By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
A retired engineer who once tested space flight oxygen systems for NASA, Deacon Don Frericks is now retiring from his third career: Parish Life Coordinator of
St. Andrew Parish in Blue Grass. He’d prefer to retire without any fanfare or expense, but parishioners persuaded him to accept an open house in his honor June 26 from 2-5 p.m.
Twelve years ago, Deacon Frericks came out of his second retirement — as a school janitor — to respond to an emergency need in the parish he helped establish. St. Andrew’s was suddenly without a pastor and Bishop William Franklin, the Davenport Diocese’s bishop at the time, asked the deacon to serve as Parish Life Administrator.
The interim assignment grew permanent, and although the title changed to Parish Life Coordinator, Deacon Frericks has led the parish for 12 years. “He’s impacted the parish by providing the leadership that kept the parish independent,” observes Father Bud Grant, who presides at Mass for St. Andrew Parish.
“I bet that if it weren’t for his selfless service, St. Andrew’s would have been folded into some sort of arrangement with other parishes. He has been the on-site, day-to-day core of the parish that whole time … he’s the ‘go-to’ guy,” Fr. Grant continues. “He’s never needed to be at the center of attention but prefers to work quietly and diligently from the side as it were.”
“He’s brought stability,” parishioner Shirley Schmidt says of Deacon Frericks. “We didn’t know what we were going to do when we lost our resident priest. Don was there. There was someone there who people could talk to. And he’s easy to talk to,” adds Schmidt, who serves as St. Andrew’s RCIA coordinator and president of Mary’s Angels.
“He has so much patience. He’s so Christ-like,” says Elena Robertson, who worked for many years as the parish’s bookkeeper. “He doesn’t see the bad in anyone. He sees the greatness in everyone.” Working with Deacon Frericks “was like working with a co-worker. … We bounced things off of each other.”
“People perceive him as being a quiet fellow who listens to everybody and doesn’t argue; he digests what they’re saying and deals with that in a quiet, unassuming manner,” says Sandi Frericks of her husband.
Deacon Frericks, married 55 years ago to Sandi and father of their five grown children, never thought he’d lead a parish some day. The fact is, he’d never thought about becoming a deacon until Father Ken Kuntz (a former pastor at St. Andrew) encouraged him and a couple of women in the parish said, “Why don’t you become a deacon?”
At the time, Deacon Frericks was serving as the first parish council president and chairman of the building committee to build the parish center. That project was completed in 1978 and the church was built in 1992.
His first year leading the parish was challenging, he admits. While he had completed the Ministry Formation Program for pastoral associate, the position was new to the parish. Parishioners were adjusting to life without a resident priest.
Deacon Frericks says he has enjoyed leading the parish. “People treated me well. It’s a great parish, the people are great.” He also appreciates having Fr. Grant as sacramental minister and Father Apo Mpanda as canonical pastor.
Fr. Mpanda said he has worked with Deacon Frericks for six years. “He is a good man. A man of faith and dedicated to his ministry.”
Fr. Grant appreciates the behind-the-scenes work that Deacon Frericks undertakes to ensure the parish runs smoothly. “I’ve come early to see him sweeping the floor or shoveling the walk before he puts on the coffee and then begins to get things ready for Mass. At the same time he is filling me in on what has happened that week and gently suggesting that I visit someone or note an anniversary in my homily or speak to a couple he is preparing for marriage, etc.
“His one public gesture, every Mass, is to read the announcements at the end of Mass. He does this so unfailingly that on the rare occasions that he is not at Mass and there are no announcements for me to read we all feel as though we are leaving something out of the liturgy,” Fr. Grant quips.
“Every year we have the Annual Diocesan Appeal and it is Don’s job to announce it, give us weekly updates on our progress towards our goal, and plead for folks to turn in their envelopes so that ‘I can quit talking about it.’ We have exceeded our goal every year.
“For a long stretch Don was dealing with a painful limp that was so bad,” Fr. Grant says. “I don’t know if anyone else knew that he very often served the altar while enduring physical pain. I know that he considers his sacramental role to be the most important thing he does.”
Deacon Frericks will continue to serve as deacon, along with Deacon Terry Starns, who will become the new Parish Life Coordinator on July 1. In his “third” retirement, Deacon Frericks plans to garden and work around the house. “Don is one of those guys who say ‘If you sit down, you’re lazy and if you lay down, you’re dead!’” jokes Sandi.
Deacon Don Frericks
Parish: St. Andrew, Blue Grass
Ordination date: June 13, 1992, Sacred Heart Cathedral, Davenport.
Favorite form of prayer: Liturgy of the Hours. “We have a group in the church that does centering prayer and that’s interesting, too.”
Spiritual mentor: Father Ken Kuntz, second pastor of St. Andrew Parish in Blue Grass.
Favorite book: “I read a lot of how-to books and gardening books. Woodworking and gardening are my hobbies.”