Meet the record Saint Paul Seminary permanent diaconate ordination Class of 2023

saint paul seminary deacons 2023
The 2023 Saint Paul Seminary permanent diaconate ordination class ties the largest in Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis history.

On Saturday, Dec. 9 at the Cathedral of St. Paul, Bishop Joseph Williams ordained 18 men as permanent deacons for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The Saint Paul Seminary’s 2023 permanent diaconate class ties the largest ever in archdiocese history.

Two of its members are Catholic school principals. One is a nuclear chemist, another an aerospace engineer. Two are uncle and nephew. One has a son who will also be ordained — as a priest — in the spring. Another served in the Navy and took a year hiatus from formation for overseas deployment — all while raising four young children. Another is related to an Olympic gold medalist.

Permanent deacons serve their local bishop in three main ways: proclaiming the Gospel, assisting with the liturgy and administering certain sacraments, and works of charity in the community. Married men may become permanent deacons; many have families and secular jobs.

Scroll on to meet the men — and, in many cases, their wives — who are saying yes to this vocation in the local Church.

dan and traci murphy
Dan and Traci Murphy

Dan Murphy

Parish: Divine Mercy
Age: 53
City: Kilkenny
Profession: Building official, Steele County
Wife: Traci Murphy
Children: Jordan Bartholomew, 26; Bailey Murphy, 24; Matthew Bartholomew, 23; Cailyn Murphy, 21
Education: AAS Building Inspection Technology, Inver Hills Community College
Birthplace: Owatonna

Murphy’s diaconate journey started while he attended The Saint Paul Seminary Catechetical Institute Pillars program. After he was accepted into the Institute for Diaconate Formation, he found certainty through prayer and Ignatian discernment. His focus will include ministry to the sick and prison outreach, aiming to bring hope and Christ’s love amid suffering. “There is so much woundedness and brokenness in the world today due to our sins and those sins committed against us,” Murphy said. “I hope I can be a bridge to Jesus Christ in the midst of someone’s suffering and pain, to let them know we don’t journey in life alone.”

Christopher and sarah richards
Christopher and Sarah Richards

Christopher Richards

Parish: St. Joseph, Waconia
Age: 40
City: Waconia
Profession: Engineer, Federal Aviation Administration, Minneapolis
Wife: Sarah Richards
Children: Ethan, 14
Education: Bachelor’s in Aerospace Engineering, University of Minnesota, 2005
Birthplace: Moorhead

While leading a retreat program at his parish, Richards sensed a call to the diaconate, confirmed through prayer and a Deacon Discernment Day at The Saint Paul Seminary. He says he’s eager to witness God’s plan unfold in diaconate ministry, focusing on walking with others and helping them encounter Christ meaningfully. “God loves us and wants us to be in a loving relationship with Him,” Richards said. “When we recognize this, there is nothing more life-changing. But to recognize it, we need to break out of the distractions of [everyday] life and make space to hear His still, small voice.” Richards’ uncle, Bruce, is also being ordained a permanent deacon Dec. 9.

patrick and dawn spencer
Patrick and Dawn Spencer

Patrick Spencer

Parish: St. Vincent DePaul
Age: 63
City: Brooklyn Park
Profession: Family nurse practitioner, AALFA Family Clinic, White Bear Lake
Wife: Dawn
Children: Ben, 40; Annie, 38; Daniel, 37; Mark, 32; Mary, 31
Birthplace: Minneapolis

When Spencer’s 4-week-old granddaughter was hospitalized, he reached out to Deacon Larry Lawinger, director of the diaconate for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, for prayers. Without being asked, Lawinger offered to go to the hospital immediately and baptize her. “At that moment,” Spencer said, “I realized this is who the deacon is for the Church.” Inspired by Lawinger and family like his father and father-in-law, Deacon Mike Gerdts, Spencer is eager to enhance his roles as husband, father, and grandfather and is particularly interested in family ministry, pro-life advocacy and caring for the sick and poor.

wayne and margaret bellefeuille
Wayne and Margaret Bellefeuille

Wayne Bellefeuille

Parish: All Saints, Lakeville
Age: 60
City: Lakeville
Profession: Lead systems engineer, Wells Fargo Bank, Minneapolis
Wife: Margaret
Children: Joshua, 31; Erin Fakler, 29; Alicia, 27; Ross, 25
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics, Minor in Computer Science, Minnesota State University Moorhead
Birthplace: Frazee

