Five men will be ordained deacons on June 11
The following story appeared in the May 27 Idaho Catholic Register.
By Gene Fadness
Tilio Perez’ first year of study for his diaconate formation was more challenging than anticipated. “Did they find the right person to be that close to the altar? I’m a sinful guy,” Perez told himself.
That statement alone reveals that “they” found the right person, along with four others to be ordained permanent deacons on June 11 who recognize their inadequacy, but, at the same time, cannot deny the reality of their call.
“At some point, you need to decide if you’re going to live for the Church,” said Perez. Even though that first year was difficult, the four years of formation have been “a tremendous change of life, a completely different life” for Perez and his wife, Amparo.
Unique this year is the fact that none of the members of this year’s ordination class are from metro areas and will serve in rural parishes. In fact, two will serve in an area that is remote from the Diocese’s larger cities as one can get both in size and culturally. Perez will be one of two deacons who will serve the southeast corner of the Diocese that for years has struggled to find deacons. Soon it will have three deacons serving in a sprawling area of southeast Idaho that includes Soda Springs, Lava Hot Springs, Malad, Montpelier and Preston. Good Shepherd Parish, headquartered in Soda Springs is north of the Utah border and west of the Wyoming border, and 70 percent or more of the population are members of the Latter-day Saints faith.
Deacon David McCarthy has been the lone deacon there since 2012, serving primarily in Soda Springs. But he and Father Joseph Lustig will have help as two members of this year’s class are from the same region. Perez will serve primarily at St. Peter’s in Preston and Art Martinez will serve primarily at St. Paul’s in Malad.
Also scheduled to be ordained are Martin Knoelk of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Grangeville, Kenneth (Scott) Tverdy of Immaculate Conception Parish in Buhl, and Eric Wassmuth of Tri-Parish Community in Cottonwood.
Bishop Peter Christensen will ordain the five men on Saturday, June 11, during a 10 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Boise.
Two of the men – Martinez and Knoelk – have distinguished military backgrounds while the others – have strong agricultural roots.
Martinez was born in Ogden in 1958 and graduated in 1980 with a degree in sociology from Weber State University. After graduation, he joined the U.S. Air Force as part of the Fighter Wing Reserve Unit near his home at Hill Air Force Base.
Over the next three decades, Martinez worked in both military and civilian capacities, either in the Air Force or as a contractor for the Air Force. He was part of the team that provided oversight of all military contracts related to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the United States and the Russian Federation. Martinez and his co-workers were to ensure that any new Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile (formerly the MX missile, of which about 50 were eventually built) did not violate the treaty. “The treaty allowed that the Russians could come with no notice to inspect those facilities,” Martinez said.
He also worked in the Inspector General program, part of a 300-member team tasked with making sure that aircraft and personnel were ready for any combat scenario. For eight years, he was a contractor and then a program manager working on support equipment for the F-16 fighter aircraft.
In 2001, he was offered an opportunity to work on a team tasked with closing down the Rhein-Main U.S. Air Force Base in Germany and transferring it to the German government where it is now part of the Frankfurt airport. Much of its functions were transferred to the Spangdahlem Air Force Base. Martinez was there five years to see the project to its completion. “We completed the transition on time and at-cost, a rare thing for the U.S. government,” he said.
He returned to Hill Air Force Base in 2006, working with Boeing and Lockheed transitioning the F-22 Fighter Jet program from production capability to support capability at Hill AFB.
After retiring in 2014, he bought a ranch near Malad and moved there.
He met his wife, Lorrie while he was attending at St. Rosa of Lima Parish in Layton, Utah, where he served as a youth pastor, catechism teacher, on the parish council and with the Knights of Columbus. She, however, was a member of the LDS Church. They were married for 17 years before she became Catholic.
Martinez was instrumental in finding a home for tiny St. Paul’s Church in Malad. From the early 1980s until 2014, the 15 to 20 people who regularly attended Mass, were meeting in a Presbyterian church. “We would have to set things up for Mass each Sunday and then take everything down,” Martinez said. So, when the opportunity arose to buy two acres for a possible new church, Martinez bought it with the idea that perhaps one day the congregation would be able to build a church there.
