By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — The call is a powerful thing, as Deacon Dan Powers knows very well.
He left a great career behind in the semi-conductor industry to become a parish business manager and to be ordained a deacon in the Diocese of San Diego.
Deacon Powers then moved to the San Diego chancery where he became director of human resources, director of parish administration, director of stewardship and development, and director of information technology — all at the same time.
His life was full and happy, but God had other plans.
When he was offered the opportunity to lead a diocesan Catholic Charities program, he took it. It was in the Diocese of Marquette, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and as culturally and climatically opposite of San Diego as possible.
But it was a job that he, as a deacon couldn’t refuse.
“It’s that ability to touch the poor in a real way,” said Deacon Powers, who became chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph on April 30.
“That is in the heart of the deacon, this call to serve,” he said.
He recalled attending a diaconate ordination in San Diego at the end of his very first year of formation, the year of discernment before being formally accepted into candidacy.
“Bishop (Robert) Brom called deacons, ‘servant slaves of Christ.’ That’s what I wanted to be,” Powers said.
“Deacons are configured to Christ as ‘Christ the Servant.’ We are called to serve,” Deacon Powers said.
He hit the ground running in Marquette, turning a Catholic Charities agency that was deeply in debt with few programs into a fuller social service agency.
In his three years there, Catholic Charities of Marquette began or expanded programs that offered counseling, crisis pregnancy resources, assisted living for the elderly, transitional living for former criminal offenders, and food for the poor while pulling itself completely out of debt and never forgetting the “Catholic” part of “Catholic Charities.”
A native of the Detroit area along with his wife Diane, an avid and lifelong Detroit Tigers fan, Deacon Powers said the time had come for him to leave Marquette as Bishop Alexander Sample was sent to a new assignment as Archbishop of Portland, Ore.
“There is a time to build and a time to breathe,” Deacon Powers said. “Marquette needs to breathe right now, and I am a builder.”
When the opportunity presented itself to lead Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph, he pursued it eagerly.
In fact, he recalled a long talk he had with Marquette Bishop Emeritus James Garland, who told him of the national reputation that Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph had earned over the years.
“This agency has a great legacy, and Bishop Garland told me about that legacy. He talked to me about the important role Kansas City-St. Joseph has played for years in leading the Catholic Charities movement nationally,” he said.
“It has 133 years of serving the poor. That is a substantial organization,” Deacon Powers said.
Asked to name one program that he has learned about, the words shot out of his mouth before the question was finished.
“Morning Glory Café,” Deacon Powers said, speaking of the program that feeds 100 people a day a free hot breakfast at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
“I understand Catholic Charities volunteers there once a month. I want to make it once a week,” he said.
Deacon Powers said he also wants to continue to strengthen the “Catholic” in “Catholic Charities,” leaving no doubt that the front door to the church is open and welcoming to the poor who are longing for a relationship with Christ.
“We must not only bring Christ to people, we should bring people to Christ,” he said.
And the way to do that, Deacon Powers said, is never to forget that Christ is already at the very center of Catholic Charities.
That notion dawned on him while he was reading Paul’s Letter to the Colossians in which Paul said that Christ was already at the center of everything.
“I thought, ‘Holy cow! I didn’t get it before. All this time, I’ve been trying to include Christ in the ministry. I was an idiot. You don’t include Christ in the ministry. Christ IS the ministry,” Deacon Powers said.
And beginning with himself, Deacon Powers said that anyone working in any of Christ’s ministries, including Catholic Charities, needs to needs to grow deeper through practice and prayer into a stronger relationship with Christ.
“We can’t give what we don’t have,” Deacon Powers said. “We need to pray and develop our relationship with Christ in our own lives,” he said. “Then we can reflect that relationship in our lives.
“We should see Christ in every one we meet. And we should be Christ to every one we meet,” Deacon Powers said.