Archdiocese Local

New pro-life association offers infrastructure for parishes

Deacon Doug Hemke of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, left, and Deacon Kevin Cummings of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas discuss Deacons of Hope, a new pro-life ministry that is the first of its kind. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A bold vision to form a brotherhood of permanent deacons for pro-life ministry has become a reality.

On Sept. 14, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann signed a decree approving the erection of a Public Clerical Association of Christ’s Faithful called the Deacons of Hope. It is the first of its kind anywhere.

The two founding permanent deacons, Deacon Kevin Cummings of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and Deacon Doug Hemke of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, hope that permanent deacons in and beyond the two dioceses will join them.

This brotherhood of deacons began as a friendship between the two men.

Deacon Cummings was originally incardinated with the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. It was during formation that the two met, and by ordination in 2011, they had become friends.

“During the very first weekend of formation at Savior of the World [Pastoral Center] in Kansas City, Kansas, we met. We formed a bond,” said Deacon Hemke. “There was something about him that was very unique. We became fast friends and felt that, sometime, there was something that we would be called to do.

“Sure enough, eight years later, it became clear what our calling was. Why God called two leaky old wineskins like us, I don’t know.”

Deacon Doug Hemke, left, and Deacon Kevin Cummings became friends through their diaconate, and that friendship moved them to found Deacons of Hope. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

Deacon Cummings, a retired dentist, moved to Kansas three years ago and asked to be incardinated into the archdiocese. He was assigned to his home parish of Curé of Ars in Leawood. Deacon Hemke, a retired stockbroker, was assigned to his home parish, too, of St. James in St. Joseph, Missouri.

Both men do the traditional diaconal duties at their parishes, which include presiding at weddings, funerals and baptisms, as well as preaching and assisting priests at Mass.

But they also had hearts for pro-life ministry. About three years ago, they began to raise funds for the Gabriel Project and helped establish the St. Mary’s Home for Mothers in Liberty, Missouri. The two deacons wanted to do even more but wondered how.

By 2019, they had an idea.

“So, we decided,” said Cummings. “There are deacons in [many] parishes. A lot of them are overworked and some of them are underworked. Few of them get to do the outside ministry they really want to do because they don’t have a plan. They don’t decide what their emphasis is or what they’re passionate about.

“Both Deacon Hemke and I decided that [pro-life ministry] is what we’re passionate about. We’re in our 60s and don’t have a lot more time to do this, so let’s get to it. We decided the Deacons of Hope would be the infrastructure for all the parishes.”

Deacon Kevin Cummings said his passion for the pro-life ministry moved him to create Deacons of Hope. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

Permanent deacons have privileged access to their parishes, especially through preaching, and thus could promote a whole spectrum of pro-life activities in a “seamless garment” kind of approach.

“Our goal is to uphold the dignity of individual life from conception to natural death and whatever that entails in between,” said Deacon Hemke. “That means building a house with Habitat for Humanity, a Walk with Moms, a vigil against the death penalty — yeah, it’s that.

“Aside from just having a ministerial preference for the unborn, we also serve the poor, the imprisoned, the marginalized, the oppressed, the sick and the aged. Whatever we need to do to uphold the image and likeness of God in humanity is what we do.

“Everything in between is a part of the pro-life ministry of the Deacons of Hope.”

Forming an association gives them unity of purpose and structure for mutual support and organizing. It gives them access to parish pro-life mechanisms.

“Deacons are always looking for causes to sink their teeth into,” said Deacon Hemke.

For Deacon Doug Hemke, Deacons of Hope is a ministry designed to uphold the dignity of individual life from conception to natural death — and everything between. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

The two eventually sought help from Rome and then Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and Bishop James Vann Johnston, their respective ordinaries. Both gave their strong support. They got the help of Father Joseph Arsenault, SSA, a canon lawyer in the archdiocesan tribunal, to draw up the bylaws and statutes of the Deacons of Hope and follow the correct procedure to form such an association.

“He was most helpful,” said Deacon Hemke. “We couldn’t have done it without him.”

Although the Deacons of Hope will be ecumenical in its support of pro-life activities and ministries, membership in the association is limited to Catholic permanent deacons.

So far, in addition to the two co-founders, the Deacons of Hope has four more members: Deacons David Healy, Stuart Holland, Charles Koester and Joseph Whitson. Deacon Cummings is the first general moderator of the association until their first general assembly, which must be convened within two years.

Now that the Deacons of Hope have gotten the church recognition they need, they will need to get the legal and practical steps finished on the corporate level, such as forming a board of directors, getting a tax identification number, becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax-exempt organization and filing its bylaws with the Missouri Secretary of State.

“Now we’re in the active recruiting stage, developing awareness and reaching out to our brother deacons,” said Deacon Hemke. “Potentially, it’s an international organization.”

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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