By Barb Arland-Fye
Deacons are “meant to be living signs of the servanthood of Christ’s Church,” Blessed John Paul II once said. Deacon Bob McCoy took that message to heart when he was ordained 19 years ago for the Davenport Diocese. On July 1, he retires as diocesan director of the diaconate and passes the baton to Deacon David Montgomery, a member of the deacon formation class that Deacon McCoy spearheaded and mentored a decade ago.
Those who know him say Deacon McCoy, 74, is a dedicated, behind-the-scenes servant of the Lord who is retiring from a position, but not from service to God’s people. The retired hospital pharmacist and family man serves two parishes — St. Paul the Apostle and Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport — manages a food pantry, and is engaged in restorative justice and spiritual direction. He’s also completing a post-graduate degree.
“Bob is a humble man and his famous quote is bragging that he is a ‘street deacon.’ While he jokes about this, he truly is a deacon who understands service. He ministers to those who are lost in their faith, separated from the Church or those seeking spiritual guidance,” says Deacon Terry Starns of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The two were ordained with Deacon Class 1992 in the Davenport Diocese.
In 1998, Bishop William Franklin appointed Deacon Starns to serve as coordinating director of the diaconate and Deacon McCoy as diaconate coordinator of formation. When Deacon Starns moved to Wisconsin in October 2000, Deacon McCoy assumed both posts. He’s also served in several positions on the board of the National Association for Deacon Directors (NADD).
“Bob has been a blessing to the ministry of the deacon in the diocese, often working quietly behind the scenes to advance the role of the deacon and to assist in connecting these roles with the needs of the people, not only Catholics, but those of other faith traditions,” said Deacon David Montgomery. “His latest work in prison ministry has inspired others to explore this ministry. I appreciate Bob’s willingness to take on special projects in his new role as Deacon Director Emeritus in the diaconate office.”
Deacon Al Boboth of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport appreciates Deacon McCoy for practicing what he preaches. “When we first became deacons he said, ‘You also need to do some things outside of the church in your service as deacons.’ And he’s a good example of that,” says Deacon Boboth, Class of 2002.
His classmate Deacon John Weber of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf says Deacon McCoy also understands the challenges a deacon faces in balancing ministry with family, work and other commitments.
“Many of our wives would say that the most difficult thing for deacons is being able to say ‘No,’” admits Deacon McCoy, who has been married to Pat for nearly 50 years. “In our culture, the deacon brings a unique perspective between marriage and the sacrament of holy orders.”
Bishop Martin Amos appreciates the historical perspective Deacon McCoy has brought to his leadership role. “He knows the deacons and their stories. He’s always there backing people up; he’s the kind of person who keeps on going very gently, very quietly and very much behind the scenes.”
Among the behind-the-scenes activities is Deacon McCoy’s involvement in Churches United of the Quad-Cities Area, serving on its social ministry committee, which oversees hunger and outreach programs. He also coordinates Churches United’s Food Pantry at The Center in Davenport. “He’s been an outstanding, vibrant committee member for years,” says Anne Wachal, associate director of Churches United. “We need him and value him.”
Seeing people grow in their faith, love and service through Christ has been the most rewarding aspect of his ministry, Deacon McCoy says. “A deacon can be most valuable if he genuinely likes people; you have to enjoy being with people.”
Deacon McCoy is encouraged that “the ministry of a deacon is much better understood than it was a few years ago.” But the theology of the diaconate is still a work in progress. “Deacons are not mini-priests. We serve priests. Our role is service, using the example of Christ the servant.”
Deacon Montgomery, who also serves as the diocese’s communication director, says he will “continue the work that Bob carried on” and will also be working with Deacon Frank Agnoli, director of deacon formation, in creating a three-year, post-ordination program for deacon candidates who will be ordained in 2013. “I will also be working with the deacon council in offering spiritual retreats and study days for continuing formation.”
Bishop Amos said he has come to know Deacon Montgomery well during drives to parishes around the diocese for confirmation Masses and other special events. “I’ve gotten to see him in action and how he deals with other deacons. He’s always deferential to the deacon whose parish we are going to. But he’s also willing to provide constructive feedback to that deacon after a Mass or event. Deacon Montgomery has a lot of excitement and love for the diaconate. And he’s a detail person, which is good for this position.”