With his recent election to the world representative body for Catholic deacons, Nick Kerr has high hopes for increasing awareness about the ministry in Australia.
Current figures show there are 46,500 permanent deacons worldwide, but Australia has only 170 ordained – and Nick said many Catholics were still unsure about what a deacon does.
“Many parishioners – even in our diocese – have never encountered a deacon,” he told The Southern Cross.
“Only about half of Australian dioceses have deacons. It’s a movement that has been very slow to develop in Australia, but it is certainly developing now.”
At a conference held in Lourdes, France in September, Nick was elected one of eight delegates to the International Diaconate Centre (IDC). Already the chair of the Australian National Association of Deacons, he is the first Australian to fill a spot on the IDC’s leadership team.
Nick said deacons in Australia were suffering a bit of an identity crisis and it was important that they were brought together at a national and international level so they could discuss their ministry and Pope Francis’ hopes for them.
“We can learn so much from each other,” he said.
“Pope Francis speaks about wanting a diaconal Church, a Church that serves others, especially the poor. He sees deacons having a special role here. He’s told us to be close to Jesus and ‘to encounter and caress the flesh of the Lord in the poor of our time’.
“I’ve found that when you talk to individual deacons you usually find they’re very fulfilled in their own ministry. But when you talk to groups of deacons, they talk about their isolation and the fact that so few people understand what a deacon’s ministry is about.”
This year has been an important one for the diaconate in Australia, with Australian bishops launching new norms for the formation of deacons and guidelines for the ministry.
“Early in the year there was the first meeting in many years of people responsible for the formation of deacons, which followed the release of the new norms. There will be a follow up meeting next year in Sydney and I hope it will lead to a move to form a national diaconal formators’ network.
“These are very significant things and are going to bring about a significant change,” Nick explained.
The Adelaide Archdiocese has 12 permanent deacons who all serve in a range of areas within the Church and Nick said they all benefitted from the “support and guidance” of Archbishop Wilson.
Ordained on September 12 2009, Nick, 77 is one of the longer serving deacons, having always harboured a desire to serve the Church is some capacity. He attended the minor seminary in his teenage years but decided the priesthood was not for him – “but I wanted to do something worthwhile”.
“One thing I didn’t want to do was be a journalist because both my parents were journalists and my grandmother was a correspondent for The News.”
However, Nick did follow his parents’ footsteps and became an award-winning journalist, writing and editing religious publications, including The Southern Cross and the Uniting Church’s New Times for many years. Pope John Paul II knighted him (Knight of St Sylvester) for his work in religious journalism and he was also presented the Gutenberg Award for excellence by the Australasian Religious Press Association.
Son Christian is also a journalist in Melbourne, while daughter Mariot designs costumes for films and television series.
Now retired, Nick, with the “wonderful” support of wife Eveleen, continues to serve the Church as a deacon at St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral and through pastoral work with the African Catholic community.
In 1998 he was part of the World Council of Churches’ communications team at the World Assembly in Zimbabwe. Afterwards he went to Nairobi to meet Sudanese refugees and on two other visits spent time with refugees in the Nairobi slums, in the Kakuma Refugee Camp and in displaced people’s camps.
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