Deacons’ unique ministry can benefit the Church, new diaconate director says

Deacon Chris Beltowski, 51, is pictured during a Mass at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish in Beverly Hills, where he’s served as a deacon since being ordained in 2014. Deacon Beltowski will succeed Deacon Kevin Breen, who died Jan. 22, as the Archdiocese of Detroit’s associate director of permanent deacons in the Clergy and Consecrated Life Office. (Photos courtesy of Deacon Chris Beltowski)

Archbishop names Deacon Chris Beltowski to succeed late Deacon Kevin Breen in role supporting, forming archdiocese’s deacons

DETROIT — Six weeks after the Archdiocese of Detroit mourned the loss of Deacon Kevin Breen, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron announced a new face for the local Church’s ministry to permanent deacons March 8, introducing Deacon Chris Beltowski, 51.

Deacon Beltowski succeeds Deacon Breen, who died Jan. 22 after a long battle with multiple system atrophy, as associate director of the permanent diaconate in the archdiocese’s Clergy and Consecrated Life Office.

Ordained in 2014, Deacon Beltowski has served for the past six years as a deacon at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish in Beverly Hills. He and wife, Sharon, also served on the formation team that assisted Deacon Breen in helping applicants to the archdiocese’s permanent diaconate program discern their calling.

“I couldn’t have a better example of what it means to be a humble servant (than Deacon Breen),” Deacon Beltowski told Detroit Catholic. “He offered up his suffering for the diaconate community. I saw how he interacted with people and his vision for the diaconate, and I hope to honor that for him and for the Church.”

A week before Deacon Breen died, he and his wife, Sheila, invited Deacon Beltowski and Sharon to their home for a brief visit, despite his failing health.

“Archbishop Vigneron talks in Unleash the Gospel about unusually gracious hospitality,” Deacon Beltowski said. “I couldn’t believe they would invite us into their home during a time like that. That’s the kind of person he was, and who Sheila is. They embodied the diaconate.”

Deacon Chris Beltowski, right, is pictured with his wife, Sharon, left, and four daughters Jacqueline, 24, Callie, 24, Grace, 22, and Rachel, 19, at Callie’s wedding to her husband, Tom. The diaconate is a calling for the entire family, Deacon Beltowski said.

Deacon Beltowski and his wife, who live in Bloomfield Hills, are the parents of four daughters: twins Jacqueline and Callie (Tom), 24, Grace, 22, and Rachel, 19.  

The Church’s understanding of the permanent diaconate continues to grow more than 50 years after the ministry was reintroduced by Pope Paul VI in 1967, Deacon Beltowski said.

“Ours is a threefold ministry,” Deacon Beltowski said. “We’ve got the altar, we’ve got the word, and we’ve got charity — and charity I think is at the heart of it all for a deacon. We have to take what’s offered at the altar, Jesus, and bring him to the people. He came to serve, not to be served.”

Because of the shortage of priests, Deacon Beltowski said there oftentimes exists confusion about the role of a deacon in a liturgical and parish setting, but deacons’ ministry must first and foremost be focused on service. 

“The diaconate is its own ministry, its own calling,” Deacon Beltowski said. “A deacon is not a confessor. A deacon is not going to consecrate the Eucharist. With the priest shortage, I think there’s sometimes a lack of knowledge and understanding about that (among the general public).”

At Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, Deacon Beltowski was involved in numerous ministries to the poor and underserved, including prison ministry, marriage coaching, serving lunches to the homeless and volunteering at Angels Place, a home for adults and children with special needs.

While a deacon’s ministry is fundamentally different from that of a priest, today’s deacons bring a unique perspective to parish ministry because of their experiences in the secular world, said Deacon Beltowski, who spent much of his career in operations and technical services in the corporate world before launching his own pest control franchise three years ago.

Deacon Beltowski is pictured at his ordination Mass in October 2014 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit. In many ways, a deacon’s unique experiences in the secular world can help parishes evangelize, offering a perspective common to both clergy and laity alike. (Michael Stechschulte | Detroit Catholic)

“In Pope Paul VI’s apostolic letter, Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem, he talks about there being an administrative component to the diaconate,” Deacon Beltowski said. “In a lot of ways, a deacon comes from the secular world, and our ministry is in the secular world. That’s something that can really help our parishes, especially as we’re sharing resources and moving ahead with families of parishes (in the Archdiocese of Detroit).”

In his new role, Deacon Beltowski will be responsible for helping candidates to the diaconate discern their vocations, as well as navigating the formation process and advising the archbishop on diaconate assignments. 

He’ll also serve as a liaison between deacons and their families and the archdiocese, acting as a point person for questions, advice and spiritual direction, and working closely with Fr. Robert Spezia, vicar for clergy and consecrated life. 

Deacons’ families — especially their wives — play a crucial role in a deacon’s formation and ministry, Deacon Beltowski added.

“It’s a vocation for the entire family, not just the deacon,” Deacon Beltowski said. “There has to be support for it to work. God would never want your marriage to suffer for the sake of the diaconate vocation. Deacons wives are strong women, and the couple has to be in tune with each other.”

Often, deacons wives become involved in their husbands’ ministries of service, but they don’t have to be, Deacon Beltowski said. 

Deacon Beltowski said he’s grateful to the archbishop for his appointment, and hopes he can offer as much strength and support to the archdiocese’s deacons as his predecessor did.

“I just want to express gratitude for the opportunity, gratitude to God, gratitude to my wife and gratitude to the Church,” Deacon Beltowski said. “I’m so grateful and humbled that the Lord would bestow this opportunity. So I just pray that I can honor everybody in it.”