The following is the story of one American deacon, Deacon James Sinacore of St. John Vianney Parish, Northlake, Illinois.
Deacon Jim sent his story in response to Exaudi’s recent article about the growing number of vocations to the Diaconate in the United States. His story is organized under three questions — simply to ask but not always simple to answer.
How were you called to become a deacon?
This is not an easy question to answer because my progress toward ordination involved a lifetime of experiences. I can, however, summarize the main points along the way.
I can tell you that there was something different about me that I sensed from my childhood. I tried to be like other boys my age, but I always sensed that I was different. For example, my friends were “sports crazy” and I tried to be the same way. But it just never worked. I didn’t like sporting activity and I was no good at anything I tried. Not only did I know it, my friends all knew it and they liked making fun of me because of it.
As a youth I remember being a trusting soul. I wanted to make friends and be close with those around me, but I was hurt repeatedly. Even as a child I could sense how others wanted to take advantage of my gentility and lord it over me. As time went on I had very few friends.
Having been born in 1952 I was exposed to the Tridentine Mass and I soon found myself totally attracted to it. I remember being at Mass and was mesmerized as I watched the priest at the altar. I soon desired to be a priest and expressed this to my family. I remember “playing” priest at home and dreaming of one day being a priest.
As I got a bit older (around 12) my mother took me to what was called the “Friday Night Novena.” It wasn’t a novena, but Eucharistic Adoration held on Friday nights. I think adoration had begun during World War II and continued for a while. As you can imagine, it eventually stopped.
When I was at Adoration I was totally amazed. I was completely drawn in by the beautifully jeweled monstrance. I loved the smell and appearance of the burning incense as it wafted heavenward. I was touched by the singing. I didn’t understand what was happening, but I was totally swept away.
Also during this time, I was captivated by an icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. My mother had a devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows (which is the same icon). I remember gazing at the icon and realizing that it was something special. It wasn’t a typical painting and it wasn’t a photograph. I didn’t know what it was, but it held my attention.
Unfortunately, my inner desire to be a priest was not supported. Eventually, my interest withered and so did my faith life. Those were tough years as I struggled into adulthood.
Life began to change for me as I met the woman I would eventually marry. Right before our wedding, I returned to confession after a 10-year hiatus. And as the years passed I began to experience a resurgence of my desire to live closely with God. From time to time I would experience an internal churning that I intuitively knew was from God. Every time that churning began I remember asking God “What do You want from me?”
Then one night I couldn’t fall asleep. This was highly unusual for me. I tried to lull myself to sleep, but nothing worked. And as I lie in bed that churning began. I was not happy about this because I thought that it would keep me from sleep. And then for the last time in my life, I said “What do You want from me?”
In a totally unexpected experience, I heard a voice. The only way I can express it is that the voice was gentle but firm. It was a male voice. It was clear as a bell, but it wasn’t in the room. The voice said one sentence: “I want you to be a minister.”
The experience took me by surprise, but I intuitively knew it was from God. I was confused. I began talking back to God and said “You want me to become a minister … a minister?” You see, in those days I thought a minister was a Protestant. I went on to say “Do You mean that You want me to leave the Catholic Church and open up some little Bible, Baptist, storefront church like on Roosevelt Road?” “Is THAT what You want?” My questioning was met by silence. And with that, I finally went to sleep.
Sometime later I was talking with an Augustinian brother about married clergy. I remember him saying to me “I don’t know why people keep talking about married clergy. We already have married clergy … they’re called deacons.” And with that statement, it was like someone hit me in the head with a baseball bat! I knew I had to learn more about this.
I eventually went to the Chicago chancery office downtown and got information about the Deacon Formation Program. And after a couple of years, I applied to the program in 1995. I was turned down but I mounted a response that made them see that I had a calling. And after a life’s experience of an up-and-down experience, I was ordained by Cardinal George on May 7, 2000 … the Jubilee year.
What are the roles you play as a deacon — how do you serve the parish?
Currently, I serve the Mass and help prepare parents for the baptism of their children. I did more in the past, but my age and disability limit me. I also conduct the Divine Mercy Holy Hour on the Sunday after Easter.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being a deacon?
I remember during the four years of formation that I promised God that if He ordained me I would bring Him before His people in adoration like I experienced when I was young. And that is what I did for 18 years at the parish where I was first assigned. I was formally assigned to that parish for only three years. I left to come to St. John Vianney because the prior parish was run by a pastor who had lost his faith. Despite that, he agreed to let me continue Adoration. And so, for about 15 years I was serving two parishes. To this day, it still amazes me when I think about how the pastor at the prior parish let me continue Eucharistic Adoration, even though he and the associate never touched it.