D Is for Deacon

Teaching children about the cornucopia of roles in the Church: An interview with author Elizabeth Ficocelli.

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately, which means I have been to a lot of different Catholic churches lately. In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a deacon at St. Jerome led what was, for me, a surprise Saturday-morning Holy Hour, complete with Morning Prayer and Benediction. Knowing I was not a parish regular, he went out of his way to make himself and his parish known to me, by way of welcome. In Arizona, the deacon at St. John Vianney in the Sedona Mountains, reviewed some of the responses in the new translation of the Mass with early arrivers.

Who are these men, and where do they come from? In a new book for children, Elizabeth Ficocelli answers these questions, in seeking to educate and foster future vocations to the diaconate — to at least plant the seed. She talked with me about the book, Where Do Deacons Come From?

Do kids really want or need to know about deacons? Could it just confuse them? Could deacons seem like “play priests”?  I’ve not known a boy who announces he wants to be a deacon when he grows up.

Deacon Greg Kandra recently blogged that his friend, Deacon William Ditewig, had made the following statement: “The diaconate will only become fully accepted as a vocation when young people say, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a deacon.’”

Well, Deacon Ditewig, I hope my book Where Do Deacons Come From? will help make that a reality.

For many kids today, the vocation of deacon is being brought home — literally — as fathers, grandfathers, uncles and other adult males they know are answering the call for this special role of service in the Church. This book sets out to clarify what a deacon is — and isn’t — through kid-friendly text and charming illustrations.

Can adults learn as much as children from this book?

As with all my books for children, Where Do Deacons Come From? is written keeping in mind the parents or teachers that may be sharing the book with young people. I, myself, learned new things about the diaconate, as I did with each book in this vocations series.

So, what do you want everyone to know about the diaconate?

My hope is that readers of all ages will come away with a greater appreciation for the important role that deacons play in the Church. Deacons have a long list of responsibilities, including assisting at Mass, proclaiming the Gospel, preaching homilies, performing baptisms, presiding at marriages and funerals, visiting the sick, serving the poor, doing sacramental preparation and much more. And most deacons do this while balancing a family and full-time work.

Do you know a lot of deacons?

I continue to meet more and more deacons through various ministries my family serves. In addition to the four deacons associated with my own parish, I’ve gotten to know deacons through scouting, Marriage Encounter, Catholic radio and athletics. Truthfully, I don’t really tend to ask them about their professional lives, but I do know deacons who are school-bus drivers, uranium-plant employees and chefs.

Did you test the book on any children?

Every book I write for young people must first pass inspection with my four boys. After that, I will try and get a few youngsters to read it. This particular book had several sets of deacon eyes on it to make sure every detail was correct

Is there something about lay leadership in the New Evangelization that is at the heart of your children’s series? Are you taking some educational leadership?

Each of us is called to a vocation, whether it be married life, single life or religious life (In the case of married deacons, they have two vocations!). I firmly believe it is our job as Catholic parents to plant the seeds of vocation awareness in our children’s hearts and minds at a young age. To do that, we need resources and tools to educate ourselves in the process. I hope my vocation series will be regarded as one of those tools. The way I see it, Catholic families are the spawning ground for new vocations and for the future of our Church — so let’s make it fruitful!

To answer your second question, while I haven’t been taking formal educational leadership training, I continually educate myself in the faith through books, conferences and Catholic media.

You’ve written about deacons, sisters and priests now for children. Did you have a favorite of the three?

Each time one of the books was completed, I regarded it as my favorite. But I truly feel most proud of the deacon book. It feels like it has rounded the series out and is the perfect bridge between religious and lay vocations.

What has feedback been like?

Very positive. I’ve discovered, to my delight, that deacons are bloggers and editors, and many are posting wonderful reviews of the book. In my own diocese, our director of deacons is using the book as part of the formation process. One of our current deacon candidates told me he is so delighted with the book he plans to take it to the office because it answers all the questions he gets from co-workers about being a deacon.

How can – are – parents using the Deacon and other books?

Parents are using the books at home to teach their children about different vocations, but the series is certainly not limited to family use only. These are excellent catechesis tools for parochial schools and religion classes.

What is Bleeding Hands, Weeping Stone?

Bleeding Hands, Weeping Stone is my first book targeted at teenagers and young adults — particularly ones who find Catholicism a bit ho-hum. It gives these young Catholics a peek into some of the rather startling and bizarre phenomena in our faith, such as Eucharistic miracles, stigmata, incorrupt bodies, weeping statues and more. I’ve recently released an attention-getting You Tube video on it.

Do people really want to know about Eucharistic miracles?

Much of what is in the book is relatively unknown to young people (and their parents.) But I think it brings into sharp focus the fact that God has really gone out of his way to get our attention —  and he continues to perform these miracles in our own day. Something like Eucharistic miracles —  times when the consecrated bread and wine have turned into visible flesh and blood —  are powerful reminders that this is not a symbol, but living food, and God is a living God very much interested in having an intimate relationship with each one of us today.

Do you hear from teens who read it?

Teens are telling me they love the book — when they can get it away from their parents, that is. They’ve been very receptive to my presentation on miracles when I visit schools and youth groups. They ask lots of great questions and can’t wait to tell their families about it when they get home.

What’s next in your writing?

My next book is for adults, and it’s due out in spring 2012 from The Crossroad Publishing Company. It’s called Seven From Heaven: How the Sacraments Can Heal, Nurture and Protect Your Family Today. It’s a look at practical ways all seven sacraments can come alive in the family. I’m proud to say this book has received an imprimatur from my own bishop.

What has writing done for your faith?

Writing books for children, teens and adults (and speaking about the subjects of these books to audiences of all sizes) has deepened my faith immensely. Maybe it’s because I came into the Church as an adult that I’m experiencing a “child-like spirituality” — I’m like a little kid, full of zeal and wonder, soaking up information like a sponge, and bursting at the seams to share it with others. This ministry has been an amazing blessing in my life!

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.