May 18, 2007

The long and winding road: Deacon Summers follows circuitous path to priesthood

Deacon Randall Summers carries a Book of the Gospels during the chrism Mass celebrated on April 3 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. Deacon Summers will be ordained to the priesthood at the cathedral on June 2.

Deacon Randall Summers carries a Book of the Gospels during the chrism Mass celebrated on April 3 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. Deacon Summers will be ordained to the priesthood at the cathedral on June 2.

(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series on the three transitional deacons who will be ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein at 10 a.m. on June 2 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.)

By Sean Gallagher

Over the past 20 years, Deacon Randall Summers has traveled across the United States and around the world.

But on June 2, he will arrive where God has called him to be when Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein ordains him a priest who will serve the faithful in central and southern Indiana.

Deacon Summers, 50, will be ordained with deacons Eric Nagel and Thomas Kovatch in a eucharistic liturgy that will begin at 10 a.m. on June 2 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

Deacon Summers considered an airport his office for nearly 20 years, working as a consultant in the health care industry.

Based for many years in northwestern Indiana, he flew each week to work at hospitals from coast to coast.

During vacations, Deacon Summers visited 47 of the 50 states as well as numerous countries in Europe and northern Africa.

Although he has a long history of spanning the globe, Deacon Summer’s path to the priesthood can be traced back even further.

Raised in a Catholic home in northwestern Iowa and educated at Catholic primary and secondary schools and a Catholic college, Deacon Summers said he was 19 when he thought God might be calling him to the priesthood.

In his early 20s, he joined Blue Cloud Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Martin, S.D. He chose to forgo making lifelong solemn vows and left the monastery when his temporary vows were completed in 1984.

After that, there was a time when he put Catholicism on the back burner.

“I did go through a period in my life in my adult years where I didn’t practice my faith,” Deacon Summers said. “But certainly those Catholic values that I got when I was in grade school and in high school were helpful in keeping the doors open as far as coming back.”

God’s call to the priesthood also kept re-echoing as Deacon Summers grew older.

“Every few years or so, I would get these ‘nudgings’ to look into the priesthood or religious life,” he said. “I may have looked up some places, depending on where I was in the U.S. But whenever I would get a little too close, I would just sort of back away.”

Deacon Summers’ reticence was partly related to his success in health care.

“That was part of the struggle in discerning a vocation—trying to understand how I could be successful in a career and God calling me to something else,” he said.

Deacon Summers pondered such questions in what he described as a “fruitful” life of prayer during his years working as a consultant.

“I was extremely self-reflective and self-directing,” he said. “It wasn’t a formal kind of prayer life, though. I might pray while riding the bus into work.”

Finally, Deacon Summers could ignore God’s call no longer.

“I needed to pursue this and get it out of my system once and for all,” he said.

He made this conclusion about eight years ago while living near Chicago. After investigating some religious

communities and dioceses, Deacon Summers gravitated toward the archdiocese because of the help he received in discernment from former vocations director Father Joseph Moriarty.

Deacon Summers affiliated with the archdiocese as a seminarian in 2002, and enrolled at Saint Meinrad School of Theology that fall.

At first, he found the transition from traveling from city to city each week to living in a rural seminary a difficult task.

Deacon Summers also initially wondered why God was calling him to the priesthood since he enjoyed the pleasures of being a world traveler.

“If I went according to my feelings, I’d be drinking margaritas on a beach right now,” he said with a chuckle. “But I’m not here to take care of my feelings. I’m here to follow God’s will.”

Deacon Summers also pondered why God might be calling him to the diocesan priesthood since he enjoyed the solitude often found in monastic life.

“If I had my own preference, religious life and Benedictine life would have been my first choice because it seemed to be the easiest,” he said. “I think God was calling me to do the difficult.”

Deacon Summers received confirmations of God’s call through numerous pastoral ministry experiences during his priestly formation.

He has served at St. Mary-of-the-Knobs Parish in Floyd County, St. Mary Parish in Schnellville, Ind., in the Evansville Diocese, and St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis. He also participated in prison ministry at Branchville Correctional Facility near Tell City and spent several weeks studying Spanish in Mexico City.

“All of those have offered me very positive experiences that continually told me, ‘Yeah, you can do this,’ ” Deacon Summers said.

He also realized during his ministry experiences that his life of prayer in the work world may end up being beneficial for him in full-time parish ministry.

“When I was in the business world, you’d see so many different kinds of people in different situations,” Deacon Summers said. “I couldn’t help but give thanks and pray for them. It really spurred on my prayer life. I suspect the same thing will happen once I get into a parish.”

Father Gerald Kirkhoff, pastor of St. Pius X Parish, is a friend of Deacon Summers. He thinks that his years as a consultant will pay dividends to the parishes where he will serve.

“He’s bringing us his experience of … juggling his business [concerns] and his own life and his own finances,” Father Kirkhoff said. “I think all that experience will be a plus for him, especially down the road in a year or two when he’s a pastor of a parish with all its financial dimensions as well as the relating with people.”

Father Eric Johnson, the current archdiocesan vocations director, got to know Deacon Summers when they lived together at St. Pius X Parish.

Father Johnson thinks that Deacon Summers will be adept at valuing the variety of people found today in parishes across central and southern Indiana.

“Randy is a pretty impressive man, primarily in his ability to be attentive to others and to engage in relationships with others,” Father Johnson said. “Randy is the kind of guy who can easily walk into situations that, for many, can be tension-filled, and is able to calm the waters a little bit.”

Father Johnson also thinks that Deacon Summers will be a powerful sign of Christ for the parishes where he will minister.

“I think, in some ways, Randy is somebody that you just kind of naturally look to as a community of faith as someone who can pull people into that ministry of Christ’s love, Christ’s healing and Christ’s joy,” Father Johnson said. “Randy is able to invite people into that ministry. And so he is an icon in many ways of what we consider best about all of that.”

Although his days of seeing an airport as his office are over, Deacon Summers still likes to travel and has incorporated it into his priestly formation.

For about a month in January, he traveled in Egypt, Jordan and Israel with fellow archdiocesan seminarian Jeremy Gries as an independent study trip.

“To be able to say that I’ve been to some of the places that I may be preaching on brings a whole other dimension in, and will help the understanding of the hearers,” Deacon Summers said.

With ordination just weeks away, Deacon Summers is happily awaiting the start of his parish ministry as a priest. He will serve as associate pastor of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis, beginning on July 3.

“I really am very much looking forward to being ordained and getting into a parish,” he said. “Those little bits of experience in parishes, I really enjoyed doing it. I really enjoyed being in parishes. And so I’m looking forward to it.”

Deacon Summers will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving at 11 a.m. on June 3, the day after his priestly ordination, at St. Pius X Church in Indianapolis. †


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