Some enlightening — and challenging — food for thought from my friend Deacon John Donaghy in Honduras:
I have read the condescending and tendentious article of Jacob Epstein, in The Wall Street Journal, castigating Dr. Jill Biden, the future First Lady, for using Doctor. I don’t care if she uses the title or not. She earned her doctorate in education and almost no one is going to be disappointed that she is not a medical doctor.
I have an earned doctorate in philosophy from Boston College, but I don’t use the appellation “Doctor.” However, I remember the facetious remark of a dear departed friend teacher from the University of Scranton, Tom Garrett. I don’t have his exact words, but he noted that we are the true doctors – teachers – and the rest are technicians. He was, of course, joking; his wife was nurse and he wrote much on medical ethics.
But I do not use the title doctor for other reasons. I may have used it occasionally when I taught a few classes at Iowa State University, but I see no reason to use it here in Honduras. In fact, I think it would be wrong for me to use it here.
Class and privilege are engrained in the Honduran society. The people I work with in a rural parish are often looked down upon by government officials, educated people in the cities, and even some clergy. I remember one remark of the president of the National Assembly in 2008 who called people from our area, protesting for strong mining legislation, “gente del monte,” which could be translated as “hillbillies” or “hayseeds,” obvious terms of contempt.
Classism pervades the culture, sometimes in subtle, non-provocative terms. It is not uncommon to refer to someone as “profe” – professor – even when they have been retired for years. I know it’s a mark of respect, but still it strikes this egalitarian gringo as classist.
But what is even more serious is how some with advanced degrees insist on being called “licenciado” (“I have a university degree”), or “ingeniero” (“I’m an engineer”), or “abogado” (“I’m an attorney”). Sure, you’ve worked for that, but that doesn’t make you better than another person who cannot read or write, possibly because his family was poor and there was no school nearby and he had to work to help his family survive.
And so I don’t want to be called “doctor.” …
… Nor should you call me “Señor Diácono.” Four and a half years ago I was ordained a permanent deacon in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, the first in our diocese and the third in the country. It was, as I’ve noted in other blog posts, not something I had sought but rather I resisted it, even when my pastor and the bishop suggested it.
But now I faced a new dilemma. What would I be called?
The people I worked with in the parish know me as “Juancito,” a name I got from the kids in the parish of Suchitoto, El Salvador, when I volunteered there for six months in 1992. In many ways, I cherish this name more than any university title.
Juancito is the diminutive form of Juan in parts of El Salvador and Honduras. It’s like calling me Johnny or, better, “Jack” – which my parents calle me and the name my cousins use.
Most of the people here still just call me “Juancito” or, at times, “Diácono Juancito.” That suites me fine, though I don’t hesitate occasionally that the word “diácono” means “servant.”
Yet a few priests began to refer to me as “Señor Diácono,” which could be translated “Mr. Deacon.” I quickly began to respond that “Señor Diácono” is a contradiction, an oxymoron
It is important to note that, in Spanish, “Señor” means “mister,” but it is also the translation for “Lord.” To hear someone call me, “Señor diácono,” feels like someone calling me a Lord Servant.
As you can probably tell: I have no doctorate — I barely have a B.A., and that took me an extra semester — but periodically people ask me what they should call me. Deacon? Greg? Deacon Greg? I always tell them I’ll answer to anything. I’m not fussy. A few people have taken to just calling me “Deacon” and don’t realize I have another name. (At a previous job, someone answered the phone and when the caller asked for “Greg,” the woman answering said, “Greg? There’s no Greg here…”)
And so it goes.