By Jerry Zufelt
GREENSBURG — Nearing the completion of a spiritual, formational and educational journey that began in the fall of 2005, F. Daniel Frescura and William J. Hisker will become the first men ordained as permanent deacons to serve in the Diocese of Greensburg.
Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt will ordain the men at a Mass he will celebrate Aug. 10, the feast of St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr, at 7 p.m. at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral.
"This will be a historic event for the diocese," Bishop Brandt said. "Both men are being ordained to preach and pray in the name of the church and to perform other duties. They are candidates of high quality who are very gifted, but they bring different gifts to the church."
While Frescura and Hisker bring different gifts to their new roles in the diocese, they share many similarities in their faith lives and professional backgrounds. Perhaps that’s why they and their wives have become fast friends on the four-year journey to ordination and why so many of the people around them cite their careers as teachers as a primary strength they will bring to ministry.
"Both Dan and Bill are teachers, and they both have had full careers," Msgr. Roger A. Statnick, director of the Office for the Permanent Diaconate said when asked about the two men he has worked with the past four years.
"They are strong communicators, understand leadership and know how to create a sense of unity," Msgr. Statnick said.
Frescura, 59, is a parishioner of St. John Baptist de La Salle Parish, Delmont, and recently retired after 37 years as a German, English and video production teacher at Penn Trafford High School. He and his wife of 39 years, Debbie, live in a generations-old family homestead in the Boquet section of Penn Township.
Hisker, 61, is a parishioner of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Greensburg, and a professor of management at Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, where he has taught for 35 years. He and his wife of 40 years, Vera, live in Greensburg.
Both men entered formation for the permanent diaconate, which was introduced and implemented in the diocese by Bishop Brandt in 2005, with degrees in hand from Saint Vincent Seminary, Latrobe. Frescura earned a master’s degree in theology in 2001, and Hisker earned a master of divinity degree in 2005.
Coincidentally, their wives are teachers, too; Debbie at Aquinas Academy, Greensburg, and Vera at the Valley School of Ligonier in Rector.
Another similarity was observed by Rev. Mr. Owen Cummings, a permanent deacon from Utah who helped lead the July retreat Frescura and Hisker were required to take prior to ordination.
"They are excellent men with great senses of humor," Deacon Cummings said. "Both are gifted and full of excitement and enthusiasm."
While those emotions would be expected from the first men to become permanent deacons for the diocese, Frescura and Hisker are both awaiting their big day and new roles with quiet anticipation, focusing on the deacon’s primary duties as a servant for the church.
"I’m giving of myself," Frescura said. "I don’t have anything to offer that no one else has to offer. I’ll do what I can wherever God leads me."
Hisker echoed a similar sentiment.
"I have a real comfort level taking this path," he said. "It’s as if my life had this direction even though I didn’t know it. It makes sense, like my marriage to Vera."
Both men are grateful for the support and help of their wives, and Vera and Debbie have relished being part of the faith journey.
"It’s been a great experience to learn together and to grow together," said Vera, who laughingly called herself Bill’s "study buddy."
Debbie was a study partner for Dan, too, although her bout with cancer last year interrupted that role.
Dan said he learned both the value and the difficulty of prayer during his wife’s treatment. He was grateful for the prayers of so many people, especially the Benedictine monks at Saint Vincent Archabbey. But he found it more challenging, especially when praying "Thy will be done" during the Our Father.
Msgr. Statnick said their family lives, and the sufferings both men have experienced, should also help them in their new ministry.
The Hiskers lost a son, Bill, who was 23 when he died in 1996.
"I conveyed to them they are a bridge between both worlds (church and secular)," Msgr. Statnick said. "They are to bring the needs and concerns of the community to the church, and the faith and values of the church to the community."
Frescura and Hisker understand that role.
"It goes to the heart of the Gospel," said Hisker, who teaches leadership at Saint Vincent College. "A leader is only a leader when serving.
Frescura, who became Catholic 35 years ago, said he is looking forward to "getting to work."
Father Michael P. Sikon, pastor of St. John Baptist de La Salle Parish and administrator of St. Mary Parish, Export, said both men are excellent candidates.
"Dan’s an outstanding member of our community," Father Sikon said. "He will provide a ministry of service and charity to the diocese, and he will raise the awareness that we are all called to serve the church."
Msgr. Raymond E. Riffle, pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, who has seen Hisker work in several parish ministries over the past seven years, said he "brings a wealth of experience as a lifelong Catholic, husband, parent and teacher and as a person who believes deeply in the Catholic Church and its ministry and mission."