Sports Announcer Serves Both the Catholic Church and LSU Faithful
An interview with Deacon Dan Borné, the longtime public-address announcer for the ‘Bayou Bengals.’
Dan Borné is a deacon at St. Jean Vianney parish in the Diocese of Baton Rouge, La. He is one of a growing number of deacons serving the Church. He is also the public-address announcer for Louisiana State University’s football and basketball games and president of the Louisiana Chemical Association, which represents 66 chemical-manufacturing companies in the Bayou State. He recently spoke with Register correspondent Kelly King Alexander about his love of the diaconate and witnessing to Christ in all areas of his life. He will be behind the microphone as No. 5 nationally ranked LSU (6-0) hosts Western Kentucky (6-1) Saturday at 7pm.
Are there any factors in your childhood that contributed to where you are spiritually today?
I had a mom who taught me to be committed to my faith, and I had a dad who taught me to be faithful to my commitments. That’s what I grew up with.
I had a praying mama who taught me the importance of prayer, the importance of worship, and that’s where I learned about Jesus. That’s where I learned about my faith; that’s where I learned about commitment. I came up through a public-school system, but that didn’t keep my mom from making sure we had everything we needed in terms of catechetical teaching. “PSR,” it’s called now, but it was catechism for us.
We had a church on campus in college, so in college we were very active in the Newman Club at Nichols. And when the liturgy was changed to introduce commentators and lectors and such, I signed up for that because I liked doing that. I actually never served at Mass until I was in college — began altar serving in college and commentating and reading the epistles.
How do you find the time to juggle all of your various roles, especially sports announcer?
When you look at the whole year, it’s seven or eight Saturday nights in Death Valley, sometimes Saturday afternoons now. Those can be planned way ahead. I have a very considerate pastor who understands when I might not be able to assist at a Mass on a Saturday afternoon because I might be at the stadium. You can plan that. Basketball dates — there are about 17 of those — can be planned pretty much into the future, too. Management of time is a discernment process that involves how best to utilize the time that you have to address the responsibilities that happen to be presenting at any given time. That’s a long way of saying I love being busy. I have a very, very supportive wife, a very supportive group of children and grandchildren who understand that sometimes Dad has to be off doing something different while other things are going on at home. That’s always been the case; from the very beginning of our courtship, Lisette has been an incredible help in helping facilitate for me activities that feed me but also feed the family in a lot of ways because the kids love basketball. They love football. My wife is a very devout Catholic who has her own spiritual direction ministry, almost a full-time ministry. She’s called to do that. I enjoy being busy. I love my work with Father Tom Ranzino; I love my work with the bishop [Robert Muench], because I have some chancery assignments as well as my parochial assignments. I love the opportunity to serve the Lord, to serve people, and I love being in Tiger Stadium on Saturday nights.
Did your wife’s vocation in spiritual direction precede your formation in the diaconate?
In 2001, she began a three-year process of spiritual direction formation in Clearwater, Fla., with the Marian Servants of the Eucharist, who are affiliated with (Franciscan University in) Steubenville. And it was about that time that I began going to daily Mass. The correlation was interesting because I felt much more of a draw to the Eucharist. I felt much more of an attraction to the liturgy at Mass. So I began going to daily Mass, and, over the course of those years, there were certain things that happened in my life that directed me to the diaconate. One of them was having been in touch so many years with Deacon Jim Swiler, head of the diaconate in New Orleans. Jim just recently died. He was one of the first deacons ordained in the United States back in the ’70s. He and I had worked together at a small radio station in Thibodaux back in the early ’60s. So I’d known him for years, even before he’d been ordained to the diaconate. But he’d always been a good friend, and we’d talked about the diaconate from time to time. He was a very inviting person. He said, “Why don’t you come down here and take a look at what we’re doing in New Orleans or look into it in Baton Rouge?”
Some people get called to the diaconate, and it’s analogous to a lightning strike — bam! Mine was a much more gradual call. It was more like a sunrise than a lightning strike. I began asking questions; I began looking into formation here in Baton Rouge. As things worked out timing wise, I ended up going through my first two years of formation in New Orleans. And then I finished my formation in the Diocese of Baton Rouge. My formation was to take five years, but because of the way the formation overlapped in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, I finished in four and a half.