Inspired by encounters with mentors like Fr. Eugene Tiffany and Archbishop Bernard Hebda, Bellefuille’s diaconate call emerged over two decades, solidified during a NET Ministry Lifeline Mass. His supportive family, including four children and three grandchildren, encourages a balanced integration of family and ministerial life. Bellefuille sees the Church’s greatest needs in fostering personal encounters with Christ and addressing suffering. I hope to offer myself to others as a gateway to Christ’s mercy and love. “I believe God has given me the charism of service to help me recognize any gaps that need to be filled,” Bellefuille said, “and then his Spirit will provide me the graces to help fill those gaps in building his Church.”

robert and ashley burns
Robert and Ashley Burns

Robert Burns

Parish: St. John the Baptist, Excelsior
Age: 43
City: Chanhassen, MN
Profession: Civilian worker, U.S. Navy, Minneapolis
Wife: Ashley Burns
Children: Gianna, 8; Owen, 5; Isaac, 2; Kateri, 4 months
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics, Franciscan University of Steubenville
Birthplace: Waconia

Burns credits his wife for prompting his diaconal discernment by simply asking, “Have you ever considered being a deacon?” He soon realized his 13 years of naval service had prepared him for a deeper vocation. A deployment hiatus reinforced this calling, with encounters in the desert affirming his path. Excited about the three-fold diaconal ministries of the Word, altar and charity, Burns is drawn to family formation and ministering to sick veterans. His family’s role in his ministry involves continuous support, and he envisions guiding his four young children in discerning their service to the Church.

kevin and katie conneely
Kevin and Katie Conneely

Kevin D. Conneely

Parish: Annunciation
Age: 60
City: Minneapolis
Profession: Attorney, Stinson LLP, Minneapolis
Wife: Katie Conneely
Children: Two adult daughters
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Notre Dame; J.D., University of Illinois College of Law
Birthplace: Sterling, Illinois

Conneely says his journey to the diaconate began subconsciously over twenty years ago when Bishop Richard Pates invited him to serve on The Saint Paul Seminary board of trustees. As the seed planted in the 1990s germinated, Conneely felt the call to explore being a deacon, inspired by the need for more vocations within the Church. Looking forward to parish life, Conneely is open to utilizing his legal background in canon and civil law matters at the parish or diocesan level. With his adult daughters leading independent lives, Conneely’s main support comes from his wife, Katie, who has played a pivotal role as his “first formator.” Identifying the Church’s greatest needs as both a field hospital and a vibrant community for all ages, Conneely believes the post-COVID era requires extra effort to introduce the beauty of the Catholic faith to new generations. The most rewarding part of his formation has been realizing how his marriage vocation of 35 years is both built upon and builds up his new diaconate vocation.

patrick and ann kirsch
Patrick and Ann Kirsch

Patrick Kirsch

Parish: St. Joseph, Waconia
Age: 58
City: Waconia
Profession: Property Management, M.K. Kirsch Limited Partnership, Waconia
Wife: Ann Kirsch
Children: Emily, 27; Margaret Fanselow, 25; Laura Kirsch, 23
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Economics, St. Olaf College
Birthplace: Wayzata

Kirsch found his calling to the diaconate at 35 when asked by Deacon Tim Harrer of Church of St. Pius X in White Bear Lake. His passion for the pro-life message led to an interest in serving homeless pregnant mothers. With family support, he eagerly anticipates proclaiming the Gospel and serving at the altar. “I see the greatest need in the local Church for people to know that God is relevant in their lives,” Kirsch said. “We live in an apostolic society where people need to hear the Gospel and the Good News. It is not a given anymore that people know God. People need to hear and know that God loves them so much that he died for each and every one of them, and he wants a personal relationship with us.”

john and sara rogers
John and Sara Rogers

John Rogers

Parish: St. Joseph, West St. Paul
Age: 40
City: South Saint Paul
Profession: Communications and fundraising consultant, Prenger Solutions Group
Wife: Sara
Children: Anna, 13; Josephine, 11; Elias, 9; Jude, 9
Education: Bachelor of Arts in English and Secondary Education, St. John’s University; Master of Arts in Catholic Studies, University of St. Thomas
Birthplace: Minneapolis

Rogers says he found his diaconate calling after a back injury and the loss of three children to miscarriage reshaped his perspective. “Other people’s ministry to our family during these times was very powerful,” Rogers said. “I began to desire deeply to bring the healing power of Christ into difficult situations.” Excited about spontaneous encounters in his future ministry, he values prayer and emphasizes the need for a personal relationship with Jesus in the Church. Interested in various ministries, including miscarriage support and street evangelization, Rogers sees the diaconate as a total gift of self and advises others to trust the discernment process through Church involvement and a”share a beer with a deacon and ask questions.”

john and maureen fischer
John and Maureen Fischer

John Fischer

Parish: Saint Thomas More
Age: 61
City: Saint Paul
Profession: Program Specialist, St. John Paul II Catholic School, Minneapolis
Wife: Maureen
Children: Maggie, 33; Connor, 31; Mateusz, 31; Dawid, 31; Jenny, 28
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics, St. Olaf College
Birthplace: Watertown, South Dakota

Known more commonly as Fish, Fischer was driven by a desire to serve and deepen his faith as he nears retirement. Eager to contribute to Mass celebrations, Fischer embraces the unpredictability of his ministry, guided by the Holy Spirit wherever needed. Fischer says he envisions his diaconal ministry as a “little way” to bring souls to God’s Kingdom. “Fish” advises prayer, active listening, enrollment in the Catechetical Institute, and deepening one’s relationship with Mary in discerning the diaconate.


