Three men accept call to ministry as deacons

Above: Bishop Donald Kettler joins hands with Christopher Goenner during the Promise of Obedience during the ordination to the Permanent Diaconate in June 2016.


Three men are preparing to join the 60 permanent deacons who currently serve the Diocese of St. Cloud when they are ordained by Bishop Donald Kettler at 10:30 a.m. June 10 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud. The public is invited to attend.

“I am so excited to see these three men ordained,” said Deacon Mark Barder, diocesan director of the Diaconate Office.

“I’ve watched them grow over the years and I am very grateful for the sacrifices they and their families have made throughout this process,” he said. “They will be marvelous ministers in their communities.”

Dan Dullinger

Dan Dullinger will serve the parish communities of Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Rockville; St. Wendelin, Luxemburg; and Holy Cross, Pearl Lake.

The area where Dan Dullinger will be serving as a deacon has always been a very special place for him. He grew up on Grand Lake near Rockville and attended Holy Cross School and parish in Pearl Lake. Years later, he married his wife, Teri, whose family had a cabin on the same lake.

Dan Dullinger

The couple has been married 33 years and are the parents of three daughters — Amanda, who lives in Arizona and works in education and awareness in data security and has a knack for art; Kristina, who passed away in 2004 at 16 as a result of an auto accident and loved to serve at Mass, play sports and deer hunt; and Jessica, who is married and works as an in-home hospice nurse for the Mayo Clinic.

Dullinger works in information technology at J&B Group in St. Michael. He and Teri currently live in Big Lake, but they are planning to sell their home and move back to the Rockville area.

“This is a major blessing I didn’t see coming until late last fall. I was baptized and confirmed at Holy Cross,” Dan said.

And that is also where he met Deacon Andy Kunkel, who first suggested the idea of becoming a deacon to Dan at his granddaughter’s graduation party.

“‘Why would he ask me?’ I thought,” Dan said. “The next mention came a few years later from a priest, who I did not know, during my confession, then from fellow parishioners at random. I started believing it but at the same time still doubted.”
Dan said the Lord decided to make it “a little more obvious to this doubting Thomas.”

“I received a call, a grace, during a Mass at St. Henry’s in Monticello, our parish of 20-plus years. During Mass I heard with my spiritual ears, ‘A lady in this church is receiving a word you are to become a deacon.’ Sure enough, a lady named Janet approached immediately after Mass. She said, ‘I usually don’t do this kind of thing but I believe I was told during Mass to tell you that you are to become a deacon.’ My wife heard these words from Janet and I explained later what happened to me during Mass, so she, too, in that way, experienced the call with me. This helped her say ‘yes’ as to this call as well,” Dan said.

Teri has been a great influence and inspiration to Dan in his discernment and formation, in addition to numerous others — their parents, family, friends, clergy and the lives of the saints.

“I don’t think many people could possibly know what she has done to keep me on track in my health, spiritual life, formation, academics, job and attitude. Her growth in faith during my formation was inspiring — from rattling the rosary beads at 3 a.m. to reminding me to go to weekday Mass when my head was in the books. Her strength, faith and generosity inspire me.”

As a deacon, Dan is most looking forward to serving the church and community.

“I very much look forward to serving the three-fold ministries of a deacon: preaching and teaching the Word of God, celebrating the sacraments and commitment to prayer, and works of charity or social service,” he said. “I desire to simply ‘be’ with people and help them along their journey to Christ with the gifts and grace God has given me.”

Mike Benda

Mike Benda will serve the parishes of St. Mary’s Cathedral and St. Augustine in St. Cloud.

Mike Benda believes his call to the diaconate is fulfilling the mission God has given him.

“My call is to accompany others to be prepared to respond to the Holy Spirit’s graces in their lives — to proclaim at all times the message that God loves each of us so very much,” Benda said.

Mike Benda

“John Henry Newman relates that God has created me to do some special service; God has committed some work to me which has not been committed to another. If I don’t do it, it will not get done,” Benda said. “I am looking forward to realizing the mission that God has given to me. He loves us infinitely in the very particular situation that we find ourselves at this very moment. If one only realizes the sacrifice we find when gazing at Jesus on the cross, we will know the immensity of this love.”

Benda attended Crosier Seminary in Onamia in ninth grade and now works across the parking lot as IT manager at Mille Lacs Health System. He and his wife, Joan, have been married 38 years and have four married children and nine grandchildren.

“There are many people who have been influential [in my formation] and in reality we are influenced in some way with all those we encounter if we are open to understanding how Christ is present in others,” Benda said.

“However, in particular, is my wife, Joan, who shared this journey with me. Through this formation we both grew in our relationship together. Her prayer and sacrifice were both inspirational and sustaining for me. I know Christ very distinctly in her.”

Benda said throughout his adult life the idea of becoming a deacon would often come to mind.

“It was not understandable to me why I would be made aware of this as I didn’t feel prepared to even consider it,” he said.

“There was a conversion in my life and when the prompting came once again, it did make sense. God prepares us even when we are not cooperative. When we become cooperative things make sense. The ‘why’ is not of my doing. It is more a realization of a vocation that is part of the mission God has for me.”

In addition to serving the parishes of St. Mary’s Cathedral and St. Augustine in St. Cloud, he also hopes to continue to work in jail and prison ministry.

Lucio David Hernandez

Lucio David Hernandez will be serving the parishes of St. Joseph in Waite Park and St. Michael in St. Cloud.

When God was calling Lucio David Hernandez to the permanent diaconate, he tried hard to say no.

“For so many years, my wife, friends and priest encouraged me to consider becoming a deacon but I busied myself with life and, therefore, repeatedly said no to the Lord,” Hernandez said. “But the Lord would not give up on me and continued to call.”

Lucio David Hernandez

Hernandez grew up in Mexico and later moved to the United States. He and his wife, Adela, lived in California, where he worked temporarily in agriculture and then in sales. They relocated to Arizona where he became a business owner and worked as a real estate and insurance broker. He also enjoyed a 20-year career as a radio DJ. The couple has three children and eight grandchildren.

After moving from Arizona to Minnesota in 2011, Hernandez said he felt his life was “decluttered” and he could no longer ignore God’s call to become a deacon. Father Mark Innocenti encouraged Hernandez to begin diaconate formation, which included graduate studies at St. John’s School of Theology in Collegeville.

“I was reluctant at first because of my age but that was just another excuse I was giving myself,” he said. “Eventually I found myself considering God’s plan for me and knew God’s plan was better than mine. The Lord developed in me a deeper love for his children and I recognized why he needed me in this diocese.”

Hernandez, who has worked in Hispanic/Latino ministry for years, hopes when he begins his new role as a deacon that he will help bridge some of the gaps between the Spanish-speaking and English-speaking communities in the diocese.

“The fact is, there is a shortage of Spanish-speaking clergy,” he said. “As a consequence of not having enough Spanish-speaking clergy and services, some of our Catholic community finds it difficult to have Mass celebrated by a priest on a weekly basis, and they have also lacked catechetical instruction and more.”

Hernandez also hopes to develop evangelization programs for the Hispanic/Latino community and to serve all people in their sacramental and spiritual needs. He said the Holy Spirit has been the most influential in his formation.

“I could not do it without [the Holy Spirit’s] guidance,” Hernandez said. “But I also think that every single class that I took at St. John’s was critical to my formation, including clinical pastoral education, which was completed at the St. Cloud Hospital. All these classes and educational opportunities transformed my life, my way of thinking and a new way of living. My formation journey has made me more compassionate, confident and competent to become a deacon.”

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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