Our new deacon
When Jesus went about the business of assembling his apostles, it had to have been a challenge to persuade 12 men of varied personalities and occupations to drop everything and follow him.
The Lord’s calling of one of the 12 – Matthew, the tax collector – was on the mind of Archbishop Gregory Aymond Sept. 2, as he invoked the power of the Holy Spirit to ordain Patrick Richard Carr to the transitional diaconate.
While not technically a debt collector by profession, Carr had spent 15 years as a successful public accountant at firms in his native Lake Charles, Lafayette and New Orleans, and had vacillated between the worlds of finance and a religious vocation during a nearly 10-year discernment period that saw him entering and re-entering the seminary three times.
“In the midst of his work (as an accountant), the thought of the priesthood kept coming to him, and as Patrick himself says, he did the very best he could to avoid it,” Archbishop Aymond said in his homily at Deacon Carr’s ordination Mass at Notre Dame Seminary Chapel. “Finally, he gave in to the Lord and said, ‘I will serve. I hear you!”
Deacon Carr, who will spend his diaconate internship at St. Pius X Parish before beginning his final semester of seminary studies in anticipation of his May 2016 ordination to the priesthood, said the words “overwhelmed” and “humbled” kept popping into his head as he made the three promises of the transitional diaconate: to dedicate himself to prayer; live a celibate life; and be obedient to his bishop and the church.
“I’m overwhelmed because now I get to share in that privilege to serve in the church,” Deacon Carr said, “and humbled because I know I’m a sinner, yet God still chose me to answer this call.”
God’s call was slow but steady
Born the eldest of four children to parents Richard and Catherine, Deacon Carr, 51, freely admits he was a vocational late-bloomer. Although educated in Lake Charles Catholic schools from grades K-12, he recalls doing the minimum when it came to his faith, only getting involved in church activities when directly asked by his elders. By the time Deacon Carr arrived at LSU to undertake a five-year degree program in accounting, it was partying and fraternity life that interested him far more than going to Mass.
That frenetic lifestyle continued in the workplace, where the jovial Carr had all the hallmarks of secular success – the expensive suits, the shiny shoes, the weekend party invitations – but felt hollow.
“Materialism was consuming me,” he said. “There was meaning that was missing in my life – not to say that accounting itself was meaningless. But I didn’t have that proper balance.”
“It was just a roller-coaster ride – up and down, up and down,” Deacon Carr added. “I thought I had success – I did have it materially – but spiritually and mentally I didn’t have it. There was a big hole in my soul.”
That void began to slowly fill when Carr relocated to New Orleans at age 29 and discovered a church home at St. Patrick on Camp Street, just a short walk from his office. His attendance at Sunday Mass soon widened to include worship at the daily Masses of Msgr. John Reynolds, which took place during Carr’s lunch hour.
“I felt that God was calling me to something deeper,” Deacon Carr said. “I had to learn to pray again. I hadn’t said a rosary for 10 years! I remember saying it for the first time and thinking, ‘Wow, I remember what this felt like! It feels good! I’m relating to God in prayer.’”
In addition to nourishing himself daily with prayer and the Eucharist, Deacon Carr also began to avail himself of the sacrament of reconciliation, which enabled him to take a “load off his shoulders” and enjoy life in more moderate ways than before.
“Life just became a lot lighter, freer. I started seeing the big picture,” he said.
He initially enrolled at Notre Dame Seminary in January 2006 – the semester after Hurricane Katrina – but would not cobble together the required six years of philosophy and theology until 2015.
But this, Deacon Carr said, was all part of God’s plan.
“I think God was walking with me in this discernment process,” he said. “God knows each person individually. I think he gently pulls people, draws them in in a way that matches their personality. I just felt God’s hand on me saying, ‘Patrick, I want you to do something else.’ I felt it in my heart.”
‘Conscience of the church’
At the ordination Mass, Archbishop Aymond said he sees deacons as the “conscience of the church,” always pointing to where charity most needs to be dispensed. The archbishop reminded Deacon Carr that deacons serve a variety of marginalized groups, including prisoners on death row, victims of violence and racism, and undocumented immigrants.
“All of us are called to do works of charity, but the deacon in his ministry is to lead us in this ministry,” Archbishop Aymond said. “The deacon must find the poor and the needy and the neglected, and then call the rest of us to serve them and to love them so that they do not feel alone or alienated. Deacons are to help us to make sure these people know that the church cares for them.”
Served with SVDP
The archbishop commended Deacon Carr for already possessing a “servant’s heart.” In the mid-1990s, the newly arrived accountant eagerly began serving the New Orleans conferences of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at Our Lady of the Rosary, Our Lady of Good Counsel and Good Shepherd parishes. To thank the Society for its role in his reconversion, Deacon Carr asked Deacon Rudy Rayfield, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, to vest him during the Rite of Ordination.
“St. Vincent de Paul helped me live out my faith, to put it into practice,” Deacon Carr said. “I see the face of Christ in the poor. I see their humbleness. I see where they’re dependent on God, and that made me reflect on my lifestyle: I had to ask the question, was I dependent upon God, or was I very individualistic and very autonomous?” he said
“There’s that grace that comes from not only just giving the poor a bag of groceries, but giving them yourself, your time,” Deacon Carr added. “They want somebody to talk to so they can feel like they’re part of the community. There’s a loneliness among the poor that people don’t realize.”