Deacon John Leardon has been appointed director of Deacon Personnel. The husband, father of three, and grandfather of five with another due in May, is a good example of the expanded role of deacons in the Church since Vatican II.
Ordained in 2006, he has since baptized hundreds of babies, presented scores of homilies, and led marriage preparation and the annual Mission program with his wife, Laraine, at his parish, St. Gregory the Great in Williamsville. He has ministered as a chaplain at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital in Amherst. He's a United States Air Force veteran and full-time business administrator. Bishop Richard J. Malone recently appointed him to a three-year term where he will serve 131 deacons.
"Quite honestly, this will have to be a discernment process," Deacon Leardon said. "Discerning what the job takes to get it done, and discerning how I could best do that, and not shortchange the diaconate community."
He is peaceful about his new role since, "One way or the other, God has a plan."
Some years ago, Deacon Jack Klein, a fellow parishioner, suggested that Leardon consider the permanent diaconate.
"At the time, I told him it's not something I'm really interested in," Leardon said. "But from that day on, my wife said it was something to consider and needed to pray about."
Five years later Leardon applied to the diaconate program.
"The application for the permanent diaconate is a yearlong process," he said. There's testing, coursework, a lot of background work involved in pulling together information about me and my spouse. The next thing I know, there I am lying prostrate on the marble floor of the cathedral in the middle of our ordination, which was just an absolute blessing."
Leardon said he discerns on many different levels such as preparing to preach, or as a spouse, or as part of the diaconate community. Discernment with Laraine, whether in daily decision-making or in preparing parish programs together, has been a constant for him.
"The one thing absolutely embedded in all of us during formation is families first," he said. "As we were told over and over during our formation process, that sacrament of matrimony came before the sacrament of ordination. We've always been able to figure out how to be faithful to both sacraments without impacting the other one in a negative way."
Church has always felt like home to Leardon.
"We grew up in the Church," he said. "My parents always volunteered, so until we were old enough to take care of ourselves, if they went to church to help out, we were right there with them."
Originally from Staten Island, he earned undergraduate and MBA degrees at St. John's University there, and served in Air Force Intelligence before relocating here 26 years ago. He is committed to bringing a sense of community to the diaconate, which he said can be a challenge because most deacons have families, jobs, parish work and external ministry.
He hopes to develop community by including spouses in celebrations and weekend retreats. Another focus of his leadership will be ministry to the minister, self-care to balance busy schedules. He has found his ministry touches many areas of his life.
"When people hear you're a deacon, they tend to share," Leardon said. "And that's our role. Our role isn't to be a deacon when we're on the altar, or a deacon when we're at the hospital. We're supposed to live our ministry. That means we live it as a husband, as a father, as a minister, as an employee, as an employer - in all our roles."
One of his goals is for himself and the permanent deacons in the diocese to live the servant role they are called to be. In his service as chaplain, Leardon gains inexpressible rewards.
"We're there to minister to the patients, but so often patients minister to us," he said. "I can't tell you how impactful it is when a terminally ill patient sees the diagnosis as just another step of their journey. To see someone who, while they are absolutely sad about their loss, they're also lifted up by the fact that they know their loved one is where they hope to be. To see that kind of faith in action, I can't tell you how much hope that gives you."
One of the powers of the diaconate, he said, is a direct connection with the congregation.
"Because we have the same challenges they have," Leardon said. "Laraine and I worry about finances. We worry about the kids. We worry about the grandkids. Many of the parishioners can identify very easily with the deacons and their families."