GARY — For one of the three newest deacons in the Catholic Diocese of Gary, ministry is a family affair.
Deacon Robert Ross is the brother of the Rev. Benjamin Ross, pastor at St. Bridget Parish in Hobart, and nephew to the Rev. Michael Maginot, pastor at St. Stephen, Martyr in Merrillville, Ross’ home parish.
“I feel rewarded,” Deacon Ross said. “Seven years — it’s been a long time coming, but I’m excited.”
Ross, 25, joins Michael J. Booth, 39, and Gary Wolfe, 52, in this ministry of service and prayer following their diaconal ordination Saturday at Holy Angels Cathedral. Ross is a transitional deacon, leading to the priesthood, while Booth and Wolfe are permanent deacons.
“It’s been a long journey, and I had my challenges along the way,” Wolfe said, “but God helped me be a better husband, father, person.”
Booth cited a “very surreal feeling, but I’m blessed to be called to this ministry. I have this overwhelming sense of humility, being called to the diaconate.”
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Preparation for the permanent diaconate is a six-year process in the Diocese of Gary.
The diaconate is the first order, or grade, in Catholic ordained ministry. Any man who is to be ordained a priest must first be ordained a transitional deacon. Deacons serve in the ministries of liturgy, word and charity.
In 1979 the Diocese of Gary instituted a formation program for deacon formation. The first class of permanent deacons in this diocese was ordained in 1981.
Liturgically, deacons may officiate at baptisms, weddings, wake services and funerals. When properly trained, they may also preach.
In addition, deacons may engage in such ministries as prison, youth, religious education and various charities.
A Highland native, Ross has one more year of theology at St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee. His priestly ordination should take place in June 2023. This summer he will serve at the Holy Family tri-parish community in LaPorte.
Booth, who attended St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, is employed as a chaplain at SouthernCare Hospice Services in Merrillville. Wolfe, a graduate of Purdue University Northwest’s Hammond campus, is a maintenance team member at St. John the Evangelist Parish in St. John.
Booth is interested in the deacons’ active prison ministry at Westville Correctional Facility. His home parish is St. Bridget.
Wolfe’s home parish is St. Michael the Archangel in Schererville, where he is involved with a men’s faith-sharing group, training Eucharistic ministers and with the Knights of Columbus. As a deacon, Wolfe wants to serve the sick and dying.
The son of Thomas and Rose Ross, of Highland, Ross did not recall receiving any advice from his clergy relatives, but he respects their example.
“Just to know they’re human beings,” the new deacon said. “I saw you did not have to be a pious monk to be a priest.”
Ross called his journey to the priesthood a “roller coaster ride,” citing his work last summer assisting chaplains at St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart.
“You get to be with people in tough times,” he said, “but suffering often draws people closer to God.”
Maginot wished his nephew all the best, saying Ross will be a “very holy priest, seeing his spiritual growth. He worked well with kids.”
Ross’ brother noted that “when he was first discerning his vocation, I did not want to put any extra pressure on him, but now that he’s ordained, I’m very excited.”
For advice, the St. Bridget pastor echoed what Bishop Robert J. McClory said when he handed each candidate the Book of the Gospels: “Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.”
Thomas Ross recalled the instance when his son first discerned the priesthood. “To teach children how to be altar servers, he lifted the chalice,” the father said, “and he suddenly thought, I can really do this.”
As parents of two clergymen, Rose Ross said, “We feel we’re fulfilling God’s will.”
“God has blessed us,” her husband added.
In his homily, McClory cited the deacons’ role in strengthening the Catholic Church and helping it to grow. Deacons not only serve their parish but in external ministries outside parish life, the bishop said.
“Service is key to being deacons,” McClory said, citing the early history of the diaconate when people were needed to serve the needs of the marginalized.
During the ordination rite, McClory laid his hands on each of the three, an ancient Christian sign of someone being set aside for a particular ministry. They were also invested with the stole and dalmatic as symbols of service to the needy.
In his daily podcast, the Rev. Michael Yadron, pastor at St. Thomas More in Munster, asked people to pray for the new deacons and all those discerning religious vocations.
“The Lord always chooses people to call Him faithfully,” Yadron said. “Some accept. Some refuse.”
Gallery: Three ordained to diaconal ministry of prayer, service