Shortly afterward, a home right next to the property came up for sale. Martinez led the effort to buy the home, which the parishioners gutted and transformed into a church. Some of the funding for the church comes from an unlikely source: the Faithful Followers of Fatima. Martinez and fellow parishioners in southeast Idaho had been supporting the Faithful Followers of Fatima mission to build a church in the Republic of Malawi, Africa. Martinez later used his connections with the Faithful Followers of Fatima to convince the organization to support a North American mission – St. Paul’s in Malad – with a monthly stipend that has helped pay for roof repair, the installation of a sprinkler system and other improvements. It helps that Martinez is also an skilled handyman, thanks to his father. “He taught me about framing, finishing, plumbing and electricity. Poverty is a great incentive to learn to do things,” he said.
Father Germán Osorio was the first person to suggest to Martinez that he consider the diaconate. It seemed like a logical next step, given his attitude of service in so many areas. Later, Father Marcos Sanchez, a big supporter of the building project, encouraged him as well.
“In the end, you do not work for a priest, or a bishop or a pope, you work for Jesus Christ,” Martinez said. “Our focus is that we are servants of the Lord, and we need to focus on that, not on getting political or choosing sides. As deacons we are called to serve and for that we will be held accountable.”
Art and Lorrie have six children and 28 grandkids “including one in heaven.” Each of their children is active in the faith. “We are very blessed that way,” he said.
Martin Knoelk was feeling about as low as any man can feel when he approached Father Timothy Ritchie who was on the grounds of the newly constructed Holy Apostles Parish in Meridian.
Even through Father Ritchie did not do know it, Knoelk was even mulling suicide. Only 37 at the time, Knoelk had spent a lot of time on military missions in the Middle East and North Africa, though he could not be specific because what he did remains classified. However, it was traumatic, particularly what had happened to fellow soldiers in his unit.
“My past we catching up with me, and I felt like I was going nowhere.”
Just days before the chance meeting with Father Ritchie, Knoelk, said, “I decided for the first time in my life to talk to Christ. As soon as I did, I knew He was there.”
Shortly after that, he was driving around when he spotted Father Ritchie. “I asked him if he was a priest. When he said he was, I told him I had a few questions for him.” Father Ritchie invited him inside. “He looked at me and said, ‘You just came home.’ ”
Knoelk had little or no religious background. He and Father Ritchie continued to meet once a week for the next two years. “At no time did he try to push me, he was just there for me, to listen and to answer my questions.”
Knoelk’s connections to the military life started as early as it can. He was born in a Navy hospital in San Diego. He moved to Idaho at age 15 when his mother accepted a position with Hewlett-Packard. After graduating from Meridian High School in 1978, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force’s satellite and radar program, but by the time he had finished the job he was training for didn’t exist anymore due to funding issues. He transferred to the Navy, stationed in the North Atlantic, on classified missions.
After eight years of active duty, he moved to Boise to open his own cleaning company. He was also worked as a bodyguard and private security person both in the United States and, at times, overseas. While still owning the cleaning company, he also opened a fencing company and served in the Air National Guard on weekends. He joined he Air National Guard’s fire department, which began his interest in firefighting.
After two years with the Guard’s fire department, he took a full-time position with the North Ada County Fire Department as a firefighter and a medic.
It was while he was working for the fire department that he met his wife, Judy, who was volunteering with the regional fire and police departments in a program to distribute gifts for the needy at Christmas. Judy is Catholic, so the meetings with Father Ritchie now included Judy was well. Knoelk started RCIA in 2000, was Confirmed and shortly thereafter married.
“I had started from a pretty low place and got to the point that I just loved the Church,” he said. Even though he was Confirmed at Holy Apostles, he and Judy decided to join St. Paul’s in Nampa, where Judy and her family were close friends with the pastor there at the time, Father Jerry Funke.
