On May 23, John A. Owczarczak will answer a call he first received 50 years ago. His love and work for the Church will become official when he is ordained a permanent deacon.
"I've heard God's call many times throughout my life, but it was only recently that I listened," is how he describes his decision to join the diaconate. "I envision myself serving God by proclaiming the Gospel with my voice, through my actions and by my teaching."
A lifelong Catholic who grew up in Cheektowaga while attending St. Josaphat Parish and School, Owczarczak can still recall with incredible detail first receiving the call from God.
"It was during the summer," he recalled. "They had the bookmobile come to the schools on Saturday. So, I was driving my bike to the bookmobile. It was a summer morning, Saturday, beautiful outside, and as I'm driving there, I knew that I wanted to be a priest and I should become a priest. But the thing was, I didn't tell anyone. There was a priest in our parish I was going to tell. When I was going to tell him, he was talking to another altar boy. I was an altar boy back then. He was talking to someone else and I never got around to saying anything to him. What's funny is that other altar boy became a priest."
His name is Father Thomas Sloan, now serving in New York City.
Owczarczak remained very active in his parish. He claims he has missed Mass only once (maybe twice) in his life. Then a "bunch of years later" when Robert Badaszewski became a deacon, his pastor, Father Charles Slisz, turned to John and asked, "When are you going to do this?"
"I said, 'Father, I'm not worthy of doing something like this.' He looked at me and said, 'Nobody is.' That got me thinking."
It was about 10 years later when Owczarczak felt the time was right to make the next step in serving God and His people. At this time he was married with two children. He could not be a priest, but he realized the diaconate might have been his place all along.
Owczarczak was a regular fixture at bingos and lawn fetes at St. Josaphat Parish in Cheektowaga. He has served as president of the parish Holy Name Society and president of the first parish council. His two children have followed his footsteps as altar servers and readers. He and his wife, Barbara, now attend St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Lancaster.
His ministry, which will include parish duties and a ministry of charity, is expected to take up around 10 hours a week. Once ordained, he will continue his full-time job as senior design engineer for Carleton Technology.
He works in the space mission systems group, designing equipment that is used in space. "Big Bang Theory" fans can consider him the Howard Wolowitz of the diaconate. Visitors to the International Space Station who see the control valve that resupplies the oxygen and nitrogen should think of Owczarczak.
Owczarczak is looking forward to serving the needs of the people as he becomes a permanent deacon.
"That is the hard part of becoming a deacon," he said. "There are so many needs. You want to do everything, but you can't and you have to understand that. Finding the needs of a single person, and helping them in finding what caused that need, and maybe help everyone by solving that major problem."
Deacon Gregory Feary, director of formation for the Permanent Diaconate, helps prepare diaconal candidates for their future ministry. He feels Owczarczak fits the profile of a good deacon.
"John is very much committed to the faith," Deacon Feary said. "He very much loves to be around people, and tries to help people as much as he can. That's exactly what a deacon is supposed to be about - to see the needs of people and respond to those needs."
Owczarczak will receive his parish and ministry of charity assignments at his ordination at St. Joseph Cathedral in Buffalo on May 23.