Deacon Bob Bucheit celebrates 40 years of service to God and church

 

Deacon Bob Bucheit prays the Liturgy of the Hours in an empty St. Joseph Church, the La Porte parish he has served for 40 years. Bucheit can often be found praying before Mass.

Story and photos by WNLP’s Bob Wellinski

Deacon Bob Bucheit recalls having a deep love of Christ and a desire to serve his Catholic Church for as long as he can remember. Bucheit, who celebrated his 40th anniversary of ordination to the permanent diaconate this past Tuesday, admits he had no idea what he was in for when he began his studies.

“I just wanted to serve the Lord and it seemed like an ideal opportunity for a married man. Did I know what I was in store for? No. Who knew? In my 40 years as deacon, a lot of things have happened,” said Bucheit, 86.

Deacon Bob Bucheit (left) assists Father Bill O’Toole at St. Joseph Catholic Church.

Bucheit and 13 classmates were ordained on Feb. 22, 1981, after completing a three-year program. Pope Paul VI approved the permanent diaconate for the U.S. in 1968. In 1975, Bishop Andrew Grutka approved the program for the Diocese of Gary, with classes beginning on Oct. 23, 1977.

Deacon Bucheit, who serves at St. Joseph Parish in La Porte, is the only one from his class still active in ministry; he believes only one other deacon from the class is still living.

An article about the program in the diocesan newspaper sparked Bucheit’s interest. He submitted a letter to Msgr. William Martin, who spearheaded the program, “and the rest is history,” he said.

Bucheuit credits Msgr. Martin and other diocesan priests for developing the program, which included two years of monthly weekend programs centered on faith building, Christian formation and community building. Bucheit remembers his studies as “pretty intense. It was quite an eventful three years. A lot of guys got knocked out; only about half finished.”

When asked if the classes prepared him for his ministry, Deacon Bucheit responded, “Does any school prepare you for a profession? There’s a difference between books and reality.  

“We were the first in the trenches and didn’t know what the reception would be,” remarked the deacon.

Some deacons had a hard time being accepted by their pastors, he said. “You just went back to your home parish and took it from there. The bishop didn’t give assignments at that time. Some of the guys had to change parishes,” he said.

For Bucheit, the reception at St. Joseph was positive. “I was fortunate. Monsignor (John Witte) was very welcoming, very willing to have me on board,” he said, and gave him a “to-do” list following his ordination. “It was very helpful, because I knew what my role would be.”

Like a proud but humble papa, he recalled starting the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry with minimal funding. Today, it’s flourishing and caring for a large number of needy people. Bucheit started a nursing home ministry, offering weekly communion services at La Porte’s residential care facilities.

He also remembers signing up for the prison ministry because of a lack of volunteers, admitting he was reluctant because he didn’t think he would be good at it. Instead, it grew into a ministry that’s close to his heart.

Father Ian Williams, pastor of the La Porte Catholic Community, detailed the impact Bucheit has had in the parish and community. “He has been present over the past 40 years at baptisms, weddings, first communions, in times of great joy and during times of suffering,” said Williams. “In his ministry to the homebound and those in residential care facilities, Bob has brought the light of Christ and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, giving people a sense of connectivity to the parish community and the knowledge that they are not forgotten, but are loved.  

“He has so embraced his vocation that it really and truly is at the heart of who he is as a person and his identity as a Catholic Christian,” added the pastor.

In February 2000, Bucheit traveled to Rome and the Holy Land for “one of the biggest thrills of my life.” One of approximately 5,000 deacons from throughout the world who celebrated Mass with Pope John Paul II as part of the Holy Year celebration, “It was the biggest thrill to walk into St. Peter’s Basilica vested as a deacon,” he said.

Financial restraints nearly grounded his dream trip, but his siblings chipped in to make sure he made it. He also spent seven days in the Holy Land, describing it as “an awesome feeling to be in those places where Jesus walked, talked and preached.”

His years of ministry did cost him precious time away from his family. “My biggest mistake was I took my family too much for granted,” Bucheit admitted. “My hope was that my family would be part of my ministry. I guess I never explained it well to them.”

His wife, Sharon, agreed his ministry has made it difficult at times. “There were times when the kids really needed him to be here, and he couldn’t do it. It was in his heart and he wanted to do it. We had to accept that. We made it work, 54 years of marriage – so far,” she said with a chuckle.

Bucheit shared some wisdom he has gained over the years. “If you want to be a good deacon, you must fall in love with the Lord first. Otherwise, you’re just doing social work. We’re involved in sharing the love of Christ with one another, (so) we need to see each other from that perspective, or it’s a waste.

“You have to make it personal. You have to become part of their life in some sense and try to see their life from their perspective.”

5 Responses to “Deacon Bob Bucheit celebrates 40 years of service to God and church”

  1. Robert Goethals

    Feb 26. 2021

    Congratulations Deacon Bob! I have always enjoyed serving ministries with you at St Joe. Your influence on the way you read the Gospel as been a model for me when I lector. Thank you for your time and dedication!

    Reply to this comment
  2. Frank Zolvinski

    Feb 26. 2021

    Bob, you are an inspiration to us all. Congratulations on 40 years of service to God’s people. May the Lord grant you many more years of Deaconal ministry to the Church of La Porte.

    Reply to this comment
    • Dean Heise

      Feb 26. 2021

      Congratulations Deacon Bob on your milestone of service to our Church. Dean and Sharon Heise

      Reply to this comment
  3. Jan & Mike Boardman

    Feb 26. 2021

    Bravo, Bob Bucheit, thank you for 40 years of dedicated service to the people of La Porte, it is appreciated.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Neal Swanson

    Feb 27. 2021

    God bless you Deacon Bob thank you as your ministry helped me to strengthen my faith in God

    Reply to this comment

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