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New Transitional Deacon for the Diocese

By Story and photography By Mitchell Palmquist | June 2021

New Transitional Deacon for the Diocese

Andrew O’Leary Ordained a Deacon, Begins Final Preparations for Priesthood

Andrew O’Leary was ordained a transitional deacon for the Diocese of Spokane on May 29 at Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral. The interview for this article was conducted before the ordination, while O’Leary was finishing up his studies for the year. He will serve as a deacon for one year before being ordained as a priest in 2022.

For years, Andrew O’Leary said, he felt a call to the priesthood. He had served in the Navy and as an oncology nurse, but felt called to something more. But there was a problem, he thought: he was divorced and was raising two children from that marriage.

O’Leary went to speak with Father Roy Floch, then the pastor of St. Paschal, who encouraged him to speak with the diocesan vocations director, who at that time was Father Darrin Connall.

O’Leary was sure the Church would tell him there was no way he could be a priest because of his marital situation.

Instead, O’Leary said, Father Connall told him that after he raised his kids, if he still felt he had a call to the priesthood, to reconnect with the vocations office. So a few years later, after his kids had moved out and started their own lives, he contacted Father Connall. “He talked to me for a good while,” O’Leary said. “He challenged me, then he said, ‘all right, I think you’re a good candidate’ and sent me to see Father Barnett, who was then the new newly appointed rector of Bishop White Seminary.”

In 2016, O’Leary was able to enter the seminary, and soon thereafter began studies at St. Patrick in Menlo Park as a pre-theology student.

O’Leary’s journey to seminary followed a different path than some of the younger seminarians. At ordination, he will be 46 years old. O’Leary grew up in Spokane Valley and graduated from West Valley High School. Afterward, he joined the Navy and became a corpsman.

“I ended up attempting marriage and two children resulted from that; [the marriage] dissolved and I ended up raising the kids as a single father,” O’Leary said.

He was stationed in Spokane, working for the Navy through the end of his contract. He then went to nursing school and worked for several years as a nurse in oncology, helping patients through cancer treatments.

The call to priesthood was not something the father of two expected. O’Leary said he grew up Catholic and thought that if you were married, divorce wasn’t really an option. Additionally, he said he didn’t think he knew how to answer basic questions about the faith. To help resolve the second of those two issues, he met with faith leaders on base and then at St. Paschal Parish in Spokane Valley, hoping to learn more about the Catholic faith and the Church, even entering RCIA.

Through the classes he took, O’Leary said he realized “God made me for a purpose. I was stationed in Spokane and divorced. So I’m feeling like, ‘boy, I must have missed my purpose.’ So I started praying and asking God, ‘what do you make me for?’” he said. “I remember I was spending time doing a holy hour in front of the tabernacle every day asking for guidance.”

It was during those holy hours he first heard the call, which he thought at first might just have been his desire to make decisions in the parish, and his newfound zeal for the faith. He dismissed them. But several years later, after he finished his time in the Navy and was entering nursing school, he felt the call again. “Once again I was praying for about a month in front of the tabernacle [everyday],” O’Leary said. He was asking the Lord in prayer: “OK, am I headed in the right place? Where do you want me to be?” and he felt the call again.

As he has spent time in the seminary learning more about the faith, he said he has come to see similarities between the spiritual fatherhood of priests and the experience of fathering children: like the excitement and joy they get in caring for their parishioners and children, respectively. O’Leary said one priest relayed, with great excitement, a story about baptizing the baby of someone he had baptized decades earlier. The joy, O’Leary said, is the same kind of joy he has experienced as a father.

O’Leary encouraged anyone who is considering religious life to be open to God’s call. “The Lord still speaks through his church, so I would encourage anybody who has heard someone say, ‘Hey, you’d make a great priest or a great religious,’ to come and talk to somebody in the church in that field.” He added, “start the conversation, because we don’t recruit like you would recruit for a college or military or a job, because we let the Holy Spirit move people. So just pray for it, pray for guidance. And then go talk to someone.”

O’Leary said he will take a big step on his journey to priesthood, which has deepened his walk in faith with Jesus Christ, when he is ordained a transitional deacon on May 29.

After his ordination, Deacon O’Leary will have a summer assignment at a yet-to-be-announced parish before returning for his final year of seminary studies.

What is the difference between ‘transitional’ and ‘permanent’ deacons?

These terms denote if a deacon was ordained with plans to carry out the vocation of a deacon for the remainder of his life—usually permanent deacons are married men well-established in parish ministry—or if they are seminarians being ordained a deacon prior to their oridiantion as a priest.