By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published February 16, 2023
ATLANTA—Kirk Broom knew as a deacon he should find someone who needed a friend to stand beside them.
Learning thousands of young boys and girls in Georgia are in foster care without a voice of their own, he took up the charge to be their advocate.
One of the newest deacons in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Broom goes to court in Hall County as a guardian ad litem, serving youngsters caught up in family court, whether from abandonment, parents who are imprisoned or abusive. His job is to look out for his young person’s best interests
“A deacon is a servant. Their job was to take care of the poor and the indigent and those who needed help. The call of the deacon is to work with the people, and in a sense, this is directly in line with that call,” he said.
Eleven men celebrated their ordination to serve in the Archdiocese of Atlanta as permanent deacons Feb. 4 at Atlanta’s Cathedral of Christ the King. Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, presided at the ceremony. Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., attended, along with Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III, Bishop John N. Tran and many priests and deacons.
There are now close to 250 permanent deacons working in the archdiocese to serve in ministries at more than 100 parishes and missions. The newly ordained are David Beals, Kirk Broom, Thang Bui, Pablo Cepeda, Michael Chernick, Larry Maijer, Mat Mathews, Claro Rodriguez, Hector Romero, Mark Tahsler and Merlin D. Todd.
The new clergymen range in age from 45 to 66. Among them are IT professionals, data analysts, Fortune 500 operation managers and men who are spending their retirement in service to others. Reflecting the thriving international Catholic community in the Atlanta Archdiocese, five of the deacons were born outside of the U.S.–in India, Vietnam, Philippines, Colombia and El Salvador.
Deacon Dennis Dorner, the director of the permanent diaconate, said after five years of classwork and practical hands-on work in parishes and ministries, the men now are charged to go out to be with the poor and the disenfranchised.
“I shared with them as I have with every class, be present. Sometimes that is the most important thing we can do. Pray daily for wisdom and humility. On a very practical level be sure to work at maintaining balance in your life,” he said in an email.
Deacon Dorner, who was ordained in 2004, said the important work done by deacons must always be balanced with their first priority to their family.
‘Walking on air’
The day after their ordination, the men wore the stole of the deacon diagonally across their chest and gave their first homilies in front of friends, family and parishioners at their home churches. Deacon Mike Chernick said, “I felt like I was walking on air.”
Deacon Chernick, 64, is a science teacher at Holy Spirit Prep, Atlanta, so he assists at Mass in front of students, along with liturgies at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Alpharetta. His students started to call him “Deacon Mike.”
The classroom is his second career. Deacon Chernick is an engineer by profession. While many of his peers are thinking of retirement, he said he loved the idea of teaching high schoolers. He taught for a couple years at Fulton County schools, through the COVID pandemic. The tasks to both teach and respond to the virus reinforced for him how teaching is as much a vocation as it is a job, he said.
Standing in front of the classroom he loves to be a “science person and a deacon.” He answers questions, highlighting the church’s position and what science reveals, without feeling any unease, he said. With the natural world, he said, “there is nothing random. It’s only we don’t understand. God has a plan.”
Deacon Chernick does not want his summer vacations to be wasted. He is already a certified prison minister after training with the Georgia Department of Corrections and intends to turn to prison ministry when he’s out of school. He said during the diaconate training he learned how prisoners are often abandoned by their family within a year of imprisonment, so he hopes to be an uplifting presence.
Deacon Broom, 63, was raised in the Baptist Church but became Catholic in his mid-20s. He and his wife led marriage ministries and others at their Houston, Texas, parish when during the mid-1990s he thought service as a deacon could be his calling. But the timing was not right for his family so the idea was put on the shelf.
When the Brooms moved to Georgia in 2010, they settled into St. Paul the Apostle Church, in Cleveland and jumped into parish life. In 2016, he and his wife, Julie, came to the decision that if he wanted to figure out if he had a vocation as a deacon, it was best to jump right in. He began the years long effort.
“You can run, but God will always find you,” he said about his faith journey. “God will let you know.”
Between the training about liturgy, church history, philosophy, Deacon Broom, who works in sales in the pest control industry, came to learn about the challenges faced by children in the family court. There are close to 10,000 Georgia children in foster care, with some 2,600 advocates, reports Georgia CASA.
Seeing a link between his ministry and the need for kids to have a someone looking out for them, Deacon Broom trained to be a court-appointed special advocate and took up the work in the fall. He checks in regularly and engages with the youngsters and their caregivers.
His work with the young people is not formally connected to his ordination as a deacon, but comes out of his calling.
“You’re there because God’s called you to be there to that person or that child, who has been, either, it could be someone’s parents have died or they’ve abandoned them, or could be other issues, like the case I’m working with right now was just abandonment.”
Broom’s formal training to become a deacon is over. Now, he moves to live it out.
“All of us are in formation. Some just happen to recognize it, others don’t,” he said. “We all go through formation in our life.”