Deacon Frank Pettrone is shown at prayer. Prayer is the most important part of his day. “I take seriously that I must pray for our parish and our parish family in my role,” he says. Courtesy Photo

A Call to Pastoral Administration

Deacon Frank Pettrone is grateful to continue the mission of Jesus in his Church

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When Deacon Frank Pettrone became a deacon in the Catholic Church, it had been by way of a long and winding road. He had left the Church for a time but came back after a deep encounter with Jesus Christ. From that point on, Pettrone was ready to follow wherever God led him. On June 3, 2006, it led to his ordination as a permanent deacon. And in June 2019, Bishop Salvatore Ronald Matano appointed him as a pastoral administrator at St. Mark’s Church in the Diocese of Rochester, New York, as a way to help with a shortage of priests.

“Being a deacon has been more than rewarding in that it is who I am,” Deacon Pettrone said. “I couldn’t even imagine my life being lived in any other way.” The appointment as a parish administrator became the next natural step for him when a need arose and his bishop asked it of him.

“I strongly believe that a deacon serves where the bishop asks him to serve,” he said. “In the Rite of Ordination, the bishop asks the deacon candidate, ‘Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?’ This obedience, undertaken in faith, is obedience to Christ in the person of the chief shepherd of the diocese. This faithfulness to Christ is expressed in service of the Church and all God’s people, by helping the bishop and priests as a minister of the Word, of the altar and of charity.”

Canon Law

There have been other pastoral administrators in the diocese of Rochester, but currently, Deacon Pettrone is the only one. He was designated to serve for four years. According to canon law, pastors are always a bishop or priest. However, Canon 517.2 allows for a person or persons to share in the pastoral care when it is deemed necessary by the bishop due to a priest shortage and there are no other possibilities such as using a retired priest or entrusting several parishes to one priest or a team of priests.

The parish is technically vacant, but a priest director with the powers and faculties of a pastor is appointed over the parish administrator — although he is not the pastor — and has the final say on administrative and pastoral decisions. The arrangement entrusts a share of the pastoral care to deacons or laypersons, with precedence to be given to deacons.

The job of a pastoral administrator essentially prevents a parish from closing. Duties include office management, directing faith formation programs, providing preparation for the sacraments and pastoral care, excluding what is specific to an ordained priest. It could also include liturgical functions such as a celebration of the Word with Communion and bringing Communion to the sick. If priests are very scarce, then even lay people can be delegated to perform baptisms, witness marriages, direct funerals and even proclaim the Gospel — duties that deacons are already called to do.

In a statement from Bishop Matano, he credited Deacon Pettrone with integrating his two roles as deacon and administrator well. “As pastoral administrator of St. Mark’s Church, Deacon Pettrone models this ministry with dedication and charity. In serving God’s people, the deacon seeks not his own personal preference for ministry, but rather he goes where he is needed to bring God’s presence to his sisters and brothers.”

Call to the Diaconate

Once Deacon Pettrone returned to the Catholic Church, he developed an appetite for the study of Scripture and the Faith as well as service to the Church. “Our parish didn’t have a deacon, and at that time I was unfamiliar with the permanent diaconate,” he recalled. “It was only after a couple of priests approached me and asked me to consider becoming a deacon that I started exploring the diaconate.”

By then, he and his wife, Elizabeth, had already launched their three children into the world. “Liz has truly been with me every step of the way,” Deacon Pettrone said. “Since she has been with me on many evenings at the church, I’ve always been able to put in significant time at the parish, even when I worked a secular job and was ministering as a deacon assigned to the parish.”
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A Model of Ministry

When Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh announced in 2015 plans to appoint deacon administrators to some parishes, The Pittsburgh Catholic presented the following observations:

“The deacon administrator is a model of ministry that the Church provides and that the diocese is exploring in response to changing demographics and fewer priests. These models include inter-parish collaboration, ministry teams serving more than one parish and multiple parishes served by one pastor.

