Paul Zemanek points to 2007 as a turning point for him. It was one of those times when life threw him a curveball. His job was eliminated and, with it, his planned career path.
“I was unemployed for 15 months,” said Deacon Zemanek, who is now Director of Corporate Accounts for Honeywell International. “During this time I was able to reassess what was more important in my life – doing something to reach my next promotion and career advancement or doing something more applicable with my faith.”
So the guy who is a natural mentor began looking for some guidance of his own. He attended a Cum Christo retreat and realized that some of the other men had a stronger knowledge of their various faiths. Deacon Zemanek went to his pastor at St. Brigid of Kildare, Msgr. Joseph Hendricks, for some book suggestions. Instead, Msgr. Hendricks suggested Zemanek sit in on Deacon Frank Iannarino’s RCIA classes. It wasn’t long before he became a sponsor and then had set-up responsibilities before meetings.
In 2010 he took over RCIA for Deacon Iannarino and continued to lead the program until his diaconal internship at St. Peter began last year.
“Talk about evangelization and having a captive audience!” Zemanek said. “RCIA is a very serious responsibility, to get people interested in becoming Catholic and get them catechized so they learn the faith. Now I’m helping Fr. Mark implement the St. Brigid RCIA program at St. Peter’s.”
Zemanek’s mentoring skills fit well with being a deacon.
“It’s a skill set God gave me that I’m able to sit down with people and work with them. I like people,” he said. “In my work I do a lot of mentoring from the sales position, to help other employees learn the basics and how to deal with customers. I’ve always enjoyed doing that type of thing.
“During the time I was unemployed I learned how to network and now I try to help others going through career transition. Some are more skilled at reaching out to others for help. It’s the ones who aren’t that really need the help. The other thing I learned was to pay it forward. A lot of people helped me and now I have been able to help some of them.”
Zemanek said he was probably working his way toward the diaconate without even realizing it, getting involved in several ministries when he and wife Cathy became parishioners at St. Brigid of Kidlare Parish in 2000, then attending daily Mass more often after 9/11. He and Cathy have been married for 38 years and have two sons, Chris and Kevin. They are recently blessed with their first grandbaby.
“The unemployment obstacle was the avenue that -God put in my way. -You don’t know why at the time but when you look back you can see why. That was an event that had to happen or I wouldn’t have been in a position for Deacon Frank to ask me if I had ever considered being a deacon. Man plans, God laughs.”
It was a hospital visit with a man on his deathbed that led Steve Petrill to consider the diaconate in a deeper way.
Petrill, who served as a lector, Eucharistic minister and homebound minister at his parish, St. Brigid of Kildare in Dublin, visited with the man a couple of times.
“The first time I visited him, he seemed to be doing well. We had a nice visit and all was looking up,” said Petrill. “However, the second time I visited him, he had experienced some kind of traumatic medical event that morning and was at the end of his life, surrounded by his wife and children. It made me realize how ministry sometimes calls us into the very center of the most personal parts of other people’s lives. It turned out that the gentleman who passed away was a deacon in another diocese, and although we never talked about the diaconate in our first visit, I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit by that very fact. My experiences with him really helped me grow in my desire to serve Christ and His church in a deeper way.”
Petrill is a Professor of Psychology and Associate Dean for Research at Ohio State. He earned his B.S. in psychology from the University of Notre Dame, followed by an M.A. and Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University.
In his studies and work he looks at links between biology, psychology, the environment and sociology/culture.
“The Church has reinforced the spiritual aspects as well; in particular how spirituality fits into the relations between the biological, psychological, social, and cultural aspects of who we are,” he said. “Many of our joys and struggles are how we relate these things to one another and it has helped me see the Incarnation of Jesus in a fuller way.”
Petrill and his wife, Dawn, have been married for 21 years and they have three children: Nate, 16; Anthony, 13; and Emily, 10.
He says that for as much has he has learned through his studies, he has also learned from his parish ministry.
“Any given day is someone’s best day and someone else’s worst day, for all kinds of different reasons with all points in between,” Petrill said. “One has to be very flexible and attentive in order to truly serve the needs of others, in those multiple moments that are occurring simultaneously.”
Choosing the diaconate was something that evolved out of a difficult period in his own life about 10 years ago, a time when many people close to him were very sick and others passed away. Considering the many people who reached out to him and his family had an impact on Petrill.
“I had to surrender to God and learn to trust Him more deeply,” he said. “By the grace of God, these experiences gelled the contemplations of my earlier adult life and led me to actively move down the path I’m currently on.”