By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special to the Bulletin | Published November 21, 2018
ATLANTA—As her husband, Deacon Rick Medina, went through diaconate formation, Christy Medina also experienced a spiritual awakening and undertook her own journey of prayer, faith and study to become a chaplain and spiritual director.
Earning a master’s degree, the mother of three now ministers as an Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital chaplain, inspired by her husband’s dedication and service at All Saints Church in Dunwoody.
As a member of the diaconate advisory board, she also leads annual retreats for wives of men about to be ordained to the permanent diaconate and helps facilitate a day of reflection for wives of men in all stages of formation, under the leadership of Sister Margaret McAnoy, IHM, and Penny Simmons, associate co-director of formation.
“The diaconate formation has allowed Rick and I to complement each other’s gifts from God to be shared and expressed with others as we both serve God almighty. We continue to grow together as well as individually, giving full trust in God—all glory to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” said Medina.
She found support in her discernment through the Marian Servants of the Blessed Trinity, a public association within the church fostering spiritual growth.
“I felt I was called to be a spiritual director. (Rick) was going through his diaconate formation and I was going through my certification as a spiritual director. We kind of walked parallel with each other,” Medina said.
She now shares God’s love with patients and assurance of his constant presence—while educating them that, yes, Catholic laywomen can be chaplains.
In leading retreats for wives of diaconate candidates, she gives women the space to express anxieties about their new leadership role and ask questions.
“We’re there for them, we’re listening to their concerns and also being part of their spiritual growth and really discovering the gifts of diaconate formation,” she said.
Wives “enormously helpful”
The archdiocese’s diaconate formation program takes place two Saturdays a month for five years, starting with Mass at 8 a.m. and finishing by 5 p.m. The day includes six spiritual, pastoral and academic classes ranging from logic, metaphysics and Christology to family life, Catholic biblical interpretation and the Old Testament. While only men can be ordained deacons, wives of candidates are invited to fully participate in the formation program and to receive master catechist certification.
Kathy Hoffman, a formation teacher for six years, believes wives “are a wonderful addition to the program.”
“A lot of times the feminine perspective on some of the things we talk about in Scripture is very important and so they bring a really important element of consciousness to the stories we are reading and interpreting,” said Hoffman, who previously taught for 11 years at Blessed Trinity High School in Roswell.
She noted that some dioceses don’t include women in the diaconate formation process beyond retreats. Also dioceses increasingly are partnering with a local university for a master’s program and that rules out some strong potential deacon candidates who lack academic skills, she added.
“The fact that (the Atlanta formation program) isn’t something that is strictly an academic pursuit is something I’m very passionate about and that the wives are included I think is enormously helpful.”
She enjoys helping students from Bible scholars to neophytes to listen for God’s direction through the treasures of Scripture.
“My goal is to present the mystery of Scripture and the way that God uses it to reveal himself to us personally,” she said. “I feel that’s where the transformational power of Scripture is. It’s how it opens our eyes to God’s work in our individual lives.”
“It’s been an eye-opener”
Roxanne Gross, whose husband, Stephen, will be ordained in January, gladly took full advantage and participated in the Saturday sessions to learn more about Catholicism and support him. As she prayed, delved into classes and embraced the diaconate community, she experienced her own spiritual awakening to look at daily life from a more eternal perspective.
She now understands her faith more deeply and prays the Liturgy of the Hours together with her spouse for the first time in 40 years of marriage.
“At first I attended them alongside Stephen, and then I realized it was also for me. It was just so amazing. What a blessing that they give us—the wives of the husbands in formation—the opportunity to have that option to attend the classes,” she reflected. “It’s been an eye-opener. You can read the Bible over and over again and never stop learning.”
As a result of this process, she strives to be more faithful and less judgmental.
“We see people lash out and you don’t really understand why. But if you stop and think, we really all have something that we’re suffering through. I look at people differently now, I’m more compassionate, definitely more patient,” Gross said. “During this formation process I’ve come to live my life so that I can have eternal life and be with Jesus and I don’t think for many years of my life I looked at it that way.”
Susie Nemchik, whose husband, Tom, will also be ordained in January, eagerly deepened her understanding of the Bible, having served as a catechist for years. She practices lectio divina, the meditative reading of Scripture, allowing it to nourish her soul and enrich her ministry as coordinator of care of Eucharistic ministry to the sick.
“The Catholic faith is so rich in so many different ways, so to learn more about Scripture, to learn more about God, it’s truly a blessing,” said the retired nurse.
In studying Vatican II she reflected on the role of the laity in church leadership and the question of why women are not permitted to become deacons.
“The pope is looking at it again. In the early church there were female deacons and partly because in baptism a female deacon would go into the water with the woman,” she said. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be in that role, but women have a very important role.”
Wives also called by God
Concepcion Hernandez has attended all the sessions with her husband, David, to better serve the Hispanic community at their Atlanta parish of 25 years, Holy Cross Church, where she teaches in Spanish to parents of children in religious education.
“I enjoy all the classes with my husband,” said Hernandez, a native of Mexico. “I feel more confident when I teach all the information because my knowledge is deeper.”
She recently attended the reflection day for wives held at the monastery.
“We met other wives and we shared talks and conversations. It was a beautiful retreat,” Hernandez added. “I feel excited and at the same time I feel nervous. It’s a big responsibility.”
In retreats, Medina encourages all the wives to grow in their own relationship with Christ while supporting their husbands.
“I’m not hiding behind Rick’s shadow and I think that’s where I encourage the wives—to embrace their own journey. I think that’s the exciting part, to embrace their own spiritual journey and what God is calling them to,” Medina said. “I feel really honored and privileged to be a part of the diaconate community and being part of the board and having that opportunity to care for the wives and minister and nurture them. That’s God’s work right there.”
A longtime member of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta, Gross has grown into her new role and says she is approached more now by parishioners.
“You see the gradual process. They want to talk to us more, especially Stephen, but me as well. I’m there, I have the opportunity to have people come to me and speak, and I can help or teach or explain or do what I can to help them and it’s always seemed right.”
Now the couple is relocating to rural Jackson to serve at St. Mary, Mother of God Church after his January ordination. After five years in the diaconate formation community, she will dearly miss the classes and the joyful women’s retreats with prayer and fellowship. But she looks prayerfully toward her new adventure.
“Whatever needs to be filled, I’ll see what God has planned,” she said. “I can’t stress enough how wonderful this journey has been and how blessed I am.”