5 minutes with ... Deacon Dan Foley

May 10, 2011

HOUSTON — During the 2011 diaconate ordination, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo highlighted the importance of the many social ministries Archdiocesan deacons serve in the local Church. From chaplaincy in prisons to hospitals, deacons have made invaluable contributions of time and energy to outreach programs in addition to duties at their home parish. 

Deacon Dan Foley of St. John the Evangelist Church in Baytown is among those servants, having been associated with Special Youth Services for more than six years. Ordained a deacon in 2007, he became aware of SYS during his formation. 

"We were required to choose a social ministry that was outside the parish," he said. "I had chosen ‘Corrections Ministry' as my social ministry, and after discussing the requirements and opportunities of the various prison and corrections ministries, I chose SYS." 

Since his orientation, he has mostly been involved in one-on-one sessions with the young men who are incarcerated at the Harris County Juvenile Detention Center. Deacon Foley said he normally talks with six to 12 individuals on each visit. 

"I spend approximately two hours per week as a volunteer and I talk to the kids about their home situations, about their previous experience with prayer, Church and God and how they plan to change their lives when they get out so that they don't keep returning to this and other similar facilities in the future," he said. "I always close with a personalized prayer with them, which is the thing that virtually all of them want and look forward to the most." 

The Texas Catholic Herald recently visited with Deacon Foley about his contributions to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Texas Catholic Herald: When did you originally consider becoming a deacon; what drew you to the diaconate? 
Deacon Dan Foley: I first considered the diaconate about 13 years ago. My pastor at the time suggested that I should think about it. I actually began formation with the class ahead of the one I ultimately finished with. I dropped out after the 15-week ‘discernment period' because of family and other commitments. I was concerned that I would not be able to devote the time and energy to the diaconate formation that would be required without seriously stressing me. Four years later after much reflection and prayer, and freeing myself up of other obligations, I re-entered formation and finished with the diaconate class of 2007. It's hard to say what drew me to the diaconate. Certainly my pastor's suggestion that I would make a good deacon and his encouragement helped me in my decision. Probably more than that was the sense that I needed to do more in my life to give back in response to the many graces that I had received, that I had some gifts from God that I needed to share, and that the Church, where I was already very active, was the best place to do it. 

TCH: How has your role evolved with the SYS ministry over the years? 
Deacon Foley: Starting as a volunteer at JDC, I have seen my ministry grow, to where I have trained a select group of the kids to be altar servers for our annual ‘Super Saturday' Mass with Cardinal DiNardo. I have attended the annual SYS staff retreat, and last year, I led the retreat. I continue to find the Friday one-on-one sessions with the young men to be most satisfying. 

 Although they are intertwined, what is the key to balancing your various responsibilities as a deacon with SYS? Deacon Foley: I still work during the day in my secular job, and like most deacons, I have many obligations and activities in the parish, but I can almost always find a way to work in a couple hours at JDC during the week. But the key for me in maintaining balance is to stay organized and try to stay ahead of the game on my schedule … I try to maintain my SYS volunteer activities at JDC. I always feel invigorated after these sessions, and I believe I draw some of the energy and motivation to keep up with the rest of my life through my contacts with these young men. 

 From your perspective, what kind of impact have you seen SYS make on young people searching for hope and guidance? 
Deacon Foley: In our one-on-one sessions, I let the kids pretty much dictate the discussion, going as deeply into things as they indicate they want to go, but challenging them every time to change. Some of the discussions over the years have been very deep, touching and insightful. It is amazing to see how smart, and yet how misdirected these young men are. My personal philosophy has always been that if even one of these young men changes, draws closer to God, and becomes a productive citizen in our society, all my time has been well spent. My sense is that many of these kids have never had the type of conversation like I have with them. Hopefully, they feel the love of Christ and the love that I convey to them during and after these conversations. I often tell them straight out as we finish that I love them, something they probably don't hear very often. 

TCH: How has your experience with SYS been rewarding to you, both personally and spiritually? 
Deacon Foley: The experience with SYS generally, and with volunteering at the JDC particularly, has been extremely rewarding for me both personally and spiritually. Now that my own children have grown up, moved away and taken on the responsibilities of their own lives, the SYS experience gives me an opportunity to give back to the community in a much-needed way, and that uses some of the skills that I learned during my own parenting experience. These kids have generally been short-changed by their own parents and by our society and many are in the process of falling in the crack and getting lost in our prison system. In my mind, I cannot give up on a 15 [or] 17-year-old kid, no matter how much trouble they have been in. There is too much potential for good in each one of these kids, and I try to let them know that I believe in them and that they can change. I sense that most of them are listening, at least during our discussions, and it is personally rewarding to see the looks on their faces as I give them the opportunity to tell me their stories and I respond to them. Spiritually, the JDC experience has made me a better Christian and I feel I continue to receive the graces that come by living, even in a small way, the Corporal Work of Mercy to ‘Visit the Imprisoned.' Frequently I have used my experiences at JDC in my own personal prayers, my meditations and reflections for homily preparation, and my work with RCIA and other parish ministry activities. I am truly grateful to God for this opportunity of service and charity that has come with my experience with SYS. † 

— Jonah Dycus