[RELATED: What is a deacon in the Catholic Church?]


dave and kathy mead
Dave and Kathy Mead

Dave Mead

Parish: St. Ambrose
Age: 60
City: Cottage Grove
Profession: Chemistry Instructor, Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant, Welch
Wife: Kathy Mead
Children: Michael, 30; Haley Fuchs, 27
Education: Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, St. John’s University; Master of Science in Analytical Chemistry, Iowa State University
Birthplace: St. Cloud

Mead began hearing the words “feed my people” in his heart during Sunday Mass in 2013. Upon realizing these were Jesus’ words to St. Peter in John Chapter 21, Mead became certain God was calling him to the permanent diaconate. He anticipates ministering one-on-one and in healing ministries. As a deacon, he aims to embody God’s love. “In 1988, I attended a month-long monastic experience program at St. John’s Abbey,” the St. John’s University graduate said. “Many of the monks are also priests and professors. The abbot only wanted to be called by his first name. I want to follow the example of serving the Lord without the need to be recognized.”

kou and joua ly
Kou and Joua Ly

Kou Ly

Parish: St. Patrick, St. Paul
Age: 54
City: Lake Elmo
Profession: Database Administrator, Minnesota Attorney General Office, St. Paul
Wife: Joua Yang Ly
Children: Martin, 30; Arthur, 28; Curtis, 20; Francis, 14; Adela, 12
Education: Baccalaureate, University of Paris Nanterre X; Associate of Applied Science in Management Information Systems, Brown Institute, Minneapolis
Birthplace: Long Cheng, Laos

Like many other Hmong people in the Twin Cities and throughout the United States, Ly traces his roots to the Laotian Civil War from 1959-1975. An uncle of gold medal Olympic gymnast Suni Lee, Ly spent the earliest years of his life in a refugee camp and later France before coming to the United States. Now, as a deacon, he plans to minister to the more than 8,000 Hmong Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “There is a need to show the congregation the beauty of the liturgy, the beauty and goodness of the Church and the holiness of the faith,” Ly says. “We are all drawn to the beauty of holiness.”


[RELATED: Bringing Christ to the local Hmong community]


mike and jean mcginty
Mike and Jean McGinty

Mike McGinty

Parish: St. Vincent de Paul, Brooklyn Park
Age: 62
City: Maple Grove
Profession: Head of school, Our Lady of Grace, Edina
Wife: Jean McGinty
Children: Jamie Teigen, 38; Maria, 37; Jack, 29; Rosie, 25; Bernadette, 23; Mary, 18
Education: Master of Arts in Education Administration, St. Mary’s University (Minnesota); Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communications, University of Minnesota
Birthplace: Minneapolis

Leading a K-8 Catholic school and raising six children with his wife, Jean, McGinty was already doing plenty to serve the Church. “For years, I was a weekly Saturday midnight adoration adorer, and often my prayer in the chapel revolved around asking God for something,” McGinty said. “One night, instead of asking for something, I promised God I would do what He wanted, whatever it was, no matter what — just please make it obvious. Shortly after, the call to the diaconate that I [had] buried was reborn and got stronger and stronger.” McGinty’s most anticipated aspect of diaconate ministry is contributing to the Church’s outreach and growth; he sees a pressing need in the Church to reconnect with those who have fallen away.

frank and jean pavlick
Frank and Jean Pavlick

Frank Pavlick

Parish: St. Jude of the Lake
Age: 57
City: Mahtomedi
Profession: Director of Faith Formation and Mission, St. Jude of the Lake, Mahtomedi
Wife: Joan
Children: Emily, 34; Allison, 33; Ryan, 19; Logan, 18
Education: Cretin High School
Birthplace: St. Paul, Minnesota

The greatest need in the Church today, Pavlick contends, is strengthening families. It’s work that’s near and ear to the heart of the director of faith formation at St. Jude of the Lake in Mahtomedi and something he hopes to continue in new ways as a permanent deacon. He was inspired to pursue the diaconate 15 years ago when his parish priest challenged him to use his gifts to serve the Church. The most rewarding part of his formation, he said, was human development, strengthening his marriage and fostering a view of Christ in everyone.