“Some dioceses in the United States have relied on deacon administrators for decades. One in six permanent deacons nationwide was serving in a full- or part-time paid position of pastoral care of one or more parishes in 2013, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, which conducts research on and for the Catholic Church.”

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The blessings in his vocation have been many he said: “Most rewarding are the many people and relationships over these past 14 years. It is very humbling to be part of someone’s faith journey and to be able to minister to them along the way.”

Becoming Parish Administrator

The situation that led to him becoming a parish administrator at St. Mark’s gradually began in 2014, when he accepted the full-time position of pastoral associate.

“Father (Louis) Sirianni, who at the time had the two roles of pastor and judicial vicar, really needed support in pastoral ministry of the parish, so I accepted the offer of full-time ministry to help out,” Deacon Pettrone said. “Father Sirianni and I have always had, and continue to have, a good, collaborative ministerial relationship. Given my managerial experience in the corporate world, many of those things were a good fit for my skill set, such as assuming the management of our facility and capital projects, supervising the office and the staff, and working with our finances, along with many other responsibilities.”

Initially, it was simply the pastoral ministries that had drawn Deacon Pettrone to the position of pastoral associate. His willingness to assume administrative responsibilities followed later when the needs of the parish became apparent. It was also a way to assist Father Sirianni to continue his priestly ministry and support the ministerial needs of his bishop, diocese and parish.

“I believed the Lord was asking me to do this because it was such a good fit for me and our situation,” he said.

In 2019, Father Sirianni became eligible for full retirement. “He still wanted to continue his priestly ministry and serve as judicial vicar,” Deacon Pettrone explained, “but without the administrative responsibilities of leading the parish as a pastor.” Given a shortage of priests, there were no priest replacements, so Deacon Pettrone agreed to be appointed as a pastoral administrator by the bishop. This allowed Father Sirianni to continue his priestly ministry as parochial vicar at St. Mark’s as well as judicial vicar for the Diocese of Rochester.

“When we announced our appointments at the weekend Masses, the overwhelmingly positive reaction of our parishioners affirmed our belief,” Deacon Pettrone said. “For me, as a pastoral administrator, I believe I not only provide the pastoral care and leadership for our parish, but in doing so am extending the ministry of a wonderful priest who may have otherwise retired due to the stress of administration.”

Challenges and Blessings

He admits there have been many challenges, but believes blessings have flowed from them. For instance, when public Masses were suspended from the middle of March until the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ on June 14, Deacon Pettrone had to lay off staff to manage the financial shortfall. He took on all the work that needed to be done, including maintenance and secretarial work. He has not had a full day off since his appointment.

“But I know the Lord put me here in this place and time to do what I have done and to be who he has called me to be,” Deacon Pettrone said. “The Lord’s blessings flow from our response to the challenges placed before us, and I’m grateful for my vocation to continue the mission of Jesus in his Church today. If I had been working in a secular job, I doubt I would have gladly done what I have done in the past few months for the Church.”

Each deacon has his own gifts and charisms, he said, and each must respond to what the Lord calls him to do through the invitation of the bishop. “God is always present to us, always calling us to a deeper and more intimate relationship with Christ,” he said. “On some days, perhaps on those more challenging or difficult days in our lives, whether as a parent, a son or daughter, a spouse, a minister, a deacon, a priest, or even as a pastoral administrator in the time of a pandemic, you just know in your heart that God put you there, and it is God’s grace alone that sustains you.”

Ultimately, according to Deacon Pettrone, the reason he embraces his role as parish administrator is because he believes that, like in John’s Gospel when Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” the Lord asks us the same question. “When I was asked to fill this role as pastoral administrator, all I really heard was Jesus asking me, ‘Do you love me?’”

“He still asks me that question each day,” Deacon Pettrone adds. “I just hope and pray that my work, my life and particularly the ministry I’ve been given don’t point to me, but to Jesus Christ. All praise, honor, glory and thanksgiving to our Lord, Jesus Christ, both now and forever!”

PATTI MAGUIRE ARMSTRONG writes from Bismarck, North Dakota.

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