What do a prison chaplain, a retired postmaster, the owner of a lawn care service, a former Navy Commander and the one-time mayor of Canton, Texas have in common? Besides dedication, a strong faith and the ability to wear multiple hats, they share the sacrament of Holy Orders as permanent deacons of the Diocese of Tyler – or as Bishop Alvaro Corrada calls them: one of the two “lungs” that breathe life into the Church of this sizable East Texas diocese. They’re not the only ones, either. On a recent visit to Tyler, the Catholic Extension team got to meet these and many more Deacons – some along with their wives – and hear stories of their ministries in far-flung places throughout a diocese that spans 33 counties and covers almost 23,000 square miles.
The ministries they carry out for the people of East Texas are as diverse as their backgrounds, too. Take Deacon Gregorio Sanchez, for example. Ordained three years, Deacon Gregorio runs his lawn care business while assisting with pastoral ministries for Spanish-speaking East Texans in two parishes. Most days Deacon Robert Rhodes leaves his “day job” at Texas Eastman in Longview to teach high school formation classes and serve the faithful at his home mission in Hallsville, Our Lady of Grace. Deacon Fred Arrambidez, Tyler’s retired postmaster, has added two stops to his route since being ordained two years ago: assisting at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and selling insurance as a Knights of Columbus field agent.
For others, their livelihood is their ministry. Deacon Richard Lawrence – he’s the former mayor – heads up the diocese’s Office of Discipleship and Stewardship. Deacon Jerry Besze and his wife Mary direct the diocese’s Marriage and Family Life office. Deacon Ruben Natera serves as the diocesan Chancellor after years of service in both the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Navy, including a tour in Kuwait. We met Deacon Dan Rose, a full-time prison chaplain, who serves among the incarcerated men at a maximum security prison southwest of Tennessee Colony when he’s not assisting at his parish in Palestine or its mission in Frankston. While an ordained Catholic clergyman, Deacon Dan ministers to men of all faiths when he visits the Coffield Prison Unit.
And they keep coming , too. Tyler, one of the smallest dioceses in the U.S. in terms of population, has boasted some of the largest diaconate classes in the country in recent years. That’s thanks to couples like Dr. Joe and Marilyn Bianca. The retired obstetrician and his wife are now in their second year of formation, a five-year process during which a deacon-aspirant is joined by his wife for nearly all phases.
The success is no fluke, either. Bishop Corrada has a clear vision for where deacons fit into the diocese’s three-pronged evangelization strategy. We’re grateful to be associated with the Diocese of Tyler and its deacons by funding half of the annual cost of formation at the University of Dallas. These men, their wives, and the communities that support them, including the bishop and priests of the diocese are bearing witness to what a faithful and committed response to service looks like and what it means to the whole church.