Gaylord—If Deacon Paul Fifer had to sum up the ministry of the Permanent Diaconate in one Bible verse, it would be Psalm 116:9: “I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living.”
“That’s what the diaconate aspires to — bringing Christ out into the everyday world,” he says. Fifer, a deacon himself since 2006, would know; he serves as the director of formation for the Permanent Diaconate for the Diocese of Gaylord.
In an historic occasion for the diocese, six men will be ordained permanent deacons by the Most Reverent Steven J. Raica, Bishop of Gaylord, on November 7 at St. Mary Cathedral in Gaylord. It is the largest class ever ordained for the diocese.
Preparing since January of 2011, the men who will be ordained – Kevin Endres of Traverse City, Brent Hemker of Hale, Frank Kopasz of Manton, Martin Korson of Lake Leelanau, Scott Landane of Atlanta, and Jude Younker of Traverse City – have spent nearly five years focusing on prayer and service, all on their own time and expense.
Each brings their own unique gifts to the diaconate and are eager to serve in any way they can.
A permanent deacon is the first of three ranks of ordained ministry within the Catholic Church – the other two being priests and bishops. Deacons are called to functions of Word, Sacrament, and Charity.
Deacons can be married or single, and all priests are ordained a deacon before they make their priestly promises.
Those who wish to become a deacon must undergo years of preparation, including monthly spiritual direction, earning certain academic certifications, meeting with the bishop, psychological assessments, and much more – all with the goal to fulfill a call to serve the Church in whatever way she may need.
The Diocese of Gaylord currently has 15 deacons that can be found serving in various ways – in parishes, hospitals, nursing homes, jails, food pantries, and in many more ways you may not even see. “They work in the fringes, just like Jesus did,” Fifer says.
Kevin Endres, the youngest of the group at age 40, is a certified civil engineer and real estate broker, Traverse City native, and proud Michigan State University alumni. He and his wife Stephanie, have seven children.
Kevin balances his time among family and running his business, Three West Commercial Real Estate and Consulting.
He is also an active volunteer at his parish of Christ the King in Acme as well as in the community as a member of the Traverse Area Chamber of Commerce’s Transportation Committee, and serving on the Board of Directors for the Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA).
He says that his formation for the diaconate has not only enhanced his spiritual life, but has changed his outlook on life in general:
“Everything in my life now flows from this relationship with God, not just in Church, but with my family, and my personal and professional relationships as well.”
Another businessman by trade, Brent Hemker is married to Natalie.
Together they are raising five children.
He is an alumnus of the University of Michigan, where he majored in mathematics.
Currently, Brent is the President of Midwest Pension Actuaries, Inc., a company he owns with his brother.
A consistent volunteer both at St. Pius X in Hale and within his community, he spent eight years serving as a township trustee for Lyon Township.
In fact, Brent cites his experience volunteering as “the Holy Spirit gently calling [him] over to service and charity,” – a natural progression to the diaconate.
He and Natalie are also both active members of the Vocations Advisory Committee for the Diocese of Gaylord, traveling on weekends for meetings and chaperoning events.
Frank Kopasz has spent his career in law enforcement, a career that included over 26 years of service to the Ann Arbor Police Department, with time as a detective, firearms instructor, and member of the SWAT team.
Since then, he has kept busy with part-time jobs that have included Campus Security at Traverse City West High School, Interlochen Center for the Arts, and Baker College in Lake City.
A graduate of both Michigan State University (undergraduate) and Eastern Michigan University (graduate), Frank holds degrees in both Criminal Justice and Guidance and Counseling.
In his spare time, Frank enjoys volunteering with Catholic Human Services, as Eucharistic Minister, and working with the Knights of Columbus.
He and his wife Phyllis are parishioners at St. Theresa in Manton, and have three grown children.
Martin Korson has lived nearly his entire life in the Lake Leelanau area.
After graduating from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, he landed a teaching job in Northport, where he taught until 1994.
Martin and his wife Phyllis raised their four children on the farm he grew up on, continuing to work the farm even while being employed outside the house.
Martin’s family is steeped in service to the Church and religious discernment.
Most recently, his nephew Ben Rexroat was ordained to the transitional diaconate this past June, and is set to be ordained to the priesthood next summer.
Since 2004, Korson has been the Pastoral Administrator for St. Wenceslaus Parish in Gills Pier.
Another graduate of Michigan State University is Scott Landane.
Scott currently serves as the Vice President and Director of Golf at Elk Ridge Golf Club and as a consultant for the HoneyBaked Ham Company.
He and his wife Karen are parents to two grown daughters and Scott enjoys spending his spare time with his children and grandchildren.
Scott and Karen have also been instrumental in the Annual Bishop’s Golf Outing for Vocations–donating the use of the golf course and staff, helping to coordinate the fundraiser, and volunteering his time on the day of the golf outing.
They are members of the cluster of parishes that include St. Augustine in Hillman and Jesus the Good Shepherd in Atlanta.
Service has been a hallmark of Jude Younker’s life through volunteerism in the communities in which he lived as well as his church. Currently a captain in the Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department and the Department Chaplain, he has previously volunteered with the Elk Rapids Fire Department and served with the American Red Cross, including time as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the North West Michigan Chapter.
Since 1999, Jude has been employed with Munson Healthcare North Flight EMS, using his experience as an emergency volunteer to coordinate air and ground ambulances.
Jude’s immediate family includes his wife Susan and daughter Megan, both parishioners at Immaculate Conception Parish, and his extended family includes a cousin who is a priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
As he prepares to begin his diaconal ministry, Jude says he most looks forward “to accompanying others along the journey of faith and living out the joyous splendor that is Catholicism.”
The Ordination to the Permanent Diaconate will be held on Saturday Nov. 7, at 10:30 a.m. at St. Mary Cathedral in Gaylord. Solemn vespers will also be prayed on the eve of the Ordination, Friday Nov. 6 at 6 p.m. at the Cathedral. Bishop Raica invites everyone to join in this celebration with both their presence and their prayers.
The Diocese of Gaylord was established by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on July 20, 1971.
The territory encompasses 11,171 square miles and includes the 21 most northern counties of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.
The region is home to some 505,498 residents of which more than 65,890 are Catholic and is served by 77 parishes, 17 Catholic schools and many closely-related institutions.
For more information, log on to dioceseofgaylord.org.