Bishops liked to have their deacons formed in their own dioceses because you have a collegiality formed in a diaconate class. They go through years of classes together, of practicums together. They become not only friends in a secular way, but they become spiritual brothers as well along the journey. And while I certainly enjoyed my two years in New Orleans, and I’m indebted to Archbishop [Alfred] Hughes for permitting me to start there, I’m indebted to Bishop Muench for letting me finish here in the Diocese of Baton Rouge.
You’ve said your call was gradual, but were there certain factors that influenced you?
It’s hard to explain; it’s a Holy Spirit kind of thing, where you have a desire to be closer to Jesus, and people satiate that desire in a lot of different ways. People pray. They have private devotions like the Rosary. They have adoration. They have daily Mass. And all of those are important. I felt a pull toward service. I felt a call to put to use whatever gifts the Holy Spirit thought were appropriate and to put them to use in a more formal way. And formation is a two-way street. Just because you want to be a deacon doesn’t mean you’re going to be a deacon. People are interested in the diaconate go through a long series of discernment exercises on their own behalf, and the Church is discerning at the same time whether the person interested in the diaconate is going to be ordained. There’s a mutual discernment going on [with] the man and his wife — because wives are extraordinarily important in the process of formation — and, of course, the bishop. There’s a deacon advisory board. So there are all sorts of mechanisms to assist the bishop in discerning the suitability of and the readiness of a person to be ordained to the diaconate. So you can literally go through five years of formation, but if in the opinion of those with whom the bishop consults and/or in the bishop’s own opinion you’re not ready to be ordained, then that ordination can be delayed. And you know that when you start. It’s not unusual to have 18 or 19 men in a formation class and to have 11 ordained. Some of them get involved in formation and they find there are other avenues in which they can serve the Church that don’t require ordination, and they get out of formation. They get so involved in church work. It’s a miracle. It’s wonderful how it works. So formation doesn’t necessarily end in ordination. But what it does do is [it] helps men and their wives find their gifts and discern the best way they can put those gifts to use for the people of God. Some people use the diaconate to put those gifts to work. And even when you are ordained, you’re not the final arbiter of what you’re going to do. That’s something the bishop — and the parish to which you’re assigned — is going to have something to say about. If the bishop feels you have a particular talent or gift, he’s going to ask you whether or not you’d be willing to put that gift to use for the diocese. Likewise, there may be things needed in a parish that you don’t feel particularly gifted to do, but they have to be done. It works both ways. You are not the final judge of how you use the gifts that you’ve been blessed with in the service of the Church. In the end, all things work for good, because the collective wisdom of your bishop and your pastor is a heck of a lot better than your own individual wisdom, and you rely on them for guidance.
Do your roles overlap? Do you find yourself either ministering in the press box or thinking press releases or public-relations strategy in the pulpit?
Well, I like to say a homily is “Mass communication.” I don’t think you can separate your diaconal service from your secular life. You have to live a life that shows that you’re committed to your faith. That doesn’t necessarily mean preaching on the street corner. It means understanding that people have difficult periods in their lives, and if they’re open to discussing it, being open to discussing it with them. It means treating them like you would want to be treated. You know it’s only in Christianity that you have the Golden Rule in an affirmative way: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In all the other major religions, that is a passive rule. The Golden Rule for them is: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.”
There’s a huge difference. And so, in Christianity, we are called to be sacramentally present. Because if indeed we are the Church, and Christ lives in us, and we are his arms and his legs and his eyes and his tongue, then we’re obligated, irrespective of the environment, to be Christlike. And, again, it doesn’t always mean on the street corner. It means treating people the way Christ would treat them. That can be a struggle sometimes. It can be a struggle for people to treat me like Christ would treat me, because I can get kind of ornery, and I’ll get just a little bit out of sorts. Ordination does not suggest perfection. If anything, ordination suggests you’re much more conscious of your faults and your failures, and you work hard to fix those and to be more Christlike to others.
Do you look out into your Sunday morning congregation and see fans, players or coaches with whom you brushed shoulders with on Saturday night?
