Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 6, 2006
Deacon Bernie Ouellette: Deacon's role is to serve world
In the next 4 years, archdiocese might ordain 30 deacons
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Rocky Mountain House
Wearing black clerical garb and white collar Bernie Ouellette looks like a priest and has occasionally been called father.
But looks can be deceiving. The 63-year-old father of three is a permanent deacon, a cleric ordained by a bishop to a lifetime ministry of word and service to both the Church and the community.
"I am not an almost-priest," Ouellette says. "I'm an ordained cleric and my role is to try to be a visible sign of the Church's service to the world and the community. I hope I am being of service."
Ordained in 2000 for the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, Ouellette has been serving at St. Matthew's Parish for about two years now. He and Deacon Jim Scott, who serves in the Olds area, are the only two deacons currently serving in the Edmonton Archdiocese.
But one day they will have plenty of company. With the archdiocesan diaconate program now in full swing, in just over four years there could be 30 deacons in the archdiocese.
A native of Lebret, Sask., Ouellette didn't even know what a deacon was until he met one while serving as a lay minister in Fort Smith in the early 1990s. A Transport Canada employee, he had moved to the northern community in 1988 to serve as manager of the local air traffic services station.
Liturgy of the Word
As his parish had no permanent priest, Ouellette found himself charged with many tasks, from officiating at funerals and witnessing at weddings to visiting schools and presiding at the Liturgy of the Word.
The deacon he met suggested he consider the vocation. People in the community also thought Ouellette would make a good deacon and told him so. It wasn't a stretch. After all, Ouellette was already doing what a deacon is supposed to do.
He felt called to the vocation and posed the question to the late Msgr. John O'Donnell, a London, Ont., priest who was volunteering at Forth Smith. The priest agreed Ouellette met the requirements to become a deacon.
But O'Donnell made sure Ouellette understood that the Church doesn't ordain deacons because of the shortage of priests. As he put it, the Church is like a choir and needs all its members to make good music. Without deacons the choir doesn't sound as good.
"He gave me a vision to help me understand the diaconate," Ouellette said. "Deacons are not ordained to replace priests or lay ministers; deacons are ordained because there is a shortage of deacons."
Ouellette was ordained to the diaconate in June 2000 after eight years of training though private tutoring and correspondence courses. He has his wife Audrey to thank for it.
"She wasn't involved in training but she was involved in encouraging me, in supporting me," he explains. "A deacon's first commitment is to his family. I would have never been ordained if there had been any hesitation on my wife's part."
In 2003 Ouellette retired to Rocky Mountain House, where his wife was born and raised. Father Paul Payyapilly, the administrator of St. Matthew's Parish, soon asked him to lend a hand.
Busy in the parish
At St. Matthew's, Ouellette trains lay ministers, is coordinator of the Rite of Catholic Initiation of Adults and visits schools, hospitals and the elderly in their homes. He assists the priest in celebrating Mass and occasionally preaches the homily at the invitation of Payyapilly.
"I supplement Father Paul," he says. "I help him when it is necessary."
Ouellette has also baptized, blessed weddings and officiated at funerals on behalf of the Church. And according to parish secretary Myrena Miller, he is also an excellent conflict mediator.
"He is very good at sitting down with people and solving problems," she said. "He is a gift to our parish and the right hand of Father Paul. When Father Paul is busy Deacon Bernie is able to take part of his load and complete it for him."
Ouellette, who receives no salary for his services, loves what he does. "This is a beautiful call," he said. "I hope that I'm doing some good."
Scott, the Olds-area deacon, felt called to the diaconate in 1994 after reading an article on deacons in the Knights of Columbus magazine. "I spoke to my spiritual advisor and he told me 'You should go to see your bishop and tell him to make you a deacon,'" he recalled in a recent interview.
Scott, 62, studied for the diaconate in Calgary with permission from Archbishop Thomas Collins and was ordained the first permanent deacon in the Edmonton Archdiocese in June 2004. "I really felt called to serve God's people; I had a strong desire," he said. He began working with Father Les Drewicki in Olds and Trochu shortly after his ordination.
"Deacons assist the priest and the reason I'm in Olds and Trochu is because Father Les asked for me," he said. "He is a very busy man because there is a lot for him to handle. He appreciates my help."
The thing Scott does the most is preach. He is currently giving homilies once a month both in Olds and Trochu.
The Innisfail accountant also assists the priest at the altar, looks after Baptism preparation, has done at least 20 baptisms and has officiated at two weddings. Deacons can also officiate at funerals but Scott hasn't done that yet.
He also leads ecumenical Sunday services at the seniors' lodge and the hospital about three times a year and he just began saying once-a-month services at the Bowden Institution. He led a Good Friday service in Didsbury last year and is expected to do the Good Friday service in either Didsbury or Sundre this year.
"I love being a deacon," Scott said. "I really enjoy the work and I feel very, very warmly accepted by the people in Olds and Trochu. My wife Eileen and I are very pleased to be part of those two parishes."