By Tony DeGol
Deacon Michael Russo is sure glad he listened to his wife.
As someone who dreads seeing blood, he struggled mightily with pastoral visits to hospitals while he was in formation for the permanent diaconate years ago.
His wife, Nancy, a registered nurse, encouraged him to continue.
Fast forward to today, and Deacon Russo would admit that advice is among the best she has ever given him.
“I have to admit the days I spend at the hospital are the happiest days of my ministry,” he confessed. “I’m getting to meet people who are ill, they have concerns, their families have concerns, they want me to pray with them and listen. Sometimes I’m holding their hand, they’re in tears or sharing some heartfelt circumstance with me. To listen to them, take their concerns, lift them in prayer, and give them a blessing before you leave – for me, that’s a ministry that’s just really beautiful.”
Deacon Russo’s experiences illustrate the true spirit of service in which the permanent diaconate is rooted.
“One of our roles is to assist the priest at the altar, but that’s not all that we do,” he explained. “The deacon is really a behind-the-scenes person. He’s visiting the nursing homes, he’s bringing Communion to the homebound, he’s visiting the hospitals. We have deacons who are working in prison ministry. So it’s really getting down into the trenches working with the people to get what they need.”
If married, a candidate for the permanent deacon must have his wife’s full support before being ordained.
“Being a deacon has a spiritual effect on an entire family,” Deacon Russo relayed. “The family becomes totally engulfed in or embraces the ministry.”
Here in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, there are about three dozen permanent deacons, and several others in formation.
Men discerning this path and their wives are invited to a special Bishop’s Night of Vocations for the Permanent Diaconate on September 28 at 7:00 p.m. at the U.S. Hotel in Hollidaysburg.
The casual evening will be an opportunity for prospective deacons and their wives to meet the Bishop, deacons, and deacons’ wives to discuss the vocation and ministry.
“They will be able to learn and ask questions in a relaxed atmosphere,” Deacon Russo said.
Reservations for the event are required by the end of August. Contact Marybeth at the Office of the Permanent Diaconate at (814) 361-2000.
[Photos: (Top) Deacon Donald Gibboney (front) shares a fraternal embrace with Deacon Kevin Nester during the sign of peace at a Mass. (Inset) Deacons and their wives at a recent retreat for the permanent diaconate community.]