There’s no boundary to LSU. Lisette and I were in an Irish pub in the heart of Rome two blocks from the Coliseum — 10 o’clock on a Saturday night in Rome, 3 o’clock in Auburn, Ala., where LSU was playing. So I could travel because there was no home game. So we were watching LSU play Auburn in Rome in an Irish pub on ESPN. And Lisette had a sweater on with a very understated “LSU” on the left [sleeve], and an Italian guy walked up to her in broken English and said, “Ah! L.S.U. And I looked at that guy and laughed. You just can’t get away from it. Believe me, if we’ve got LSU fans in Rome, we’ve got them across town in my church. And a lot of them wear their colors. In fact, we talk a lot about football after Mass. People come out of church and say, “Hey man, what happened? Why didn’t we do this or why did we do that? Didn’t you say it never rained in Tiger Stadium?” I tell them it wasn’t the rain that got us; it was the lightening that postponed the game. That was just a heavy dew.
It’s funny about coaching though, seriously. I could never, ever be a freelance writer like you. I could never do surgery like Benton Dupont. I could never fly an airplane. I could never do what Vonda does right here, run administration, finances, human resources — I could never do all of that. Nor could I pretend to tell people how to do any of those things better. Coaching is the one thing that everybody can do better than the coach. Why is that? I don’t understand.
People jump me for a call made in a game, and I say, “Look, I just call the plays after they run ’em. I just tell you what happened. Don’t attack me!”
But it’s so much fun to have that interaction. And that’s the role of a deacon, in a way. A deacon is in the public square. We don’t wear collars in the Diocese of Baton Rouge. We are regular folks who happen to be ordained. And that makes us more of, and I’ll put this very carefully, a “sacrament in work clothes,” because holy orders is a sacrament. So we are, as ordained ministers, signs or sacraments in the workaday world. We get down with the rest of the folks, and we do what has to be done.
You’ve often said you got the job as the “Voice of Death Valley” because no one else asked. You asked, and you’ve referred to the “power of the ask” in speaking engagements sometimes. Do you employ the power of the ask in your faith life or in ministering to others? I ask men all the time, “Have you ever thought about being a deacon?” I’m not the guy who’s going to harvest, but I plant the seed. I asked young boys who serve at Mass, “Have you ever thought about the priesthood?” Just pose the question. Part of getting vocations is to plant the question so that if there’s any inclination at all it will begin the process of that person’s discernment. I ask it all the time. I don’t know how many people follow up on it; that’s not my job. We are called to be sowers of the seed. And the Holy Spirit will water, fertilize, and if he wants us to harvest, he’ll make it clear. Otherwise, plant the seeds. Let the Holy Spirit do what the Holy Spirit does.
What would you tell a young person who looked at your life right now and said, “That’s the career(s) I want. I want to be just like you, with your multitasking roles.” How would you tell them to go about it?
Pray that God puts people into your life who will mentor you, who will take an interest in you and who will redirect you when they think you’re heading down the wrong road. I’ve had that in my life. The greatest gift to me has been people who’ve helped me, who’ve taken the time to counsel me and to help direct me in my career. Every step of the way I can point to a person or persons who, had it not been for them, the turn would’ve been decidedly different. Find people who are doing what you would like to do, and ask them, “How did you get here?” Most of the time they’ll say, “I got here not because I was heading here, but I got here because of a series of decisions I made influenced not by my own wit or intelligence or talent, but decisions that were made in consultation with people who were more mature than I was, who were more experienced that I was, but who were interested enough in a young person to give that person solid advice.”
And if you have children in college, pray for them. Because the distractions in this world that they have to deal with are numerous, and many of them are lethal. Try to set the best example you can for them in terms of your own faith life. Let them know that the invitation is always there for them to worship with you, but don’t pressure them to do it. Pray for them. Everyone has to find his or her separate peace. You can’t do that for them. They’ve got to find it. And they often have to go through a whole lot of disappointment and difficult times in order to find that peace. You can’t make them. You can only set an example as best you can. Always let them know the invitation is there, and pray for them. There’s a time for everything. I’m sure if I’d looked at it 25 years ago, the track would’ve been different. It’s a cliché that God’s timing is everything, but clichés are clichés because they are true. God’s timing is unpredictable yet perfect. It’s very calming to know that he has a time for everything.
Kelly King Alexander writes from Prairieville, Louisiana.