Deacons’ wives support husbands, parishes in many ways

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Deacon Christopher Keefe is vested by Msgr. Dan Mayall and the deacon’s wife, Binh, during ordinations on May 13, 2023, at Holy Name Cathedral. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

In 2019, Pam Carlson sat alone in the front pew of St. Barbara Church in Brookfield to watch her oldest child, Steven, get married.

Her other three children were all in the wedding party, she said, and her husband, Deacon Thomas Carlson, was on the altar to witness the sacrament of matrimony.

“It was a really, really weird feeling to be sitting there, alone in the pew,” said Carlson. “And to be so proud of them. I had the best seat in the house to watch them.”

Since then, Carlson said, she’s often sat alone in a pew, as her children have grown up and gone to college and or moved to homes of their own and her husband, a deacon since 2018, has assisted at Mass or led a prayer service.

It’s part of being a deacon’s wife, the spouse of a member of the Catholic clergy, said Carlson, who now belongs to Holy Guardian Angels Parish with her family.

Being a visible member of the parish, having people know who you are — and look to you for an example — when you don’t know them, and adjusting family plans and commitments when something comes up at the parish also come with the territory, according to Carlson and the wives of several other deacons in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

That’s one of the reasons some of the deacon’s wives started a group last year, hosting an online book club and organizing an outing to volunteer at Feed My Starving Children.

“Being a deacon’s wife does put you in a different place, and it’s nice to have somebody you’re in contact with who understands the different obligations,” said Joan Weiss, whose husband, Deacon Mark Weiss, was also ordained in 2018. “It’s nice to compare notes.”

Jane Brencic, whose husband, David Brencic, was ordained a deacon 25 years ago and now is the associate director of the diaconate in the archdiocese, said the group, with its online and in-person activities, will allow the deacons’ wives to build closer relationships.

“The men have their convocation, and we’re always invited,” she said, “but it’s good to have more familiar and friendly faces. I’m excited we’re reenergizing the deacons’ wives.”

Married men who are discerning a call to the diaconate must have the support of their wives, and their wives participate in formation activities and academic classes during their four years as aspirants and candidates. That creates a camaraderie among the women in the cohort as well as among the men, wives said. The new group hopes to foster that feeling among the wider group of deacons’ wives.

While deacon’s wives can be involved in ministry with their husbands or have their own lay ministries, it’s not required. Sometimes their support simply means keeping the household running while their husband is busy at church.

For the Carlsons, it means doing bereavement ministry and serving as ministers of care at La Grange Hospital together.

“The rest of it is mostly behind the scenes,” she said. “I try to support him in everything that he does, with scheduling to making sure that he gets out the door at the correct time to helping him read or reread or telling him if I like homilies.”

For Judy Reyes, whose husband, Deacon David Reyes, was ordained in 1999, it’s more a matter of each of them supporting the other in ministry. Reyes started working part-time at their parish, Immaculate Heart of Mary, when she and her husband were participating in the formation program.

She ended up earning a master’s degree from the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago and completed clinical pastoral education, and has been chaplain at Ascension Resurrection Village for more than 10 years.

Brencic’s husband ministered in their home parish, St. Barbara in Brookfield, and then at St. Louise de Marillac in La Grange Park. When the two parishes united to become Holy Guardian Angels, the couple worked to bring the two communities together. Brencic said she has been especially involved in helping the two parish women’s clubs become one.

“The role of a deacon’s wife is to be there and support him in whatever is needed,” she said.

“It changes regularly. It’s not consistent. That doesn’t preclude that we have our own ministry as wives, and we don’t have to do everything they do.”

The deacons themselves need to understand that they must also prioritize their families, Brencic said. While some church commitments are unavoidable, and committal services and Communion calls can’t always be planned, the deacons need to know that it’s important for them to say, “Let me check with my wife,” when they are asked to do something.

Several of the wives said that going through the diaconate formation process and assisting their husbands in ministry was valuable for them and for their marriages, especially Reyes, who had never envisioned a career in ministry.

“The Holy Spirit was with us,” she said. “We felt the call that God wanted this for us. I had no idea that I would land where I am now. It was worth all of the juggling. It was worth all the hours spent in school.”

Carlson concurred.

“I personally feel closer to God and more centered spiritually with him as a deacon,” she said. “Tom is a calm person, and he is such a good person and such a light. The diaconate has made that light brighter.”

Weiss said she’s glad her husband started formation when they were both retired, and she could accompany him to all his classes.

“You have this education being offered to you,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to grow in your faith, and to understand what your husband’s really taking on. It’s a life commitment. It’s a good path. We all want to be closer to God.”


  • deacons

Related Articles