendan, who will offer the homily at the newly ordained priest’s Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Joan of Arc at 10:30 a.m. on June 26. “One of his desires is to bring the Gospel to the people. He’s not just going to be a preacher from the pulpit or a priest in the church [building]. He’s going to visit folks, do ministry in the hardware store and the local diner. He’s going to do the work of God wherever he is.”
And after more than a decade of going to college and the seminary, says Father Brendan, “he’s excited and ready to be out of school and in ministry. He’s ready.”
Dottery is excited for her nephew.
“I really believe God has something special in store for him,” she says. “I told him, ‘God has freed you. There is no one to hold you back.’ He’s 100 percent God’s.”
(For more information about a vocation to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, log on to www.HearGodsCall.com.) †