When Deacon Stan Upah at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Tama, Iowa, was ordained to the permanent diaconate in 2017, his son Andy was a transitional deacon studying for the priesthood.
“We wound up being both deacons at my ordination Mass,” Deacon Stan said. “He was deacon of the word; I was deacon of the cup. Nobody on this earth can make this happen. You couldn’t orchestrate that, even in the application process.”
A year later, in 2018, Deacon Stan served as a deacon at both the ordination Mass of Father Andy Upah and his son’s first Mass of thanksgiving in their home parish.
They didn’t plan their parallel journeys. “It was a God incidence, meant to be like that. He didn’t tell me he was thinking about the diaconate,” said Father Upah, who is the pastor of Church of the Nativity in Dubuque, Iowa. He remembers people telling his dad he should be a deacon, so “he was listening to that call, as well.”
“I felt a calling two years before he did,” Deacon Upah said. “My son did not know that I applied. I never told him because I didn’t want my journey to affect his.”
Indeed, a dad who is a permanent deacon and his son who is a priest or permanent or transitional deacon have a special spiritual bond.
In 2017, Kevin Hostutler was ordained a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, with his wife, Charlotte, their five children and his parents present. Not only that, his father, Deacon Jim Hostutler, served at the Mass. After much research, they appear to be the only dad-son pair of permanent deacons serving the Church in the United States.
Deacon Jim’s ordination took place years earlier, in 1986, when Deacon Kevin was a freshman in high school. At the time, the family was living in Ohio, and dad Hostutler was ordained for the Diocese of Toledo. After decades of serving there and also the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, he transferred to Scottsdale, Arizona, where he currently serves at St. Patrick Catholic Church. Deacon Kevin serves at St. Louis Catholic Church in Clarksville, Maryland.
In the Hostutler family, father Deacon Jim and son Deacon Kevin have a unique link in Church ministry.
Back east, two years after Deacon Carlos Garcia was ordained a permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of Atlanta in 2013, he had the joy of serving as deacon during the ordination of his son, Father Michael Garcia, for the Archdiocese of Miami as well as at his first Mass. A year earlier, Deacon Garcia not only served but vested his son for his ordination to the transitional diaconate.
That first Mass at St. Agatha Catholic Church, in Miami, “was a beautiful blessing and emotional and joyful day,” said dad Garcia. It also caused a moment of surprise because, with his gray hair and with his son’s very young looks, people first thought “I was the priest and he was the deacon,” Deacon Garcia explained.
In 2016, a year after Father Garcia’s ordination, dad Carlos, mother Dalila and brother William found themselves moving to the Miami Archdiocese to care for aging parents. Soon, Deacon Garcia become IT director and also formation adviser at Miami’s St. John Vianney College Seminary, which Father Michael graduated from in 2010.
Did deacon dads influence their sons? “I would hope so,” Deacon Jim Hostutler said. Kevin was involved with the youth group in their parish and then studied at Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he met his wife.
“When I was growing up, the life of our family was [centered] around the Church and one of service,” Deacon Kevin explained. Then, at Franciscan, he served as an acolyte, “seeing these holy priests” like Franciscan founder Father Michael Scanlon, and “serving with them at Mass. That planted the seed for me, right there. For me, it was not a question of if, but when.” Getting married right out of college and raising five children, now ages 16 to 26, kept him busy, but he kept discerning.
Deacon Garcia advises other parents, saying: “I tell them: You be the example.” He himself did so working with youth as a catechist, along with the example of his wife. As the deacon dad said, “Michael got the call and listened.”
Father Garcia, who is pastor of St. Coleman Church in Pompano Beach, Florida, and author of Understanding the Faith & the Challenges of Today, remembers how, in high school, he, his dad and his brother “would do one chapter of the Bible a day. We read it cover to cover. We would do the Rosary as a family prayer every Sunday before Mass.” When he told his father, right after his confirmation in seventh grade, that he “was interested in the priesthood, he was very supportive.” He added, “When I finally decided to ‘take the plunge’ going into senior year, my parents were very supportive.”
Before Father Upah entered diaconate formation in 2012, he had been talking to his parents about the possibility for a little over a year. Working at the time as a computer programmer, he had a reversion of sorts to the faith, after having been invited by his dad to a men’s conference. “As I started to learn [more] about the faith, I began to see the beauty of it, the beauty of the sacraments,” said Father Upah, who also serves as chaplain at Wahlert Catholic High School and Mazzuchelli Catholic Middle School. “I wanted to bring the sacraments to others and the beauty of the faith to others.”
“We recognized he had a vocation — we felt since he was 10 years old he might be called to the priesthood, but we wanted him to find it on his own,” Deacon Upah explained. “I did not inspire him to be a priest, though I did recognize the calling.”
He advises fathers, “If you see that in your son, don’t push him, but advise him.”
Deacon Upah and Father Andy Upah serve at the altar together.
“During formation we would talk every couple of weeks,” Deacon Kevin said about discussing Church matters with his deacon dad. Now, they’re “always comparing notes about ministry.” Though 2,200-plus miles separate them, when Deacon Kevin gets to Arizona, he serves with his dad at Mass. Deacon Kevin also finds that as a deacon dad himself, he is a resource for his children, especially his older children and their spouses, regarding the sacrament of marriage: “There’s good, healthy dialogue. It’s really cool to have that conversation about what the Church teaches.” And as both his married daughter and daughter-in-law are expecting, he said, “I’ll baptize my grandchildren, which I’m really looking forward to.”
The Upahs have officiated weddings and funerals together for family and friends. “To have us both up there, the uncle and the cousin, is a great blessing,” Father Upah said. The father and son talk a lot, too, “mostly about how to build the Kingdom, do better ministry in our parishes. We bounce things off each other. Sometimes I have him review homilies, and vice versa.”
Deacon Upah, who runs a men’s group and a marriage ministry, calls conversations with his son “fantastic, theological, spiritual mentoring. He’s listening to me and I’m listening to him. We talk about a lot of pastoral situations within the Church [such as] — how do you handle this? Two are always stronger than one, in any situation. We both learn from each other and support each other.”
In Miami, Father Garcia is planning to return to his college seminary in mid-August to give a retreat for the faculty and the staff. His dad will serve as deacon for the retreat Mass.
“It’s been a journey,” explained Deacon Garcia. “When I went through my confirmation retreat when 15, at the time I thought I had a calling to the priesthood.” He felt he always had a call, but God showed him his vocation to marriage. Then his pastor at St. Agatha told him he thought God was calling him to be a deacon, which furthered his discernment process.
Looking back, he concluded, “It’s a book of love written in our family. Look at the gifts: Not only did I get married, but a son became a priest, and God still called me to the clergy as a deacon. I got two for the price of one!”
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.