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Amen Corner - November 6, 2022

National Vocation Awareness Week

This is National Vocation Awareness Week, an annual week set aside to promote religious vocations and to support those who exercise those vocations. In light of this, I had a conversation with Deacon Bill Keeling, the longest-serving deacon at St. Thomas Aquinas.

Deacon Bill was ordained on May 23, 1987, and has served this parish community the entire time. A native of Iowa, Bill and his family moved to the south when he was 12 years old. A graduate of Auburn University, he began his career as an engineer, building rocket motors in Huntsville, Alabama, and moved to Roswell in 1969.  

What prompted you to become a deacon?
Deacon Bill: “I worked for Walt Bedard who was one of the first deacons in the Atlanta Archdiocese. After years of working together, he hounded me to become a deacon. I wasn’t sure so I kept putting him off. There are many times in your life where you know yourself pretty well and you say ‘there’s got to be somebody better out there.’ I was surprised that God might use me in this way. Finally, I said, ‘Ok, I’ll look into it.’”

What does being a deacon mean to you?
Deacon Bill: “Servanthood. It’s really just being a servant. It’s what Jesus was saying to all the people. Get involved. Help people.”

What have been some of the highlights of your deaconate?
Deacon Bill: “I really liked going to assisted living facilities. First, I went around to meet the people and gave them communion. It wasn’t long until I figured out that these people are lonely--if they have families their families don’t come to see them very often. Eventually, I celebrated communion services and I loved that because I would preach a really short homily and then I would turn it over to them and they liked it because then they could talk and share and I was able to hear their views. I’ve also particularly enjoyed the additional education. I was so fortunate, as most deacons are, to participate in different conferences and workshops and to learn.”

How has being a deacon changed you?
Deacon Bill: “Being a deacon and being fortunate enough to serve on the altar, you read the readings for that day and if you’re smart, the readings for the whole week. You stay in touch more with what you hear. Somebody’s talking to you all the time if you just listen.”

Who inspired you along the way?
Deacon Bill: “Fr. Richard Kieran was the greatest teacher from whom I’ve ever had the privilege of learning. I met him when he came to St. Thomas Aquinas to celebrate Mass as a visiting priest. Our church hadn’t yet been built so we were in what is now the Parish Hall. In his homily, Fr. Richard talked about Cursillo and afterwards, I went up to him and said, ‘I’m not sure what you were talking about, but I want to go,’ and not long after, I went on the Cursillo weekend.”

How has being a deacon shed light on the vocation of all the baptized?
Deacon Bill: “I think all of us have a calling, not necessarily to become a deacon, but just to serve in some way. In and through the church, there are so many opportunities.”

Thanks to Deacon Bill for 35 years of servanthood to our parish community and thanks to all our priests and deacons. If you know someone who you think might be a good candidate for the diaconate, email Deacon Tom McGivney, [email protected].

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