Mark Otting, left, and Daniel Kurt are about to begin their last semester before ordination in July.

On July 10, 13 new deacons will be ordained to serve the Archdiocese of Dubuque. Among them will be Cascade residents Daniel Kurt and Mark Otting. These men and their fellow deacons-in-training are nearing the end of a nine-semester-long formation, with the last semester about to begin this month.

According to Kurt, his decision to enter diaconate formation was the cumulation of a gradual realization he’d been having his entire life.

“I had a lot of various experiences from when I was young that led me to believe this calling might be for me,” said Kurt, “but it was probably in 2004-05 when it became pretty evident that I was going to answer this call. Once I got deeper into the formation, I realized it was a lifelong calling that started at a young age. It was a gradual realization over time. Interestingly, before I had announced to anyone that I was considering applying for the diaconate formation program, I had a priest and one of our deacons in Cascade ask me if I’d ever thought about it.”

Otting said that he also had considered the idea before it was suggested to him at church.

“I believe in trying to give back to something that’s always been a big part of this community in Cascade,” said Otting. “My faith has always been a part of our family. I was approached by a deacon here in Cascade who asked if I’d ever be interested in it. It’s something I had always thought about, but thought I was too busy with raising a family of four kids.”

For both men, the application process began back in 2016, lasting about a year before they were accepted. The classes have generally taken place every other Saturday throughout the school year. However, the pandemic caused backup, necessitating classes on three out of four Saturdays a month. Unlike a college semester, the deacon candidates take one class at a time, with some subjects taking half the semester and others only lasting one class.

“There have been college professors, priests, deacons and laypeople from the Dubuque Archdiocese that teach our class,” said Otting. “A lot of it is lecture, reading, and preparing for the material, large groups, small group discussion, videos or whatever the instructor chooses to use for their tools.”

As the candidates hail from all over the archdiocese, from the western to the eastern border, classes were mostly held in Waterloo at Mercy One Hospital due to the central location. After the pandemic started, and hospitals became more restricted, many classes were moved to the archdiocesan office in Dubuque so they could be streamed and attended remotely if needed.

Otting and Kurt say that they are indebted to their wives for their teamwork and support during formation, as wives of deacon candidates are encouraged to come to the classes.

“This is an experience I could not have done on my own,” said Kurt. “My wife is such a positive part of this; it’s enriched our faith and marriage and brought us closer together in every way. Once you get into formation and realize you’re answering such an important call, you make time for it as a priority and it hasn’t been a burden in any way, shape or form.”

In addition to their classes, the candidates also participate in ministry experience in locations like hospitals and prisons as practical training for their religious ministry.

Kurt said, “I’ve had the experience to be involved with prison ministry in Anamosa and I found it to be extremely enriching. I’ve also had the opportunity to minister to the hospitals in Dubuque. My wife and I, we feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to meet and form relationships with so many wonderful people in our instructors.”

According to Otting, charity is the key part of both a deacon’s ministry and the reason for the position’s existence.

“The deacon is asked to be a part of three things,” he said. “We are to be part of the Word and Eucharist, but the main thing the deacon is required in his ministry is charity, to be out doing things for other people. I didn’t know that going into formation, but it’s something they stressed early on as our main calling as deacons.”

After ordination, both deacons will serve in the four-parish St. Thomas Aquinas Pastorate: Sacred Heart in Fillmore, St. Peter’s in Temple Hill, St. Matthias in Cascade and St. Patrick’s in Garryowen, traveling wherever needed among the rural parishes.