Married Catholic deacon is ‘no holy Joe’

Rev Jim Adams is one of first eight Catholic deacons to be ordained here

The Rev Deacon Jim Adams at St Joseph’s Church Bonnybrook in Dublin: “I don’t have to face the loneliness of priesthood. I have the best of both worlds.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

The Rev Deacon Jim Adams at St Joseph’s Church Bonnybrook in Dublin: “I don’t have to face the loneliness of priesthood. I have the best of both worlds.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Sat, Jan 11, 2014, 01:00

He would have you believe he is just an ordinary Joe, “not a holy Joe”. But he, by the grace of God, the assent of Monica and to the occasional bemusement of his children, is Rev Adams. Rev Deacon Jim Adams, permanent deacon of the Roman Catholic Church in Dublin. One of the first such people to exist in a place once hailed as the Island of Saints and Scholars.

History was made at Dublin’s Pro Cathedral on June 4th, 2012 when he and seven other men were ordained Ireland’s first permanent deacons by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. Since then, as permanent deacon at Bonnybrook parish on Dublin’s northside, his role has involved all the functions of a priest except he cannot celebrate the Eucharist at Mass, give the last rites or hear confession.

What he can do is “serve”. He assists the priest at Masses, reads the gospel, assists at baptisms, marriages and funerals, presides at benedictions, brings Communion to the sick, trains altar servers and lay readers, and preaches homilies. He does this latter “by invitation” of the priest at Masses in Bonnybrook.

So how has it all been so far? “It’s a bit like marriage. You start out with one idea and it evolves into something else,” he said.

‘Best of both worlds

Rev Adams knows all about marriage. He married Monica 35 years ago when he was 20. Their four adult children are aged from 25 to 34. Monica’s support is “invaluable” and means “I don’t have to face the loneliness of priesthood. I have the best of both worlds.” He “never wanted to be a priest. I was never an altar boy”.

He worked at Tool Hire for decades until made redundant in 2008. Currently he works as a tutor and assistant with the Irish Wheelchair Association.

It was when the children began to come along that he started to think about his Catholicism. But one event made him do so seriously. “My father-in-law died 25 years ago. There was a Mass in the house. I refused the host at Communion. It had such an effect on me.”

It was the beginning of a spiritual journey which led him to study theology and philosophy part-time at All Hallows College. He became involved with the parish ministry team at Bonnybrook. He worked locally with Accord, the marriage advisory service. The parish team ministry is very important in Bonnybrook and currently consists of six women, three men, two priests and himself.

In 2008, when the Dublin archdiocese advertised for full-time parish pastoral workers, he considered applying. Around the same time he read an advertisement in this newspaper for men who wished to join the permanent diaconate. Formation took four years at the Mater Dei Institute in Dublin, including “one year of discernment” in which Monica was encouraged to take part.

She had to agree to his becoming a deacon, in a separate letter to the archdiocese. Such is the case with married men who wish to become deacons. They have to be aged between 35 and 55 and have the assent of their wives. Single men can be aged from 25 and must take a vow of celibacy. Should a married deacon’s wife die he, too, is expected to take a vow of celibacy. Where priesthood, the diaconate and celibacy are concerned Rev Adams believes it should be optional.

As for the four Adams children? “They go their own way.” Raised as Catholics, all now “live their own lives. They are adults. They make their own decisions. We’re no different to other parents.”

One daughter “has issues with the church”, while a son “found it unsettling” seeing his father in vestments on the altar. When it comes to practice they would be ‘big event Catholics’ there for weddings, funerals, Christmas, Easter.

All however were “very supportive, very proud ” of him in his diaconate.

He has yet to wear the Roman collar though he can do so on appropriate occasions. Instead, he wears a pin on his lapel which symbolises the diaconate. It is of a Celtic cross draped with a deacon’s stole.

He has been “amazed at how open people have been” to him as deacon. “The talk is more deeply personal.” He believes it is a help in his new role that he has “a family, pays the rent. People know what I know. They expect a broader understanding” for their situations.

He feels that as deacon he is a bridge between laity and the priests. And where priests are concerned, he and other members of the permanent diaconate have been “well accepted”, he said.

Still take a drink
What was amusing was the reaction of some friends, wondering about issues such as “do you still take a drink?” He does. Or the acquaintance he met at a wedding who initially didn’t recognise the new deacon in his vestments, and then did something of a double-take. The deacon introduced himself, adding “Monica is alive. She didn’t die and we’re not separated.”

Two particularly meaningful experiences he had recently were officiating at the funeral of a member of his extended family and at the wedding of “a young guy next door”.

He is, he said, “not a holy Joe. Not anything much. Just ordinary enough to be a deacon”. Over the past 18 months he has found his new role “very fulfilling”.