Not long after joining the Church, he retired from the fire department and took a job on the staff of Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Caldwell, while retaining his membership at St. Paul’s. After working there for about 18 months, he told the pastor, Father Francisco Flores, that he was thinking about going back to school to pursue a master’s degree so that he could teach, perhaps at a seminary.
Father Flores’ response surprised him. “If you truly want to teach, just be a deacon and teach right here.”
He and Judy looked into the diaconate program but decided not to pursue it at the time because it required that wives take the first year of study along with their husbands and Judy’s job as director of human resources in the U.S. Army and in the Army National Guard made that impossible.
“We put everything on hold for a while,” he said, even though he continued working at Our Lady of the Valley.
A few years later, the Knoelks were at a coffee hour after a Veterans Day Mass with Bishop Peter Christensen. “The Bishop came, got a cup of coffee, came up to me and said, ‘You should be a deacon.’ ”
Explaining Judy’s job situation, the Bishop said to send in an application in anyway. By the time he enrolled in 2019, the requirement for deacon’s wives was removed.
The two recently bought what Knoelk calls a “hobby ranch” near Grangeville, and he has pursued his goal of full-time commitment to the Church.
“We all have joys and sufferings in our lives, and I have come to know that all of them are blessings,” Knoelk said. “As a boy, I thought how great it would be to see a miracle, but figured I never would get to. After reaching for Christ and following Him, I now see miracles all day and every day. For the rest of my life, my final mission is that I will try my best to help others to see the miracles that are all around them.”
When there were no lectors to show up during Mass at St. Peter’s Church in Preston, Tilio Perez stepped up.
That was only the beginning of his service to the Church that he did not anticipate and did not believe he had the ability to accomplish.
On another occasion, Father Sipho Mathabela, at the time the pastor of Good Shepherd Parish based in Soda Springs, asked him to be an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist. “I cannot explain the great emotion that I felt when I put on the alb on for the first time and went up to the altar to help the priest,” he said.
In 2011, Father Rob Irwin asked him to serve on the Finance Council. Again, he did not feel equipped but, of course, the answer was yes.
Bit by bit, calling by calling, priests and God were preparing Perez for something that from early on in life he would never have imagined.
Perez was born in the Mexican state of Guanajuato (called GTO by the natives) and came with his parents to the United States in 1992 at age 15. His older brother had sent them money to make the trip.
His parents and grandparents were devout Catholics. Thus, there was a bit of a culture shock when the younger Perez ended up deep in the heart of Mormon country, south of Preston on the Utah border. For 15 years, he farmed and milked cows.
He attended Mass at a parish in Brigham City, Utah, for the first three or four years, serving as a music minister and playing the guitar. Since the dairy farm was near both Brigham City and Preston, he attended Mass at both parishes for a while. “But in my heart, I wanted to serve the Church in Preston.”
He continued his music ministry in Preston and, while serving at that tiny church, a door opened for a new career opportunity, one that might not have if not for his willingness to respond when asked to serve.
This time the call was for people to help paint the church building. He began making several trips back-and-forth between Preston and Logan, hauling paint and other supplies. That spawned an idea. Maybe there were other laborers who needed people to move equipment. He bought a truck and, not long afterward, Eagle Trucking was born, with Perez hauling equipment like rebar and steel to locations as far away as Boise. With the growth of the business, Perez has been able to hire family members as well as others.
He began thinking about the diaconate when his five children – all boys – were still young. His priest encouraged him to wait until they got older.
When Father Germán Osorio arrived in Soda Springs, he helped Perez begin his formation process. His wife of 27 years, Amparo, has also been a key partner in their joint journey of faith.
“I know that in most families, it is the woman who encourages the man to get closer to God and to the Church,” Amparo said in earlier interview with the Idaho Catholic Register. “But, in our family, it is Tilio, who encouraged me to attend Mass. I thank him for having done that. And every time I see him discouraged, I encourage him.”
Service is at the heart of the call of the diaconate. For Perez it will be an extension of what he has been doing. “I really respect the priests, I am on their side,” he said. “Whatever they need, I’ll be there.”
