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The Deacon's Bench

In my own diocese of Brooklyn, the local paper has just profiled one of my brother deacons, who has a unique ministry using his abundant talents as an artist. Frequent visitors to The Bench may know him as the creative wizard behind The Deacon’s Studio. He’s Bernard Deschler, a.k.a. “Boinie”. And his journey to the diaconate, like so many, has been extraordinary.

From The Brooklyn Tablet:

Bernie Deschler is a Breezy Point treasure. At the vibrant age of 84, he is an architect, deacon and an impassioned artist with a vital mission. He states, “For me, my work is all about the power of evangelization.”

A convert to Catholicism, Deschler was born into a Jewish family in Paris, France, in 1923. In a recent interview with The Tablet, Deschler shared, “At the age of almost three, I began drawing with instruction from my mother’s cousin, the artist George Klein. I was recovering from a mastoid operation at the time and Klein brought me pencils and paper.” For Deschler, this was the beginning of a lifelong journey in which his hands would become remarkably instrumental in the evolution of shaping his architectural and artistic gifts.

In 1937, Deacon Bernie arrived in the United States. At that time he started a studio for painting in Flushing and began studying English at Brooklyn Technical High School. In 1938, he was employed as a draftsman for Cole Electric. He stated, “I also worked as a draftsman for the firm of Sparkman and Stephen. They were naval architects in New York City. I never ceased with my artistic pursuit of painting.”

Deschler stated, “I enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1941 until the time of the surrender of Japan.” About six years later, he came back home and began to work in construction at George Fuller Construction Company. He stated, “I continued to paint throughout this time and then pursued my studies in architecture at Columbia University.”

A few years later found the artist working as a junior architect for one of his professors (Goodman) in the design of synagogues. At the same time, Deschler was taking classes in the daytime at Fordham University to continue his English reading, writing and speaking skills.

He says, “It was at Fordham that I met a Jesuit by the name of Father John Hooper. He was highly instrumental in my thinking further about the Catholic faith. In retrospect, it was actually my interactions with the various chaplains in the service that initially sparked my interest in the first place.” Deschler further shared, “I furthermore became interested in and explored the history of art and architecture. I was captivated with the construction of the Vatican and Saint Peter’s Basilica. This certainly piqued my interest in Catholicism, as well.”

Deschler worked as an assistant project manager for the firm of Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, and then as project architect and designer for Rogers and Butler Architects, where he later became a partner in the firm. Deacon Deschler stated, “I designed the renovation for the office space for the Morgan Guarantee Bank of New York.”

One of the highlights of Deschler’s career was when he traveled to Nigeria for the Holy Ghost Fathers. It was there that he designed a tropical hospital. He stated, “This was the project that found myself in the design of housing and schools as well. It was certainly this period of my life that acted as a catalyst for my present vocation as a deacon. In Nigeria, I found myself ministering to the poor and the sick.” There is no question that Deacon Bernie speaks most eloquently of the anguish of the poor and the needy. In fact, one of his sculptured works is that of an individual hunched over in what seems to be a rather saddened and lost state. The work is titled, “The Unwanted.” Deschler’s ardent desire to serve others was realized when he was ordained to the permanent diaconate in 1988.

Visit the Tablet link to find out more of what happened after that. And drop by The Deacon’s Studio, too, for a look at his work. This kid is good. Really good.