Called to Serve: Bishop Rice ordains two to Permanent DiaconateBy: J.B. Kelly Marshfield MO
On the morning of Sat., Aug. 12, St. Agnes Cathedral in Springfield, the diocese celebrated the ordinations of Mike Fritz and Jim Walter to the Permanent Diaconate. The two men recently completed formation and studies through a program sponsored by the neighboring Diocese of Tulsa. The ordination marked a significant point in the vocational journey of the two men who each have their own story to tell. While some commonalities are shared between Deacon Fritz and Deacon Walter-—devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and praying the rosary, and to the Deacon-Martyr St. Lawrence, for example—their careers, families, and discernment processes have given both a unique set of experiences that will undoubtedly benefit those whom they serve in ministry.
Deacon Michael (“Mike”) Fritz
Mike Fritz is a native of the St. Louis area and attended University of Missouri-Rolla (now Missouri S&T), where he earned a degree in geological engineering. Fritz worked for nearly three decades for the Missouri Department of Transportation in Jefferson City. A convert to Catholicism, Fritz entered the Church on Sept. 5, 1993. Shortly after becoming Catholic, he was introduced to the Knights of Columbus. Fritz was very active in the Knights in the years that followed, but felt that he should deepen his involvement in the Church.
“I had the nagging feeling that God wanted me to do more,” Deacon Fritz said.
Eleven years after his entry into the Church, Fritz began seriously considering the Permanent Diaconate but discerned that, due to family commitments, he would not be able to devote the necessary time to diaconate formation. About six years later, however, he and his wife, Michele, approached their then-pastor Fr. Scott Sunnenberg at Holy Trinity Parish in Marshfield about re-exploring the process.
“Fr. Scott sent me to the right people in our diocese to get me into formation,” Deacon Fritz said, adding that his former pastor, “has been a constant supporter for me.”
Deacon Fritz said that his formation experience with the program in Tulsa was very humbling, and that the quality of instruction and deepening of his prayer life together with the other deacon candidates was “amazing.” After six years of monthly trips to the neighboring diocese, he said that all of the areas of study came together.
“The history, philosophy, theology, Scripture, sacraments, traditions, and ceremonies all fit together to make us who we are as Catholics, Deacon Fritz said.”
During his weeks in-between classes and formation weekends, Fritz assisted his parish, Holy Trinity, in Marshfield, in taking Holy Communion to the sick and homebound as well as became involved in prison ministry at Ozark Correctional Center in Fordland. At the prison, Deacon Fritz assisted with instruction in the Faith, RCIA, and Mass or Communion Services for the inmates. This has been a very rewarding experience of serving Christ,” he said
Now, several weeks since the ordination, Deacon Fritz said that he enjoys serving as a deacon, researching Scripture and giving homilies, and that he remains “sustained spiritually” through the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours, a daily examination of conscience, and maintaining regular meetings with his spiritual director. The latter, he said, is something he recommends as “key for anyone’s spirituality,” in addition to daily prayer and self-reflection.
Deacon Mike Fritz has been assigned by Bp. Rice to serve as a deacon in Sacred Heart Parish in Conway and St. William Parish in Buffalo.
Deacon James (“Jim”) Walter
Jim Walter was born and raised in Eastern Nebraska. He attended Archbishop Bergan Catholic High School in Fremont, NE, and then attended the US Military Academy. Deacon Walter spent five years on active duty in the Army before earning his MS in Engineering from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He then began a career as an engineering/manufacturing manager, from which he retired four years ago.
Deacon Walter and his wife, Susie, have been married for 45 years and have five children and 10 grandchildren. They moved to Carthage in 1986 and attend St. Ann Parish. That is where Deacon Walter’s discernment regarding the Permanent Diaconate also began, thanks in part to the suggestion of a retired Vietnamese priest (Carthage is also home to the Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer, formally the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix).
“I had not really considered the vocation before then,” Deacon Walter said, due, in part, to not having encountered many permanent deacons in the diocese.
“However, I knew that I needed to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
Deacon Walter submitted his application with the belief, “that if this was something that was God’s will, nothing could prevent it from happening.” Attuned to the work of the Spirit in his life, Deacon Walter persevered through six years of discernment and formation within the diaconate program in the Diocese of Tulsa.
Reflecting on his preparation experience, Walter said, “the foundation of the program, that which gave light and life to our formation weekends, was a life of prayer centered on the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours), Eucharistic Adoration, and, of course, daily Mass.”
“I came to the understanding that the purpose of my diaconate preparation was not about doing something for God, but rather to grow my relationship with Him,” Deacon Walter said. “And, when we deepen our relationship with God, acts of love and charity naturally come forth.”
Deacon Walter points to the Eucharist—the “source, center, and summit” of the Faith, he notes—as the center of his spiritual life, and that of his wife’s. Attending Mass and praying the Psalms, as well as the rosary, are also of utmost importance to keeping himself spiritually sustained.
“Especially in these difficult times,” Deacon Walter said, “the words of Our Lady of Fatima to ‘say the rosary every day to bring peace to the world’ are critically important.”
Deacon Walter said that he enjoys sharing with others what he has learned through his formation and spiritual growth, and looks forward to continuing sharing the Faith through preaching and various pastoral settings.
“It is a great honor to be in service to the Word and Altar at Mass,” Deacon Walter said, “and then go out and serve others in charity.”
Deacon Walter serves as a deacon in his home parish of St. Ann in Carthage.
Homily of Bishop Rice may be found HERE.