By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Bishop Thomas Zinkula has announced the appointment of Deacon Michael Snyder as director of the diaconate for the Diocese of Davenport, effective June 1.
He succeeds Deacon Terry Starns, who served as director of the diaconate twice — from 1996 to 2000 and again from 2016 until his retirement from that post, effective June 1.
Deacon Snyder will continue serving as a deacon at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf and Deacon Starns will continue serving as Parish Life Coordinator at St. Andrew Parish in Blue Grass.
Bishop Zinkula reflected on the ministry of both men. “Deacon Snyder was in the first class of candidates that I ordained a couple of weeks after my own episcopal ordination. He has extensive leadership experience and pastoral insight, which will aid him as director of the diaconate office. I look forward to working with Deacon Michael in his new position.”
The bishop also said the diocese “was fortunate that Deacon Starns renewed his role as director of the diaconate when he retired from his job in Wisconsin. Deacon Terry applied his wisdom and management skills in ways that helped bridge the older deacons and the younger deacons by focusing on their common diaconal ministry.”
Inside the smallish third-floor Office of the Diaconate at diocesan headquarters last week, the two deacons discussed details of the director’s position. Later, both men responded to questions from The Catholic Messenger about the director’s post.
Since the death of his wife, Patty, on Dec. 31, Deacon Snyder said he has been discerning what’s next. “While I was caring for Patty, almost everything else had been cleared out of my days, including both good and bad habits. …A deacon serves; this will provide another means of service. It will also allow me to spend more time with people who will be a good influence for me. I am excited to get to know the deacons across the diocese and help them further develop the diaconate.”
Deacon Starns said he returned to the Davenport Diocese in 2016 to serve as director of the diaconate at the request of Bishop Martin Amos, who was leading the diocese then. Now the deacon feels it is time to pass the baton. “I just turned 66 years old and decided that I need to free up some more time in my life. While I probably will serve in ministry as long as I am physically able, the energy level is not the same as it was when I was ordained 27 years ago! Also, I made a promise to my wife, Becky, that I would now take one day a week off. I think a little fishing or golf may be in my future!”
He said that he has learned much in the director’s role. “It has given me a broader look at the role of deacon. As director I have been a member of the National Association of Deacon Directors and that in itself has given me a national and worldwide view of the deacon serving in the church. I also feel that serving in this position has made me more empathetic to all those that I serve as a deacon.”
His derived the greatest satisfaction in the director’s role striving to “make a difference in the lives of the deacons and their families and just trying to understand their situation.” When deacons or their spouses were sick or passed away, he tried to “be there for the family by representing all the deacon community. Sometimes a deacon may have an issue in his parish or with his pastor that just needs some intervention. Oftentimes we have been able to mend the situation just by getting better communication going between all parties involved. Hosting continuing education convocations and annual retreats has been rewarding because of the talented speakers and retreat masters we have been able to retain.”
Juggling responsibilities as diaconate director and parish life coordinator was challenging. “Being a parish life coordinator has very much been a full-time job and because of that, it has been difficult to complete all the goals in the diaconate office,” Deacon Starns said. “While I love being in the deacon office and filling this role, I also love my job as parish life coordinator. I feel the deacons in the Diocese of Davenport deserve to be served in the best way possible and I realize that I need to pass this on to someone who can better serve the role as director.”
Deacon Snyder has been preparing to take over, first of all, by praying. Soon, “I want to meet all of our deacons and talk about their needs, both for individuals and for the diaconate in the diocese. I think deacons have a lot to offer each other; either one on one or in small groups, in addition to the annual diocesan diaconate convocation and retreat.”
His hope is for the diaconate “to lead and guide itself to provide ongoing formation for spiritual, educational and ministerial development for the group and for individuals.”
As a manager and leader in his career, he learned the importance of training, developing and nurturing others. “I also know that I won’t have all the answers, but collectively, the deacons have the experience and knowledge that we need to continue to grow. Listening will be a key skill to understand what is needed, and there are several great resources within the diocese who will know how to provide it.”
Deacon Snyder also reflected on his personal loss and its impact on his ministry. “The largest impact for me came as a caregiver, when I learned who and what a deacon is really about. It was all consistent with what we learned in deacon formation, but my understanding grew deeper and more clear. I loved Patty before she became dependent, but as she needed more help, that love manifested itself as fully giving myself to and for her. Giving oneself to another is a form of giving ourselves to God, and when we give ourselves to God we discover who we are and become who we are meant to be (I heard this in a homily last year; thank you Fr Chris!). The deacon as a servant has a whole different level of meaning for me now.”