Deacon Michael Rowland wears many hats as he ministers at St. Andrew Parish in Christopher and the partner parishes of St. Mary in Sesser and St. Joseph in Benton.
Not a cradle Catholic, he said people suggested Catholics were, to say the least, unusual in their beliefs. When he went to high school, he began to meet some of these “unusual” people, and he found them to be “completely normal.”
Intrigued, he said he bought a copy of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” and began investigating the faith.
“I hid the book, much like young men would hide other types of magazines,” he said. He didn’t want to upset his parents.
He pursued a career in law enforcement at the age of 20 (not quite old enough to carry a gun until 21). The sheriff at the time asked him not to shoot anyone until he reached the correct age. He remained a deputy for five years and intended to get a master’s in criminal justice but went to law school instead.
Law school was where he belonged because he met his wife, Katie, someone he can’t imagine life without.
“God works in my life by nipping at my heels,” he said, moving him in the direction God wants him to go. “I can look over my shoulder (sometimes called hindsight) and see what God wanted me to do.”
After law school he became state’s attorney in Franklin County. His link to Catholicism lay dormant, but when he lost the next election, he and Katie Katie moved to Micronesia where he also practiced law. They attended a number of different churches, but they decided they wanted to go to the Catholic church there. Deacon Rowland joined the church after studying with the priest in that parish.
Eventually the priest was moved to another parish, and before the couple could feel bad about his departure, Deacon Rowland was transferred to the very same area the priest had been assigned.
Again the deacon could feel God nipping at his heels.
When he began to think about moving back to the United States and retiring, he wondered what he would do in retirement.
After a Mass, the deacon found a pamphlet in a pew about Ministry Formation in the diocese. At the time Ministry Formation was a prerequisite to the diaconate.
Deacon Rowland said he had been a deacon in a Christian church and looked over his shoulder to see if he could discern any nipping at his heels. “That’s what God wants me to do,” he decided.
After Ministry Formation, the next logical step for him was to enroll in the diaconate.
Not only has the “rest” been history, but it makes him think “I’m where I’m supposed to be.” He and Katie have not walked into the sunset to enjoy their time together with him as assistant public defender in White County and Katie continuing to work as an aid in special education classes. Prostate cancer has demanded their attention for almost two years now.
After surgery and chemotherapy, Deacon Rowland now has a short respite to see if it is in remission, he said. “Some days I don’t have the strength to get out of bed.”
His goal, he said, is to continue to work with Father Urban Osuji, pastor at St. Andrew’s, St. Mary in Sesser and St. Joseph in Benton, to bring the parishes closer together in their partnership.
“I want to help Father Osuji out as much as I can,” Deacon Rowland said. He most enjoys witnessing at weddings and baptizing people into the Catholic faith. “It makes you feel so good.”
He is grateful to be able to serve in the diaconate, he said. “If someone has a spiritual dilemma and they know me, they share with me.”
In a way he feels “lucky” to have cancer as a servant in three parishes because, he said, the people in the three parishes are praying for him. Bishop Edward K. Braxton also calls him regularly to check on him, he said and is most grateful for those calls.
Having cancer has changed his perspective, especially concerning the caregivers. “I feel so bad asking Katie to do things for me, and I’m so blessed to have her in my life.”
Cancer has also made him more aware of the tenuous hold everyone has on life. He said he tries to be more accepting of God’s will, and “when I pray at night, I try to see the face of Christ in every person, and that’s hard.”
Grateful for his life as it was and as it is now, Deacon Rowland said when he decided it was “time to give something back to God,” he realized “all I have is myself,” and so he offered himself to serve God as a deacon. It appears to be working for both God and the deacon.