Journey to ministry
November 24, 2008 · Updated 4:01 PM
Islander first thought of ministry 25 years ago
By Mary L. Grady
Mercer Island Reporter
Islander Larry McDonald, the former CEO of Gais Bakeries and the coffee company, Torrefazione Italia, was ordained as a deacon of the Catholic Church last Saturday in Seattle. Over 1,500 people attended the ordination presided over by the Archbishop of Seattle, Alex Brunett, along with dozens of fellow deacons and priests at the 100-year-old St. James Cathedral.
McDonald, a member of St. Monica parish, was one of 21 married men from the diocese who completed four years of training to serve the church in the role of deacon.
In a ceremony marked with ringing organ music, clouds of incense and centuries of tradition, the men were summoned to the altar. They were greeted individually by the Archbishop, experienced the laying on of hands, then prostrated themselves on the marble of the main altar before the congregation and God. Deacon Jack Warfield of Mercer Island’s St. Monica parish had a special role in the mass, that of reading the Gospel and in the “Calling of the Candidates” for ordination.
“It is a great blessing for the church,” the Archbishop told the congregants, “that these men have offered their service to the church.”
They are, he said, “Living the faith that was already in their lives.”
In welcoming the deacons, the Archbishop looked over the men who, with just a couple of exceptions, are in late middle age. He remarked on the long journey they had taken to get to this moment.
“They were young when they started,” he said amid some laughter.
The ordination to ministry is sometimes the culmination of a call to ministry that can last decades.
McDonald was born in Nebraska on Jan. 5, 1945, the very day his father was killed in World War II. His mother remarried and the family moved often as his stepfather, a lineman with the Rural Electrification Administration, worked across the Southwest. The family eventually settled in southern California. An altar boy throughout his early years, McDonald attended Santa Clara College near San Jose, where he met his future wife, Karen. They moved to Mercer Island in 1966 where they have remained since. They have two grown children and five grandchildren.
McDonald has long been involved with St. Monica as a Eucharistic minister and in other roles throughout the years. He was appointed parish administrator last summer as he was completing his studies for the diaconate.
Now retired from the business world, McDonald said he had felt the tug toward religious life long ago. He had talked to his parish priest and others, but as a married man there were few avenues to pursue. And, he was caught up with his growing family and his business, he said.
Becoming a deacon allows a married man to be involved as a minister in the Catholic church. Deacons may perform some, but not all, sacramental duties.
One Christmas Eve many years ago, when he was assisting during mass as a Eucharistic Minister, there was another sign.
“I thought to myself,” he said of that night, “that there was something more I could do.”
His wife Karen thought “the possibility of ministry in the church was a wonderful idea, but we just didn’t know how it would come about.”
In the 1960s, Vatican II brought many changes. The American Church began ordaining deacons to serve in many capacities. The Archdiocese of Seattle had suspended its program in the 1990s but recently has restarted the program.
Over the years, fewer young men have stepped forward to be priests. And as the number of men entering the priesthood has declined precipitously, the number of deacons has grown. Over time, they have assumed a more active role in the parishes they serve.
“Deacons are going to help us through this crisis,” McDonald said.
The ordination is also a good omen for the parish of St. Monica, whose pastor, Fr. Dennis Kemp, has been on leave since last July as allegations against him of improper behavior toward a minor were first brought forward. Since that time, the church appointed McDonald to be the administrator of the parish. He joins St. Monica’s Warfield and other lay people who have worked to fill the void left by the parish priest.
As the deacons were helped into their vestments, signaling their new status within the church, the wives of the deacons stepped onto the altar to help. Karen McDonald helped slip the sacred vestments over her husband’s shoulders; she held him for a long moment and whispered in his ear.
He straightened and looked ahead, confident and resplendent in the cloak of his office, blessed.