‘Surprising grace’ led Jeff Winkelman to permanent diaconate

Deacon Jeff Winkelman was born in Hennepin County, the oldest of six children adopted by John and Sylvia Winkelman. 

“My childhood years were rich in experiences of faith and family,” he recalled. 

However, during his adolescent years, he said he neglected his faith and by “surprising grace” he “found it back” as a young man preparing for marriage. 

“Marriage prep offered an encounter with Jesus Christ grounded in my experience of the sacramental life that I found in the Church,” he said. “I didn’t think in these terms at that time, but as I look back, that was the point of my adult choice to be a disciple of Jesus Christ; to try each day to live out the vows of baptism.” 

Deacon Jeff said his calling to the diaconate formed gradually through his encounter with the love of Christ, which he said was “made fruitful and joyful when responding to daily opportunities to serve.” 

Deacon Jeff and his wife, Peg, lived most of their married life in the St. Cloud Diocese. 

Deacon Jeff Winkelman was ordained a permanent deacon June 8 at St. Mary’s Cathedral. (Dianne Towalski/The Central Minnesota Catholic)

“Our faith and family were well supported whether living in Alexandria, Freeport or Little Falls,” he said. “Raising a family, serving farm families in a dairy practice and various involvements in local ministries including marriage preparation and jail ministry all supported that sense of a deeper calling to serve.” 

Over the years, the thought of becoming a deacon was planted and cultivated by other men dedicated to serving. Among them were his father John (ordained deacon for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis), his uncle Deacon Andrew Kunkel and his friends Deacons Jim Schulzetenberg and Randy Altstadt, all who serve the St. Cloud Diocese. 

“In those years, it was a thought easily dismissed in the busy life of raising four children, a busy veterinary practice and volunteering in the usual ways living in a small community with children attending its Catholic school. My wife, Peg, and I were also especially involved in the marriage ministry of the diocese, teaching the first instruction for NFP at the diocesan marriage course and serving as a sponsor couple for engaged couples of our parish,” Deacon Jeff said. 

During that time, he said, the decision to apply for the diaconate was something that was both “easy to put off” and “easy to make.” 

“I had a lot of obvious reasons to put the decision off, in that it seemed that I was already overcommitted and I did not see a pathway to resolving that problem. On top of that, I noticed those public responsibilities of a deacon that involved large groups, and public speaking did not appeal to me in the least. On top of that, Peg had no interest in our involving ourselves in ministry any further than we already were. And yet, it was the decision that was easy to make, because I was open to the call,” he said. 

In 2005, the Winkelmans let go of some of their responsibilities and commitments. Deacon Jeff sold his share of the veterinary practice, and in 2010, they moved from Freeport to Little Falls. 

“Our thoughts were to slow down the pace of life and have a little time for recreation,” he said. 

While his parents, uncles, aunts and even saints including St. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta and St. John Paul II helped inspire his vocation, it was Peg who gave him the final nudge. 

At Mass one day, Peg recalls hearing the hymn “The Summons.” 

“One line spoke to me, and I knew immediately what it meant,” she said. “The verse was, ‘Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?’ With tears, I knew at that moment that I was called to say yes and give my [blessing] for Jeff to apply to the diaconate.” 

Deacon Jeff received his formation at St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville and was ordained a permanent deacon June 8. He will serve the parishes of Holy Family, Belle Prairie; Our Lady of Lourdes, Little Falls; and St. Mary, Little Falls. 

“A few years ago, when the three-parish cluster was formed in Little Falls, considerable thought and prayer was given to the mission statement,” Deacon Jeff said. “It reads, ‘Fostering faith in Christ Jesus together.’ Since Peg and I became members of this community in 2010, we have noticed that in these communities, truly faith is fostered and formed in an extraordinary way. We are blessed to participate in the life of this community among so many who generously and cheerfully serve their families and community.” 

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is a multimedia reporter for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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