'What a gift this has been'

He knows it might sound a little bit incredible, but Deacon David Brencic says a dream was instrumental in his decision to accept the call to the permanent diaconate.

Deacon Brencic, who was ordained for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1999, was married and raising two children and working on the copy desk of a daily newspaper the first time someone asked him if he’d ever considered being a deacon.

In his case, it was a deacon already serving at his parish, St. Barbara in Brookfield, Illinois.

“I’ve always been involved in the Church, but when we moved into St. Barbara, I was more involved,” said Deacon Brencic, 58, now the associate director of the Office of the Diaconate for the archdiocese. “I was a lector, a eucharistic minister, we worked in the BEDS (homeless shelter) ministry, I was involved in the RCIA as a catechist and as part of the team, and there was a deacon named John Debnar who asked me if I had ever thought about the diaconate. I was flattered, but I told him it just wasn’t the right time. I said, ‘Maybe later.’”

Inspiration

His children were young — second grade and preschool — and the formation process demanded a huge time commitment from potential deacons and their wives, he said. That raised more questions because his wife, Jane, was Methodist.

“We were raising the kids Catholic, but she went to her church and we went to ours, and sometimes we would go to each other’s churches on holidays or things like that,” he said.

But after his initial demurral, Deacon Brencic heard a vocation talk from a seminarian who visited his parish during a Mass at which Deacon Debnar was assisting. “I was sitting there thinking, ‘I could see myself doing that,’” he said.

Then he had the dream.

“It was a very vivid dream,” he said. “I was in the sacristy at St. Barbara, and John Debnar was there, and he was placing the deacon’s stole on my shoulder.”

Deacon Brencic talked about the dream with Jane, and she told him she thought he might be called to be a deacon.

After that, it took more than a year to apply for deacon formation and get all the necessary approvals and recommendations from his pastor, his wife and his employer. Given the time demands of the formation program, he made a conscious decision to maintain the status quo at work, letting several opportunities for promotion go by.

Even so, he said, the hardest thing was the events he had to miss in the lives of his children. He was required to attend classes or small group meetings two evenings a week; Jane had to come to the weekly small-group meeting and could choose whether to go to the class. There were also required retreats, classes and other events on weekends.

It was manageable with the help of relatives and other St. Barbara families, he said, “but we had to miss academic nights, volleyball games, basketball games.”

On the other hand, “not many men can say they baptized their grandchildren, and I’ve baptized two of mine.”

‘It’s changed my life’

The years of diaconate formation also marked a period of change for Jane, whose longtime church closed.

“She discerned that she was called to enter the Catholic Church, so she went through the RCIA program,” Deacon Brencic said.

Over just a few weeks in the spring of 1999, Jane was received into the Church, Deacon Brencic was ordained, and his daughter was confirmed by Cardinal Francis E. George.

Now, his ministry as a deacon is an integral part of his identity.

“It’s changed my life,” Deacon Brencic said. “I cannot picture myself not being a deacon. I have never regretted for a day being a deacon. It’s been a joy to serve God and to bring people closer to God.”

About three years ago, Deacon Brencic said, he left his job of almost 25 years to work for the diaconate office.

“What a gift this has been,” he said, adding that his position in the news business had gotten more and more stressful with the economic challenges the industry is facing.

“I feel I’m serving my brother deacons and their wives and families in ways I never could before.”

That includes leaving his ministry at St. Barbara, his home parish for more than 30 years, a year and a half ago and moving to nearby St. Louise de Marillac Parish in LaGrange Park, Illinois.

“The diaconate office asks deacons to discern about being open to changing parishes after 10 years, and I had been at St. Barbara for 15 years,” Deacon Brencic said.

“Being in the diaconate office, it was important to set an example, and I think the time was right to do it.”

Michelle Martin writes from Illinois.