Kenneth (Scott) Tverdy was raised in a Catholic farming family in the Castleford area of Idaho’s Magic Valley. He attended school at Boise State, Idaho State and took ag sciences at the College of Southern Idaho, but, despite all the education, he wanted to return to the farming life that was part of his childhood.
He started farming in Buhl but eventually moved to the Roseworth area south of Castleford in 1981 so he could farm next door to his grandparents.
Not long afterward he met his wife, Teresa from Twin Falls. It was an “arranged” marriage, arranged by their aunts who introduced them to each other. In 1983, they married.
Eventually, the Tverdys returned to the Buhl area. He worked both on the farm and as a loan officer at the community bank.
They were involved at their parish, Immaculate Conception, but not as much as they could have been, he said. “The faith was there, but it wasn’t as solid as it should have been.”
That began to change about eight years ago when they heard a talk at a Steubenville Conference by Deacon Ralph Poyo. That led to their organizing a retreat in Buhl for about 24 who attended. “The retreat was a challenge to revitalize the church and its membership. But, first, I had to make sure my own house was in order,” Tverdy said.
At the retreat, he sat with John Plank, who was ordained a deacon in 2017 for Immaculate Conception Parish. That retreat is where his “reconnection” to his faith started, Tverdy said. Later, he led about a dozen others in the parish on the “33 Days to Morning Glory” retreat by Father Michael Gaitley.
“I just started hearing things in the Gospels that I had not heard before. Things that were calling me, and I started to ask more questions.”
During the summer of the “33 Days to Morning Glory” retreat, seminarian Nelson Cintra (who will be ordained a transitional deacon two days before Tverdy’s ordination) was serving at Immaculate Conception Parish. “He would meet with us for breakfast. He was so solid in his faith. He kept pushing us. He was in inspiration,” Tverdy said.
As his other inspiration, John Plank, was nearing ordination, Tverdy’s decision to pursue the diaconate was solidified.
He views the diaconate as more than serving on the altar. “Somebody has to be out on the street and out among the people, going where they are needed,” he said. Whatever he will be doing, he will be ready, he said. “I have no preconceived notions, I just want to serve. I can really feel the graces way more now than I ever have.”
Eric Wassmuch grew up in Idaho’s “Prairie cradle of Catholicism,” in Greencreek, about five miles northeast of Cottonwood.
“Growing up, we always attended Mass on week-ends and holy days,” Wassmuth said. “Early on, I was allowed to make my faith my own by sitting in my own bench toward the front of the church and slowly moving a bench back as I grew older, in the old Greencreek tradition.”
Even as a back-bencher, Wassmuth felt the call to service in the Church while still in high school.
“At the time, I thought it was priesthood, but really wanted to pursue my dreams of getting married, having a family and farming. I decided that when I turned 35, I would look into the diaconate.”
After graduating from Prairie High School, he attended Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston earning degrees in agricultural mechanics and industrial mechanics.
Unlike many young people, he never walked away from his faith. “As I moved through high school and college, I began to notice that things in my life went better when Mass was part of the plan, particularly fishing.”
During his freshman year at college, he met his future wife, Alea. They married in 2000.
He worked as an agricultural mechanic until 2002, when he returned to the prairie to take up farming with his dad, while still working part-time as a mechanic. In 2016, he became a road foreman for the local highway district.
His four children getting older, Wassmuth did not forget the call to greater service that began as far back as high school.
“The final thing that prompted me to take action was looking at many of our younger people that possibly have a call to religious life. I couldn’t see how I could encourage them to a religious vocation when I was ignoring mine.”
He sees a need for a larger focus on men’s ministry in the Church, particularly in the area of spiritual direction.
“Everyone needs to actively discern his or her vocation,” Wassmuth said. “So often, we just put our life on autopilot and live it passively. We need to discuss with God if we are to be single, married, (pursue the) Religious (life), even the type of work we do. God is happy to listen to what we want. He is even happier when we want what He wants.”
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