BY PETER FEUERHERDDuring the "Year for Priests," which concluded in June, The Evangelist began publishing and continues to feature Q&A interviews with clergy, religious and laypeople. This week, Deacon James W. Bower shares on his vocation.
What do you do as a deacon?
I am the deacon in two parishes, Annunciation in Ilion and Our Lady Queen of Apostles in Frankfort. They are linked parishes, served by one pastor, Rev. Anthony Barratt. I am also pastoral associate in both for parish life and administration.
It sounds like a full-time job.
Pretty much. They are both larger parishes, with a total of about 2,500 registered families. I get involved in a lot of funerals, weddings, baptisms - all the wonderful things that deacons are called to do. For example, in a normal year we have in excess of 100 funerals. I'm involved in doing many of the funerals: interviewing the families, praying at the interment, all things deacons are called to do. I also help with the weddings that don't require a Mass.
What did you do before becoming a deacon?
I'm a mechanical engineer by background, with more than 25 years in the corporate world. I took early retrirement from DuPont in 1990. We returned to Ilion, which is my hometown. I don't do a lot of that anymore, although I still have a mechanical engineering business.
Many men your age are well into retirement. What keeps you going?
I am 68. I'm doing what I love to do. If you are happy doing what you are doing, do it as long as you can, I believe. I can't imagine being fully retired.
What inspired you to become a deacon?
In 1998, the business was going well; I was enjoying a good marriage with my wife, Diana; our two boys were grown - but I felt an emptiness, feeling that there was something else I should be doing.
I was sitting in the chapel at Annunciation Church when an inner voice said to take a look at being a deacon. I get nervous when I tell that, because I don't usually hear voices. I was ordained at the age of 62.
How has your family reacted?
My wife was and is very supportive. Without a supportive wife, being a deacon just doesn't happen. The wives are very much a part of the vocation.
Have your expectations been met?
They have been exceeded. That emptiness is gone. My life is very full. I get to meet wonderful people and serve them through God's call. Life is good.
What's the most dificult part of being a deacon?
Finding the balance in your life, among your family, your business and the diaconate.
...And the best part?
The wonderful people I get to work with. There are people I wouldn't know without [being a deacon]. There are friendships that have been built.
What is your favorite deacon duty?
When I first started, I didn't think that I would enjoy doing homilies. But I get satisfaction out of it. I hope the people get as much out of it as I do. When preparing homilies, I am helping myself. It's not something I would have bet on. You don't find out what talents God has given you until you get involved.
What do you do for fun?
I enjoy reading, playing golf with my son and spending time with my family.
What do people need to know about being a deacon?
There's a great misconception about what deacons do. Too many people see us as an assistant priest, which we are not. It is a separate vocation. It is much more than being on the altar.
Most of what we do is working with people who have lost a loved one, preparing for a baptism, working with a man or woman whose marriage has failed [who is] seeking an annulment. Don't just look at what we're doing on Sunday. The diaconate is a service vocation, as it was for the earliest days of the Church.
Music: classical and "the music I grew up with in the 1960s and '70s - Barbra Streisand and people like that"
Performer: Nancy LaMott, "a cabaret singer from New York City who died at the tender age of 42"
Movie: "Field of Dreams"
TV: "The Closer"
Sports team: Baltimore Orioles
Food: tuna steak