Suburban men answer the call, become Catholic deacons
Johnny Burnett thought about serving his Catholic faith as a priest, but ultimately his desire to marry and have a family won out.
However, even after the Mount Prospect man married in 2011, friends, members of the clergy and even his father suggested he look into becoming a deacon.
"Because these several people I respect all were saying the same thing, I was sure God was calling me," he said.
Burnett took an important step toward fulfilling that calling Saturday when he and 21 others were ordained as permanent deacons during two Masses at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago.
They come from all walks of life and will be serving in parishes across Chicago and the suburbs. Most, like Burnett, are married men who have spent the last four years of formation at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein.
"Deacons bring their diverse life and professional experiences to their ministerial roles in the church, which benefit us all," said Cardinal Blase Cupich, who ordained a group in the morning. Bishop Robert Casey ordained the second group in the afternoon.
"They can identify with those who have experienced hardships, as well as celebrate the joys of life's most special moments and sacred celebrations," Cupich added. "These men and their spouse provide witness to God's love and grace in serving their communities as stewards of the church."
Also joining those ranks Saturday was Rafael Romani of Round Lake. He will serve Santa Maria del Popolo Parish in Mundelein as its second deacon.
Romani, who owns a landscaping business with his brother, credits the parish with helping him rediscover his faith.
"I feel called by God to do this," Romani said, "and I know the parish needs help."
The parish serves nearly 4,000 families, both English and Spanish speakers. Romani hopes to bring the two communities together.
The newly ordained deacons will assist their parish priests in nearly all aspects of ministry, except saying Mass. Instead, they assist during Mass and help with baptisms, marriages and funeral services.
Burnett, who was assigned to St. James Parish in Arlington Heights, is a professional musician when he's not serving the church, with two bands, including a Beatles tribute band.
Like the others, Burnett and his wife, Susan, attended the diaconate formation together, as wives are actively involved in the discernment process. He now joins a parish staff that includes four other permanent deacons, helping the Rev. Ryan McMillin serve the parish community of 2,700 households.
McMillin said he welcomes Burnett's creative experience but also values his years of volunteering at St. James, particularly with the bereavement ministry.
"I've seen how he can serve other people well even in difficult times, and I'm confident that he'll be able to do that in many other areas of our outreach at St. James," McMillin said.
New Deacon Pedro Benitez says he feels "ecstatic" at finally achieving his dream of being part of the ordained ministry. He will begin serving at St. Ansgar Parish in Hanover Park.
"The need for more vocational people, whether it be priests, nuns or deacons, is what interested and brought me into the ministry," said Benitez, a Hoffman Estates resident who works for the U.S. Postal Service. "There is such a need for people who are willing to commit to such roles, and I wanted to be a part of it."
There are now 520 active deacons involved in 218 parishes across the archdiocese.