New deacons have strong Helias Catholic & Jefferson City ties
by Jay Nies
Tom and Karen Carter always took their sons and daughters to the Holy Week liturgies at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City.
That made a particularly strong impression on their son Patrick.
“As Christians, we have to understand that we are baptized into Christ, and that means living both the crucifixion and the resurrection,” said Brother Patrick, now a Benedictine monk seeking priestly orders at Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma. Brother Patrick professed final vows in the order in 2012 and was ordained a transitional deacon in October 2013.
Two days previously, his father, Deacon Tom Carter, a Jefferson City native, was ordained a permanent deacon of the Oklahoma City archdiocese.
Both men will remain deacons forever, servants of the Church cut from the same cloth as Saints Stephen and Lawrence.
Brother Patrick hopes to be ordained to the Holy Priesthood in 2015.
Deacon Carter taught theology at Helias Catholic High School for 10 years before joining he faculty at Mount St. Mary’s Catholic High School in Oklahoma City in 2001.
A month before ordination, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 prostate cancer and is undergoing treatment. He sees it as an invitiation to trust in God more deeply.
“There’s a line out of Mark that’s always been one of my favorites,” he said. “‘Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me’” (8:34).
Deacon Carter was in the first first-grade class at St. Joseph Cathedral School when it opened in 1960.
His five brothers and sisters went to Helias Catholic High School and his mother, MaryAnn Carter, taught English there for 12 years. But Deacon Carter thought God was calling him to be a priest, so he went to the high school seminary of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood in Liberty.
He later studied philosophy at Rockhurst University in Kansas City before concluding that the call to Priesthood was not for him.
He taught at O’Hara Catholic High School in Kansas City for two years, then went to graduate school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
There, he met Mrs. Carter.
After they got married, Deacon Carter worked in business and they relocated to Florida for four years.
They moved to Jefferson City after Mrs. Carter completed her teaching degree in 1987.
Mrs. Carter joined the faculty at St. Thomas the Apostle School in St. Thomas, where she eventually became principal.
When a position on the Helias Catholic High School faculty opened up, Deacon Carter gratefully accepted it. “I’ll send you”
On the Fourth of July one year, the Carters went to 9 a.m. Mass in the chapel of St. Peter Church in Jefferson City. The first reading recounted God’s angry promise to “send a famine upon the land: not a hunger for bread, or a thirst for water, but for hearing the word of the Lord” (Amos 8:11).
Deacon Carter was deeply moved by the message and wanted the priest the tell the 60 or 70 people gathered there that “a famine is going to happen here, too, unless you’re all willing and ready to speak the Word.”
Just then, Deacon Carter felt a clear message from the Holy Spirit: “I’ll send you.”
Mrs. Carter and several other people had already told him he should consider becoming a deacon.
The couple started looking for Catholic teaching positions in a place with a milder climate after their youngest daughter graduated from Helias in 2001.
Deacon Carter wound up joining the faculty at Mount St. Mary’s. Mrs. Carter became principal of Christ the King School in Oklahoma City, where she recently won a national award.
Brother Patrick moved with his parents to Jefferson City when he was 6.
He went to St. Joseph Cathedral School, then to Helias Catholic.
He joined the Helias Concert Choir.
The choir once traveled to St. Agnes Church in St. Louis to lead the singing at a Latin High Mass in the Extraordinary Form.
It was the first time he’d heard the Mass as it was commonly offered throughout the Church before the Second Vatican Council.
It was challenging but very interesting, he said.
One time while praying when he was about 15, he experienced an overwhelming desire to give himself completely to God.
“It took me several years to fully respond to that,” he noted.
At St. Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., he pursued a liberal arts degree in the Great Books Program, based on the Socratic Method.
He dove into works such as the Bible; the writings of Augustine, Aquinas and other Church Fathers; philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle; and Euclid and “a lot of math and science and literature.”
“I knew when I went to college that there was good chance that I might end up as a priest or religious,” he said. “I knew that a good philosophical and theological foundation would be helpful.”
He discovered the Clear Creek Benedictines around the time his parents moved to Oklahoma. He figured that if he joined that community, his mom and dad would be close by and could visit him.
“I think he knew way back then it’s where he wanted to go,” said Deacon Carter.
Brother Patrick returned to Our Lady of Clear Creek several times.
“I remember feeling the call and liking the community and being drawn to the charism,” he said.
Our Lady of Clear Creek was founded on farmland in 1999 by Benedictines from Notre-Dame de Fontgombault Abbey in France. The monks are contemplative, meaning they devote their time and energy to communal prayer and work at the monastery, rather than serving in parishes and other ministries.
The monks rise each day at 4:50 a.m. and follow a distinct rhythm of prayer, study and work in the monastic tradition of St. Benedict. They emphasize communal prayer and worship, praying the Liturgy of the Hours throughout the day in Latin and offering Mass in the Extraordinary Form.
They promote fidelity to the Pope and cultivate devotion to the Blessed Mother.
Brother Patrick decided in August of 2006 to give the Clear Creek Benedictines a try.
But first he had to pay off his student loans. He did so by working at a winery in Oregon.
“It was a good environment to discern in,” he said. “Both of the owners are Catholic and encouraged me. One of the owners’ brother happens to be a monk here.”
The winery gave him firsthand experience with such potent Biblical imagery as vineyards, harvests, winemaking and celebrating.
