Mark Neugebauer and his wife Sue converted to Roman Catholicism in 2009 and soon will be part of Toronto’s diaconate. Photo courtesy Mark Neugebauer

Deacon class includes son of Holocaust survivors

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  • May 17, 2018

For Mark Neugebauer, his journey to the permanent diaconate is something he says he just “fell into.” A look at his story would beg to differ.

It’s been a long, winding journey for Neugebauer, as you might expect for someone who was born and raised a Jew, the son of Holocaust survivors. His spiritual path eventually led to his conversion to Catholicism in 2009.

Now, Neugebauer, along with his wife Sue, is making the leap to the diaconate for the Archdiocese of Toronto May 26 along with nine other couples, joining the 102 deacons and their spouses already serving the archdiocese. They will be ordained at St. Michael’s Cathedral and will serve in their home parishes and other ministries throughout the archdiocese.

Neugebauer’s faith journey began 61 years ago. Raised as a Jew, culturally and traditionally, he said he knew God as a personal God and “that same God has been revealing Himself to me over the years.”

One of those revelations led Neugebauer at the age of 19 to Jesus through the Messianic Jewish movement, which straddles the line between Judaism and Christianity. It believes Yeshua (Jesus) was the Messiah while also holding true to the explicit laws of the Torah and believing that Jews are the chosen people. It’s there he met Sue, another child of Holocaust survivors, and they have journeyed together since.

He has also explored the Evangelical side of Christianity, being involved in men’s ministry and intercessory prayer. It’s where the now retired schoolteacher would gain insight into the Catholic faith. Up until then, he said he was very “anti-Catholic” and had been unable to see anything spiritual coming out of the Church. But Evangelical friends steered him towards the Catholic television networks Salt+Light and EWTN, and he began to experience something new.

“I experienced this beauty, this joy, this faith,” said Neugebauer. “It was so holy and so glorious.”

He began exploring the Catholic faith, reading about Pope John Paul II, the catechism, various papal encyclicals. Then his sister died and Neugebauer found himself seeking comfort at St. Timothy’s Parish in Toronto. He took part in intercessory prayer, began to go to Mass and had another revelation: he found he truly believed in Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist.

“It was something I experienced in my heart and I started to read everything I could about the Blessed Sacrament,” he said.

Neugebauer began wondering if God was directing him to become Catholic.

“Faith is all by choice anyway, but it’s still a response to some kind of call of God in your heart.”

From there, it seemed inevitable that he would make the journey to the Catholic Church, and after “a year of incredible grace” through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program, he entered the Church.

It wasn’t long afterwards that Neugebauer was contemplating retirement from teaching. He wondered what would come next in his life. His pastor knew. So did some friends. They suggested he explore the permanent diaconate.

“I already had a ministry mentality anyway. I guess for people who saw me they figured this would be a kind of progression.”

Yet he wasn’t quite sure what the role was. He soon discovered that on top of assisting with spiritual support in the parish, the real role of a deacon “is outside the parish with the poor and the marginalized.”

It hasn’t been an easy ride for Neugebauer. His wife and sons have accepted his path, with a few questions. His Jewish community is not happy that he is a believer in Jesus in the first place, though his Messianic Jewish brethren have been understanding, if not a little shocked, that he became Catholic. And there remains that odd feeling of a Jewish person being a Catholic.

“The concept of being part of the Roman Catholic hierarchy was very, very strange for me,” he said chuckling. “It was like a real paradigm shift.”

But Neugebauer, as per his history, thrust himself into learning all he could about the diaconate, applied and was accepted to begin formation in 2012. He admits there have been struggles. 

“Everyone is so clear about it, my wife, the parish, the archdiocese, the diaconal community, but for me it’s still something I’m trying to discover.”

Still, he is confident when the formation comes to its conclusion with his ordination, he will find that “rhythm and a groove.”

“I guess what I need is confirmation from the Holy Spirit.”

Neugebauer will be ordained a deacon for Blessed Trinity Parish in Toronto.

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