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The Deacon's Bench

A man who might well be reckoned a giant in the diaconate community has left us.

A suburban Chicago paper takes note:

One of the most influential figures in the Archdiocese of Chicago’s program to prepare men to become ordained deacons has died.

John Pistone, a 30-year deacon at St. Thomas of Villanova Church in Palatine, who baptized scores of babies and presided over countless weddings and funerals, passed away on March 22 at the age of 76.

While Mr. Pistone was a popular minister at his parish in Palatine, he made an even bigger impact at the diocesan and national levels.

Deacon Bob Puhala, who heads up the Diaconate Formation Program at the University of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, says there are more than 600 active deacons serving parishes in Cook and Lake counties, with nearly 150 now in retirement.

“That’s more than any other archdiocese in the world,” Puhala says.

Colleagues recall how Cardinal Francis George personally asked Mr. Pistone to lead the formation program in the archdiocese in 2000 and help implement new elements to strengthen the program and prepare men for the academic and practical side of pastoral ministry.

“It’s become such an integral part of parish ministry now that I know of priests who call the vicar for the Diaconate and ask for deacons to be assigned to a parish,” Puhala added.

Mr. Pistone had been serving in Washington from 1996 to 2000 as the executive director of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on the Diaconate, and had helped to write the new preparation guidelines.

Mr. Pistone was a member of the first class of deacons ordained in the Chicago Archdiocese in 1972 after Catholic officials restored the ministry as a result of sweeping changes in the church directed by the Second Vatican Council.

Colleagues say Mr. Pistone was drawn to the service aspect of being a deacon and taking his active role in the church to an ordained level.

During his first 20 years while serving alongside his parish priests, Mr. Pistone worked as a manager at Allstate Insurance Co.

“Bringing the church to everyday people, and to the workplace, was something he felt strongly about,” says Deacon Dick Baum, who served with Mr. Pistone in administering the Diaconate Formation Program.

Mr. Pistone and his wife, Rae Ellen, both were involved with ministries at their parish, as well as leading retreats nationally for deacons and their wives, and heading up the National Diaconate Continuing Education program during summers at the University of Notre Dame.

Tom Dunne, who continues as a deacon at St. Thomas of Villanova, said he hopes to reach parishioners the way Mr. Pistone did, particularly with his preaching.

“He always seemed to touch the people in the pew,” Dunne said, “and gave them something to go home with.”

Mr. Pistone is survived by his wife and four daughters, including Terri (Mark) Cielsak, Julie (Ed) Turner, Kathy (John) Erickson and Gia (Darroll) Miller, as well as six grandchildren.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

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