“Back in the early days, the question from the pastors was, ‘What do I do with this guy?’ Now, the question is, ‘How do I get one?’”

From The Criterion: 

The first class of permanent deacons in the history of the archdiocese was ordained 15 years ago on June 28, 2008.

One of those men ordained that day was Deacon Michael East. Since then and until recently, his mission was to be a “servant of the servants.”

From 2008-11, Deacon East ministered as the archdiocesan associate director of deacons. In 2011, he began 12 years of service as director of deacons, a role from which he retired on July 1.

“It’s not a feather in your cap to sit in this chair,” said Deacon East in an interview with The Criterion in the office for the director of deacons in the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis shortly before he retired.

“You’re not any better than anyone else. You’re here to help where you can and stay out of the way the rest of the time.”

Being a “servant to the servants” hit home for Deacon East not long after his ordination when one of the men ordained with him, Deacon Ronald Stier of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Richmond, died of cancer on Aug. 24, 2008.

“I was at home in Seymour when I got the word,” Deacon East recalled. “My wife and I were getting ready for a family function. I said, ‘I’ve got to go.’ And I took off for Richmond.”

That episode early in his life and ministry as a deacon helped him come to grips with the reality that permanent deacons as clergy have a life with one foot fully in the Church, and as husbands and fathers have one foot firmly in the world. It’s a balancing act he’s honed over the years and helped his brother deacons refine in their own lives.

A challenge of his ministry in helping to lead the deacons of the archdiocese beginning in 2008 was that permanent deacons were a new phenomenon for all Catholics in the archdiocese—for parish priests as well as their parishioners.

As all archdiocesan Catholics got used to deacons in the years that followed the historic 2008 ordination, Deacon East said it was his job “to try to smooth out the bumps in the road” in deacons ministering in parishes and in the broader community in places such as jails, hospitals, nursing homes and charitable agencies.

In 2008, deacons were unknown in the archdiocese. In 2023, after three more permanent diaconate ordinations, their place in the life of the Church in central and southern Indiana is well-established.

When the first class of 25 deacons was ordained in 2008, there were 26 parishes in the archdiocese where deacons were assigned to minister. Today, that number has more than doubled to 53 parishes.

“Back in the early days, the question from the pastors was, ‘What do I do with this guy?’ ” Deacon East said. “Now, the question is, ‘How do I get one?’

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