To serve and profess: Deacon sees God's plan after 28 years on police force

Deacon Rick Rhein, who spent 28 years on the police force — and the last 20 as a member of the Macomb County S.W.A.T. team — retired in December as a sergeant from the Chesterfield Township Police Department. Deacon Rhein said being a deacon and being a police officer have a lot in common, starting with a commitment to service, wherever it leads. (Photos by Matthew Rich | Special to Detroit Catholic) 

Deacon Rick Rhein retires from Chesterfield Township post ready to serve Macomb County community in a new capacity

CHESTERFIELD TOWNSHIP — Deacon Rick Rhein began serving others in sixth grade, wearing an orange belt as part of his school’s safety patrol. 

He enjoyed helping younger students get safely to their parents’ cars and raising and lowering the flag daily. In high school, the orange belt was traded for a Tae Kwon Do black belt, followed by a police officer’s gun belt in 1991, and now a deacon’s stole. 

It’s a journey that Deacon Rhein didn’t expect, but one for which he is grateful.

Deacon Rhein, 50, retired as a sergeant from the Chesterfield Township Police Department in December, having served as a member of the Macomb County S.W.A.T. team since 1999.  

Since childhood, Deacon Rhein’s Catholic faith played a role in his life. He was eager to dig deeper as an adult, in part as a way to find answers to the challenging questions he often asked himself in his police work. A Bible study at his parish inspired him to pursue and obtain a graduate diploma in pastoral ministry from Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He also became a lector, extraordinary minister of holy Communion, sacristan, and catechist for seventh and eighth graders.  

Deacon Rick Rhein chats with parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi-St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Ray Township, where he has been assigned since being ordained in 2016.

“The kids always wanted to hear the cop stories, and I would remind them that the people who need our help most can be found right in their own neighborhoods,” Deacon Rhein told Detroit Catholic.

In his time as Sgt. Rhein, he witnessed difficult circumstances on an almost-daily basis — domestic abuse, suicide, drunken driving accidents, and other tragic situations that took their toll on him. He found himself trying to solve problems for the people he was serving, one call at a time.

“A lot of times as a police officer, you have to put up a shield to survive, and that catches up with you after a while,” Deacon Rhein said.

He attended a retreat at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat Center in Detroit, where he shared his difficulties with a priest. The priest placed a crucifix on his lap and told him, “Rick, you don’t have to save the world. (Jesus) already has.”

Deacon Rhein continued to serve as a police officer and, despite the stress that came with the job, continued to feel blessed to serve and protect people. He started to wonder whether God was calling him to the diaconate, and went on a private retreat at the suggestion of his pastor and spiritual adviser at the time, Fr. Tomek Maka.

“Sometimes the diaconate and police force don’t seem like they go together, but I know being a police officer has prepared me for being a deacon,” Deacon Rhein said.

Hoping to hear a clear answer as to whether he should become a deacon, he got his answer when, at the sign of peace during a retreat Mass, a woman he did not know shook his hand and said, “Be a deacon.” That same year, he was accepted to the diaconate program at Sacred Heart Major Seminary and was ordained a deacon in October 2016. He is assigned to St. Francis of Assisi-St Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Ray Township.

“Sometimes the diaconate and police force don’t seem like they go together, but I know being a police officer has prepared me for being a deacon,” Deacon Rhein said. “As a police officer, I had to go where clergy never could be. I was in the middle of some terrible situations. I got to serve people in their worst times, and to pray — by myself or sometimes, with them. I learned to listen, because so many of the people in bad situations just want to tell you their story.”

Deacon Rhein’s wife of 25 years, Anna, supported him “120 million percent,” he says, both in his police work and his role as a deacon. 

“When God calls a man to be a deacon, his wife and family are also called,” Deacon Rhein said. “She went from being a cop’s wife to a deacon’s wife. She’s been my rock in everything.”

Deacon Rick Rhein is pictured with Officer Earl Riske of the Chesterfield Township Police Department, where Deacon Rhein served on the force for more than two decades.

His children, Brandon, 23, Jacob, 20, and Rachel, 18, also backed him. Deacon Rhein proudly told Detroit Catholic that all three of them have chosen careers of service to others.

Making the transition from police force to church staff hasn’t been easy at times.

“In ministry, you start to feel again. All that garbage you had to deal with as a police officer, now you have to deal with it in order to help others through their problems,” Deacon Rhein said. “But God gave me a servant’s heart, and He prepared me since day one for this. I can see it now. Those tough days were blessings in disguise.”