will and sue pitts
Will and Sue Pitts

Will Pitts

Parish: Guardian Angels
Age: 65
City: Woodbury
Profession: Business Development Manager, Air Quality Engineering, Inc., Brooklyn Park
Wife: Sue
Children: None
Education: Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, Michigan State University
Birthplace: Washington, DC

Inspired by the late Fr. Bill Martin and driven by encouragement from friends and parishioners, Pitts overcame some initial uncertainty to pursue the diaconate. His family plays a supportive role; he and his wife serve as wedding coordinators at Guardian Angels, and she’s “my confidant and one who will support my ministries in many ways, especially helping me to tweak my homilies.” To inspire others, Will suggests personal witness sharing and encouraging men identified as potential deacons. His advice to those discerning the diaconate: have a crucial discussion with your spouse for critical support throughout the process and beyond ordination.

bruce and pam richards
Bruce and Pam Richards

Bruce Richards

Parish: St. Joseph, Waconia
Age: 55
City: Victoria
Profession: Principal, St. Joseph Catholic School, Waconia
Wife: Pamela
Children: Wendy Richards-McKeehan, 27; Natalie Richards, 25; Benjamin Richards, 23
Education: Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education, Moorhead State University; Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction, University of Minnesota; Education Specialist degree in School Administration, University of St. Thomas
Birthplace: Moorhead

The principal at St. Joseph Catholic School in Waconia obviously has a passion for teaching. Richards points to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis synod priorities as the No. 1 area of focus for the local Church he hopes to support. “Formation has been like running a marathon,” said Richards, whose nephew, Christopher, is also a member of this year’s permanent deacon ordination class, “and it has been challenging to balance all of the formation work with family life and professional life. However, by integrating all components of formation with prayer, the goals were attainable.”

greg and kathleen schultz
Greg and Kathleen Schultz

Gregory Schultz

Parish: St. Hubert Catholic Community
Age: 58
City: Eden Prairie
Profession: Engineer, Design Solutions Inc., Chanhassen
Wife: Kathleen
Children: William, 29; Christine Hammad, 26; Jeffrey
Education: Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, University of North Dakota; Master of Business Administration, University of St. Thomas
Birthplace: Alexandria

In 2016, Schultz attended a Christ Renews His Parish retreat and felt an overwhelming sense of peace and comfort following confession. “God spoke directly to me at that time,” Schultz said. “God told me the love and mercy I was feeling was something He has for everyone, and He wanted me to help spread this good news to others. In the following weeks, two parishioners asked me if I had ever considered the diaconate.” Now on the cusp of ordination, Schultz looks forward to one-on-one ministry, emphasizing unity in the Church.

thomas and cara utecht
Thomas and Cara Utecht

Thomas Utecht

Parish: Mary, Queen of Peace
Age: 62
City: Rogers
Profession: Principal Business Analyst – IT, Data Sciences International, New Brighton
Wife: Cara
Children: Amelia, 28; Alicia, 25
Education: University of Minnesota
Birthplace: Crystal

Utecht’s mother suffered from Parkinson’s disease for 10 years before her death. “Her quiet courage and steadfast grace were both inspiring and humbling,” Utecht said. “I think because of this, I feel most called to ministry to the sick and suffering, in particular to the elderly [as a deacon].” He’ll do so after a rewarding formation process highlighted by what he calls the “school of prayer.” “As a child, I was taught prayers, but I was not really taught how to pray, at least not at a deep level. Our formation program is steeped in prayer — daily Liturgy of the Hours, Lectio Divina, Eucharistic Adoration and silent meditative prayer. It’s in prayer that we encounter God, come to truly know him as a friend, and receive renewed strength, courage, and grace to bring to our encounters with others.”

christopher and leila vance
Christopher and Leila Vance

Christopher Vance

Parish: Transfiguration
Age: 58
City: St. Paul
Profession: Carpentry and Technology, St. Agnes Church and School
Wife: Leila
Children: Theresa, 31; Christopher, 29; Nicholas, 27; Elisa Kidd, 24; Natalie, 19; AnnMarie, 17
Education: Associate of Applied Science in Architectural Drafting, Minneapolis Drafting School; Microsoft Certifications
Birthplace: Oxnard, California

Earlier in his life, Vance spent five years with the Companions of Christ, a local archdiocesan association of priests. “I knew I was not called to be a priest, but there remained this pull on my heart to be near the altar,” Vance said. “It became even clearer while listening to homilies from the deacon at our parish. While he would share his encounters in ministry, I would pray, ‘Holy Spirit, I want to be Your instrument in this way.'” Vance isn’t the only member of household getting ordained; his son, Nicholas, is slated for priestly ordination for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis this spring.

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