A consummate “techie” who enjoyed spending time on his computer and smart phone, he began to forsake those devices a year before entering monastic life in September 2007.
He professed first vows a year after entering, promising God to remain poor, chaste and obedient. That’s also when he began his priestly formation.
He professed final vows on Dec. 8, 2012.
His family was there with him, as were friends from Jefferson City, from college in California, and from the winery in Oregon.
“It was a moment for me to be thankful for all the graces I had received in all of those places,” he said. “It was very joyful and wonderful to share that moment with so many people and have them rejoice with me.”
He was forsaking the outside world, but not because he didn’t like the people he was leaving behind.
“You do this so you can live your life for God,” he said. “You want to help the world and help people by totally being for God.”
Deacon and Mrs. Carter decided together that it was time for Deacon Carter to enter the Oklahoma City archdiocese’s four-year formation program for the permanent diaconate.
The program’s director thought Deacon Carter’s preaching sounded more like a classroom lecture than a homily.
“I have to remember that preaching is faith-promotion, not teaching a class,” Deacon Carter noted. “The Word of God is there to inspire us, not just teach us.”
He had already learned in the seminary not too look too far into the future but to focus on what God needed from him in the present.
After Brother Patrick professed final vows, Deacon Carter counted the years and concluded that he would become a deacon a year ahead of his son.
But because of the heavy emphasis on liturgy, the Clear Creek Benedictines are ordained transitional deacons two years into their priestly formation, rather than three.
Brother Patrick wrote to his parents as soon as he found out that he was to be ordained on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013.
His father and 11 other men in his permanent diaconate class were to be ordained on Friday, Oct. 18.
Mrs. Carter wrote to Benedictine Abbot Philip Anderson at Clear Creek, asking if some special arrangements could be made so Brother Patrick could attend his dad’s ordination.
The abbot obliged, arranging for Brother Patrick to make his pre-ordination retreat earlier and to travel with another Benedictine to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Oklahoma City.
“It was so wonderful to be there to experience that with my own father and my whole family,” said Brother Patrick.
It was also surreal in that he would be experiencing that same rite himself in less than two days.
Deacon Carter found out about the cancer shortly before his ordination, so his entire time as a deacon has run parallel with his cancer treatments.
“God always gives us what we need to get through things,” he said.
On a pilgrimage to Rome this March, he got to preach a homily in the 13th-century Church of San Clemente, built over a fourth-century church that was built upon an ancient pagan temple.
In that homily, he related those three levels to the process of getting to know God and grow in faith.
Assigned to assist the pastor of Christ the King parish in Oklahoma City, he also serves on the archdiocesan Vocation Committee.
He enjoys helping to lead Kairos retreats — four-day Catholic experiences for high-school students — and sharing with them the story of how God is working in him.
After months of success, Deacon Carter recently had a setback in his cancer treatment.
His doctor wants to send him to MD Anderson Cancer Treatment Center in Houston.
“This could be a big turning point,” said Deacon Carter. “So we’ve been doing some serious praying.”
He said his students have been very supportive, as have his mother, brothers and many friends in the Jefferson City area.
The assistant coach of the Mount St. Mary’s varsity baseball team called him last Saturday, after the team won a tournament game. The players signed their game ball and wanted to give it to him.
Being a deacon remains “near and dear” to him, and he never passes up a chance to help out at Mass, so long as his health permits.
He’s learning to worry less about what he can’t do during his illness and to thank God for whatever happens.
“Like when I was in the seminary, I don’t look that far ahead,” he said. “I focus a lot on what God has given me today.”
To that end, a sense of humor has been indispensable.
“If you don’t have that, you’re in trouble!” he said.
Brother Patrick’s family traveled to the monastery for his diaconate ordination.
As a deacon, “you’re being marked permanently as a servant of Christ,” he said. “God is putting a seal on you irrevocably, and you’re bound by that now to serve Christ in whatever way He works out for your life.”
A deacon’s role at the Clear Creek abbey is primarily liturgical.
“We have a very full, rich kind of liturgical tradition that we’ve inherited from our founding abbey in France,” said Brother Patrick.
The goal is to offer God the most beautiful communal worship possible this side of heaven, reaching back into two millennia of the Church’s liturgical patrimony.
Deacon Carter noted that when Brother Patrick isn’t praying or studying, he often works to help build a massive wall of native stone around the abbey.
“It’s going to be like eight feet high and three feet thick, with the stones all set in and no mortar,” Deacon Carter noted.
“There’s no way that wall is going to be finished in his lifetime,” he said. “But God gives him the inspiration to do His work without needing an end in sight. And Patrick is a man of deep faith.”
Brother Patrick’s guiding dictum, from the Rule of St. Benedict, is similar: “Prefer nothing to the love of Christ.”
He’s grateful that no matter where he’s gone, he’s been able to find good priests who have served as mentors, advisors and confessors.
He said he’ll always consider Jefferson City his first home.
“My family is from there,” he said. “I received my First Communion, first confession and confirmation at St. Joseph Cathedral. So it’s definitely very much in my heart.”
He asks for prayers to stay faithful to God and his monastic vocation.
“People think that because we’re apart from the world and we pray all the time, it’s easy to stay faithful,” he said. “But there’s always that struggle to really give one’s heart and life each day in generosity and completeness to God, to hold nothing back and give oneself to Him totally.”
Brother Patrick also asks for prayer for deeper trust “and to recognize that this life is a pilgrimage and not a final destination.”