On Tuesday, June 23, 2020, at 10 a.m., Deacons Arturo Vigueras Estrada, Michael Kamrowski. Martin Kulak, John McDonnell, Gordon Ruplinger and Kurt Zakrzewski were ordained by Bishop William Patrick Callahan for the Diocese of La Crosse at St. Joseph the Workman Cathedral.
Through his ordination, a deacon is called to service for the Church. The diaconate has its roots in the early Church. (Acts 6) Today, deacons serve in many ways in several parishes of our diocese.
The deacons of the Diocese of La Crosse, like their brother deacons around the world, seek to live their vocation as humble images of Christ the Servant (the word “deacon” is derived from the Greek diakonia, which literally means “service”). They are men, often married with families, though typically their children are older. They have had—and often continue to have—active careers, and before they began their formation, they were already serving their parishes as dedicated members of the laity. But they felt a deeper call and followed it, and now serve the Church as ordained members of the clergy.
Deacon formation begins with two years of aspirancy. Upon completion, the aspirants petition to be admitted to candidacy, which consists of three years of continued discernment, more intensive formation and classes. Formation for the diaconate is marked by four key dimensions: human, spiritual, doctrinal and pastoral. In this way, the men are assured of a well-rounded preparation for life and ministry as deacons.
Deacons provide service in an array of ministries: visiting the sick, marriage preparation, teaching in faith formation programs, proclaiming the Gospel, administering baptism, officiating at weddings and wakes, assisting at the altar, carrying out administrative tasks and more.
A small number of deacons in our diocese are employed by the diocese or parishes, but most offer their ministry on a voluntary basis while continuing to hold jobs in the secular world. Indeed, the deacon lives uniquely in two worlds, the clerical and the secular, thus forming a bridge between the two. He has a precious opportunity to infuse the world of secular work and society with the light of Christ and, conversely, to enrich his diaconal ministry in the Church with firsthand experience of marriage, family life and the secular world.
Deacon Arturo Vigueras
St. Peter Parish in Stevens Point
The oldest of five, I was born in San Luis Obispo, Calif., then grew up in Mexico. My family and I moved to Wisconsin when I was 15. I am a proud uncle to my 3-year-old niece and 1-year-old nephew. My path to the priesthood began in college. While I considered attending law school, I decided to follow God’s call and entered the seminary seven years ago.
After most of my theological studies, I was able to spend time at parishes in Menomonie and Marshfield. My vocation to the priesthood was affirmed during this time. As I finish up my priestly formation this year, I look forward to spending the rest of my life serving the Diocese of La Crosse and cannot wait to see what challenges the Lord has in store for me.
Deacon Michael Kamrowski
Holy Family Parish in Arcadia and Sacred Heart Parish in Pine Creek
My family and I live in Arcadia and are members of Holy Family Parish. I work as an elementary and middle school teacher. I’ve been blessed to teach in Catholic schools for the past 15 years. I’ve had the privilege of teaching in Chippewa Falls at McDonell Area Catholic Schools and now in Arcadia at Holy Family Catholic School. My wife Erin and I have been married for almost 16 years and have four terrific children (Noah, Emily, Ethan and JeAnna). As a deacon, I will continue to assist the Church with catechesis and evangelization to school aged children and look forward to contributing with married life and homebound/nursing home ministries.
Deacon Martin Kulak
St. Francis Parish in Ellsworth
Ordination brings about the start of the journey God has led me on since the day I was born. I lived in Chicago and was taught by Franciscan sisters and Dominican brothers. Their painstaking love and leadership took me, a rather mischievous adolescent, and helped form me in the ways Our Lord taught. God has blessed me with a wonderful family, consisting of my wife and life’s companion Margie, our two sons and three grandsons, all of whom give me the needed support to follow my calling. I look forward to caring for memory care parishioners and working with the children of the parish. I’m ready to serve when the bishop calls and am open to where God will lead me.
Deacon John McDonnell
St. Michael Parish and Church of the Resurrection Parish in Wausau
Born and raised in New York City, I met my future wife, Tracy, while in college. Tracy, a Virginia native, has been a registered nurse for 35 years. After college and service in the U.S. Navy, our family relocated to Wausau as I started a new career in manufacturing. Two adult children, Brendan and Carolyn, complete our immediate family. Tracy and I are Secular Franciscans and have been active in ministry to the homebound, catechesis and liturgical ministries. After ordination and assignment by the bishop, I look forward to serving in whatever ministries are needed, with a special interest in ministries of charity and catechesis.
Deacon Gordon Ruplinger
Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Marathon
A lifelong resident of Marathon, I started my Catholic formation at St. Mary School. My wife Mary and I have been married more than 45 years. We have five adult children, one child in the loving hands of God and 10 grandchildren. The gift of a strong marriage and the blessings of children and grandchildren reassure me daily of God’s love.
I have drawn inspiration from our pastor and our two deacons during my formation. Their example has shown me how to serve with love and compassion; I pray I might be the hands of Christ. I will continue working with our RCIA group and I hope my ministry allows me to work in the areas of promoting life, especially the unborn.
Deacon Kurt Zakrzewski
Holy Cross Parish in Cornell, Sacred Heart Parish in Jim Falls and St. Anthony Parish in Drywood
I was born in Columbus, Neb. and baptized at St. Anthony Parish. I am the oldest of five siblings. I moved to Cornell at age 12, where I met my wife Phyllis of 43 years. We have five children and 22 grandchildren. I am a yard operator at Mule Hide Manufacturing in Cornell. I have been very blessed and humbled that Our Lord has chosen me to be of service to Him. I am a member of the Knights of Columbus, teach CCD and run a men’s group. I am involved in marriage preparation and Retrouvaille. I belong to the Domestic Church movement and would like to see all of these ministries grow. I ask for continued prayers that I may touch and heal hearts and be of service to the Diocese of La Crosse.
The diocese has benefited from the humble service of these men who are ordained to image Christ the Servant, and there is a need for more. A new class of aspirants will start in the fall of 2021.
If you wish to learn more about the formation, life and ministry of the deacon, please contact Deacon Bryan Hilts, director of the Office of the Diaconate: [email protected].
Story by Deacon Bryan Hilts
Photography by Michael Lieurance
Published September/October 2020 Catholic Life issue