For most clergy, becoming a deacon is an important step on the way to the priesthood, but for a special few, the diaconate is a permanent and particular calling. Deacon Kevin Pattison and Deacon Jim Curtain spoke to Melbourne Catholic about their journeys to the diaconate and about the joys and challenges of living their vocation.
The word deacon comes from the Greek diakonia, which means ‘minister’ or ‘servant’. This ministry of the Church dates back to the earliest years of Christianity. In his first letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 3:8–13), St Paul referred to deacons as heralds who ‘hold the mystery of the faith with clear conscience.’ St Paul also wrote that ‘deacons must be husbands of one wife and … people who manage their children and households well.’
In the tradition of the Church, when deacons are ordained, they become members of the clergy, along with priests and bishops. Their ministry is centred around assisting in the liturgy, proclaiming the Word of God and serving the Church through acts of charity. At Mass, deacons assist at the eucharistic table, proclaim the Gospel and may be invited to preach the homily. They may also baptise people into the Body of Christ, witness and bless marriages, preside at the Divine Office, and lead funeral and burial liturgies.
Kevin Pattison is the oldest deacon in the Archdiocese of Melbourne. Before becoming a deacon, he was a principal of a Catholic secondary school. As a teacher, Kevin did a Bachelor’s degree in theology at Catholic Theological College. There, he met Jim Curtain, a classmate and member of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), who was preparing to be ordained as a deacon. Through his interactions with Jim, Kevin says, he was inspired to listen to his heart and to consider the diaconate as a worthy and important avenue of ministry.
Kevin had become aware that his parish priest was ageing, ‘He was up there, by himself, and there was just this need to do more,’ he recalls. So Kevin began a period of discernment to discover the will of God for his life and the life of his family. During this period, he says, his wife Fay was instrumental in helping him discern the call to the diaconate:
My wife was asked at the very beginning. Then, through the process, she was asked to put it in writing. Prior to my ordination, we had a husband–wife meeting with the Archbishop, and he asked again. I am making the journey, but it can’t be without that reference to your wife.
To become a deacon, Kevin undertook a four-year program, worked during the week and studied during the weekend—all while raising a family. He was ordained into the diaconate at St Patrick’s Cathedral by then Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart on 27 October 2012, along with six other men. Kevin is now a permanent deacon at St John the Evangelist, Frankston East—his home parish for the past 30 years.
As a deacon, what Kevin loves most is helping parents to prepare for the baptism of their children into the Body of Christ. He is also passionate about helping ‘the kingdom people’—men and women in search of ultimate truth who may need some extra support to encounter and experience the joy of the Gospel.
Jim Curtain’s call to the ministry also came from observing the need to do more. While on a mission in Malaysia, in a conversation with then Military Chaplain, Fr Peter O’Keefe, Jim asked, ‘What will we do for Catholic chaplains as you people die off?’ Fr Peter laughed and then mentioned that they were looking into the possibility of opening up Catholic chaplaincy to deacons. ‘As soon as Fr Peter said that, it was like a trumpet went off in my head. I thought, “That is me.”’
Jim then began a process of discernment, consulting with his wife, Vicki, to determine if this was God’s will for his life and their life as a family. Jim was ordained into the diaconate at the Holy Trinity Chapel of the RAAF by then Bishop of the Australian Defence Force Geoffrey Mayne on 23 September 1995.
Jim served as a full-time chaplain at the RAAF for the first 12 years of his ministry. As a chaplain, Jim helped Catholics and non-Catholics, as well as their families, to heal from the spiritual, emotional, relational and personal traumas that are sometimes experienced in military service. ‘[You] try to be the peace, love and joy of Jesus Christ for those people as best you can’, Jim says. During his time in the RAAF, Jim served in hospitals, training schools and operational units in areas of conflict in the Middle East and Timor–Leste.
On his retirement from the Air Force, Jim worked as the Director of Mission at St John of God Health Care and the Frankston Hospital, and then at their Accord service, supporting adults with disabilities. Jim is now Director of Pastoral Work at Corpus Christi College and serves as a permanent deacon at St Mary’s, St Kilda East, where he preaches the homily once a month.
Both Kevin and Jim agree that the ministry of the diaconate is centred not on ‘what you do’ but on ‘who you are’. Both believe that deacons are called to be the presence of Jesus Christ to those in need; to hear the voice of the Lord and respond by saying, ‘Here I am; send me.’
Jim likens the role of a deacon to that of a boundary rider:
On Australian cattle stations, the boundary rider is the one who goes out and makes sure that the fences are okay; that the gates work; that the boundaries are defined where they need to be. The deacon's role is to make sure that those outside the Church know that there is a path in and those inside the Church never forget that there is a whole world out there.
All photographs are kindly provided by Deacon Kevin Pattison, Deacon Jim Curtain and Casamento Photography.
Melbourne Catholic28 November 2023
VMCH28 November 2023