Career and ministry: A challenging balancing act
Each morning, Deacon Tony Gostkowski leaves his home in the New Jersey suburbs to commute to Manhattan, where he spends his days working as executive vice president of a family investment company.
During his lunch breaks, he heads to nearby St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he assists in the celebration of daily Mass. He also maintains a full schedule of ministerial work at St. Bartholomew Parish in East Brunswick, N.J., where he is formally assigned as a deacon. And all of that is in addition to making time for his wife and family.
So, how does a deacon find time for it all?
“It becomes a big-time juggling act,” admitted Deacon Gostkowski. Some days it means having to leave work early, or postponing dinner until late in the evening, he said. But with some sacrifices and the support of both his employers and family, it is a challenge he has embraced during his 15 years as a deacon.
“One thing I have always felt is that I was called by God to be a deacon, and I always felt that God would give me the grace to handle all these challenges,” he told Our Sunday Visitor. “Until this day, I count on God’s grace to help me with keeping all these balls in the air.”
Deacon Gostkowski also noted that despite his busy work schedule, his professional background as a certified public accountant and his career experience have served him well in the diaconate. Among his many roles as a deacon is serving on the finance council of his home parish and on the diocesan finance council in the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J.
Experiences in the business world combined with the stresses of managing both career and family responsibility is, in a way, a blessing, Deacon Gostkowski added, because it gives him something in common with the people to whom he ministers.
“I have had more experience in the secular world and I think those experiences are reflected in my homilies,” he said. “I am hopeful that those experiences allow me to relate better to the people in the congregation. ... I am able to relate to those people in my parish because I’ve experienced the same kinds of things they’ve experienced.”
For deacon and his wife, marriage and ministry are dual vocation
From an early age, Deacon Tom Geffre knew that he had a calling to service in the Church. But as time went on, he learned that God was calling him not to one vocation, but two.
“There was a calling to married life first, and then came the diaconate,” said Mary Geffre, his wife of 40 years.
From an early age, Deacon Geffre had thought about the priesthood, but even after being married, starting a career as a college professor and becoming a father to eight children, he still felt God had more in store for him.
“As Mary and I were raising our family, it was something we talked about several times,” he recalled. “That calling from childhood was still nagging at me, but in a different direction.”
From discernment through formation, the journey was one the Geffres undertook together. Deacon Geffre was ordained in 2003, and he now serves in his family’s parish, St. James Basilica in Jamestown, N.D.
While the couple freely admits that at times there are challenges and sacrifices that must be made, they also agree that Deacon Geffre’s ministry has been a tremendous blessing for their relationship.
“Our marriage has definitely grown because of the diaconate,” Mary Geffre said. “It has made us talk about things that otherwise we may have experienced by ourselves or put on the back burner.”
“It has made us a much more prayerful couple,” added Deacon Geffre. “It has made us more faith-filled and more dedicated to the Church in the different ministries we are involved with.”
Deacon Geffre also credits the support of his children, the youngest of whom — who was 10 when Deacon Geffre entered the diaconate program — even accompanied his parents to formation classes.
“Our children are very happy that they have a deacon in the family,” he said. “I have witnessed a couple of their marriages, I’ve baptized several of our grandchildren, so it has become very special for the whole family.”
But the challenges and demands that come with a deacon’s ministry, including time away from home, make it crucial for couples to work together and support one another, the Geffres said.
“The wife has to be involved,” Mary Geffre said. “Even though he is the one who gets [ordained], it is the husband and wife who do it together.”
Being a deacon’s wife is its own vocation
Susan Kehoe believes in the old adage that behind every great man, there is a great woman. But in her case, the saying may be modified to “behind every great deacon is a supportive deacon’s wife.”
Since her husband of nearly 38 years, Deacon Larry Kehoe, was ordained in 2006, Kehoe has humbly taken on the responsibility of standing behind him in his ministry at Christ the King Parish in their hometown of Des Moines, Iowa.
At first, Kehoe admitted, the thought of having her husband ordained a deacon was intimidating, but she knew she could not stand in the way of his calling.
|Susan and Deacon Larry Kehoe
“I just wanted to make sure I did not get between God and my husband,” she told Our Sunday Visitor. “I was a bit scared, but I was pretty sure that God was calling him.”
While the couple has shared responsibility in some ministries, such as jointly leading their parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, Kehoe said she understands that there is a dividing line between her work as a member of the laity and her husband’s role as an ordained minister.
Still, she’s learned that many people in their parish look to her as a trusted source of advice.
“People, often women, talk to me because I am the wife of a deacon,” Kehoe said, noting that she gets questions ranging from marital problems to parenting concerns to financial issues.
“You name it, I have heard it,” she said, adding that while she attended her husband’s formation classes, there are no specific programs in her diocese designed to prepare deacons’ wives for such situations.
“Mostly, I just listen, pray and suggest spiritual books and offer support,” she said. “Those who need spiritual help, I direct to my husband, another deacon or our pastor.”
But first and foremost, Kehoe told OSV, her responsibility is being there for her husband, who often puts in 12-hour work days and spends many evenings tending to his diaconal duties. Kehoe said she pitches in by handling the more mundane tasks, such as helping him keep track of appointments, fielding calls that come in while he is at work or even standing in for him when he can’t attend a meeting.
“I am, in some ways, his executive assistant,” she said.
But Kehoe also serves as a source of emotional support and constant encouragement.
“I remind him that he’s always a deacon, even when he’s at work,” she said. “A deacon is called to bring the Gospel and the Eucharist everywhere he goes. Sometimes, but not often, he needs a gentle reminder.”
Kehoe blogs about her experiences at “A Deacon’s Wife” (adeaconswife.wordpress.com).
Read "Permanent diaconate: A ministry of service" here