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From ‘leave me alone’ to ‘God help me’

November 8, 2023

By Suzanne Pietropaoli
Staff Writer

Deacon Brent Charland felt very drawn to the priesthood as he grew up serving daily Mass. Decades later, he was taken aback by the call to diaconate.

“My deacon vocation started when I was working, which is when I do my best thinking,” he explains. “I definitely felt I was being called. But my conversation with God was: ‘Leave me alone.’ What good could come of being a deacon? But the nudging didn’t stop. It kept getting worse.”

With a wife and young kids, he initially wasn’t sold on the idea.

“I didn’t want any part of this,” said Deacon Charland, who serves at St. André Bessette Parish in Malone. “When the idea kept eating at me, I took my wife, Becky, out for dinner and tried to work up the nerve to tell her about this call. When I finally did, she said, ‘I know.’ What a huge relief! Becky has stood by me my whole life. Now, without knowing what this would involve, she agreed that I should pursue it.”

Encouraged by Becky and their children, who he says also knew about his vocation before he did, the future deacon reached out for help discerning this unexpected call, “all the while hoping to be told I was crazy.” He first approached his former Malone pastor, Msgr. Dennis Duprey, then Father Joseph Giroux, Malone pastor at that time, as well as his spiritual adviser, Father Martin Cline. “Each time I struck out,” the deacon laughs. “All of them affirmed that I should move forward.”

Deacon Charland credits his pastor for helping him through the application process: “Father Joe was great,” he said. “He was very supportive, but there was never any pressure. I had total freedom to discern.”

The work of discernment continued with two years in the Formation for Ministry program, which the deacon calls “an awesome experience.”

“I made good friends and excelled there, which told me I was in the right place,” Deacon Charland said. “My prayer changed from ‘Leave me alone’ to ‘God help me!’ I prayed that quite a bit through the years of formation.”

From Formation for Ministry, he moved on to the diaconate program.

“Deacon training was spot on. It really covered a lot,” recalls Deacon Charland. “It was also very challenging. I remember the first weekend our deacon class gathered at Wadhams Hall. I called Becky on the way home to say, ‘I can’t do this!’ They had loaded us with reading and writing assignments in the very first class – and I didn’t even know keyboarding. Doing the University of Notre Dame classes was very daunting. But I learned fast how to keyboard!”

And of course, the aspiring deacon learned many other things as well through four years of intensive study. He even learned more about himself.

“I am not a public speaker but did discover a gift for listening,” Deacon Charland said. “The homiletics training was excellent, and by the fourth year I was able to see preaching more as a privilege than a cross. It was great to share the experience with great guys who became friends – all there for the same reason, all from different walks of life!”

Nevertheless, those four years were hard, the deacon recalls. While deacons’ wives must consent to their husbands’ participation in the program, the reality of it only unfolds with time.

“Becky gave her blessing from the start,” her husband says, “but getting into this, you don’t really think about all the birthdays, anniversaries, and family events you will miss. It was a bit harder for our kids that I couldn’t be at all the ‘big doings,’ but they were very supportive and knew that 6 p.m. on was my deacon study time.”

That is no small feat for someone whose days start at 4:30 a.m. to accommodate his job as director of Maintenance and Cemeteries for St. André Bessette Parish in Malone, a capacity in which he has served Catholic parishes in Malone since 1983.

Those long years of study and preparation came to fruition with ordination to the diaconate in October 2017. Deacon Charland said he recalls telling Father Giroux years before, “I won’t change when I become a deacon.” But he smiles, “Everything has changed. My prayer life is different – richer, better. I love praying the Divine Office. It is easier now to see the good in people. I listen differently. Even the colors outside are more vibrant. I started this diaconate journey asking God to leave me alone because I didn’t think there was room in my life for it. But what I didn’t know was how being a deacon would bless my life.”

That joy touches the many dimensions of Deacon Charland’s ministry at St. André Bessette Parish. Like other deacons, he assists at Mass each Sunday, and preaches every third Sunday.

“I really enjoy preaching,” he said. “I pray with the readings all week to prepare for Sunday and things fall into place. I don’t know how, but God uses my words to touch people. I have had people cry during homilies and have received thank you notes and letters. I am honored that God can use me this way, and I always thank people for their compliments. I love to preach on forgiveness! How often I see people struggle because they don’t know how to forgive. But forgiveness is so important. It is good for you and pleasing to God.”

Unsurprisingly for one who is also a husband, father, and grandfather, Deacon Charland likes being part of weddings and baptisms. Also significant is his work with bereaved families.

“I get all the death notifications and meet with families to prepare funeral liturgies,” he said. “It is an absolute privilege to sit with grieving families, to hear their concerns and answer their questions. I assist as deacon at funeral Masses, officiate at funeral home services and offer committal prayers at the cemetery. On that occasion, after the prayers are ended and the mourners have left, I change clothes and do the burial. It is a privilege to bury a person, and it should be done with the greatest care and respect. This is God’s son or daughter going home to him, so I still prefer to do this work myself; I have dug more than 4,200 graves in the past 40 years.”

Deacon Charland is blessed to see his many works as a privilege.

“For 40 years, I have arisen at 4:30 a.m.,” he said. “My feet hit the floor and I can’t wait to get to work. People need help, and as long as the good Lord allows, I will do this.”

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