At 91, macular degeneration makes it difficult for Deacon Eugene Egendoerfer to see, but he still prays morning and evening prayer even though he has to hold his breviary 4” from an LED light. He clearly remembers the moment when the Holy Spirit nudged him to explore becoming a deacon. He and his wife Winnie were leaving a midweek Cursillo gathering in Houston, Texas, where a priest had mentioned that their diocese planned to begin training men for this new role recently reopened by Vatican II. “You should look into that,” she told him, and he nodded. “That’s exactly what I was thinking.”
Gene and 32 other men began their studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, but after a year, he lost his electrical engineering job and decided to move back to Mishawaka, where the Egendoerfers rejoined Queen of Peace Parish. He figured that move probably meant he wasn’t called to the diaconate after all. But before long he learned that the Apostolic Institute was about to begin a program in our diocese for the same purpose. Bishop Leo Pursley ordained that first class of five men on June 29, 1973, which was not only the Feast of SS. Peter and Paul, Apostles, but that year was also the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Two of those first deacons, Deacon Andrew Plodowski and Deacon Theodore Krizman, have died. Deacon Egendoerfer currently lives with his daughter in South Carolina. Retired Deacons Paul DeCelles and Kevin Ranaghan are still in South Bend.
Both Deacon Egendoerfer and Deacon Krizman were initially assigned to Queen of Peace in Mishawaka. When the pastor asked how they wanted to serve, Krizman’s first response was, “Put us on the preaching schedule.” A job transfer eventually took Krizman to North Carolina, but for the next 25 years, Egendoerfer preached a homily every other week at every one of four weekend Masses. Prayerfully preparing those homilies was a priority despite the demands of work and family. When he was working weekdays in Morris, Illinois, he prepared some of those sermons in the bathroom so he wouldn’t bother his roommate.
Pat Feehly, active at Queen of Peace for many years, stays in contact with Deacon Egendoerfer. She remembers the two deacons coming to her home to ask her husband Jim’s permission for his wife to attend charismatic prayer meetings in the parish. Jim assented but insisted he wouldn’t be joining her. However, it wasn’t long before he was dropping off their children for Pat to babysit along with others so he could attend a Life in the Spirit seminar. That may have had something to do with the fact that Pat sprinkled holy water in Jim’s coffee, but she attributes it to the manly influence of the deacons. The Feehlys and the Egendoerfers became close friends. Pat remembers Gene as an excellent cook who kept in shape by swimming every morning.
Besides preaching, Deacon Egendoerfer did a lot of visiting, including consoling and praying with families who had suffered tragic losses.
In 1999, the Egendoerfers moved to Parrish, Florida, where Deacon Egendoerfer began serving at St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Church. The pastor told him deacons in that diocese weren’t allowed to preach, so he wound up baptizing more than 100 babies and working in prison ministry along with his wife Winnie. Every week, they spent a whole day in the prison getting to know people there for everything from murder to traffic violations. Winnie quickly established rapport with the female prisoners by admiring one’s “jewelry” (handcuffs and leg irons).
In 2011, he moved to Easley, South Carolina, with his daughter for part of the year, returning to Florida for the other half and alternating his ministry for several years between Parrish and the Catholic Church of St. Luke in Easley, a mission of Holy Cross Church in Pickens, South Carolina. Although the bishop said deacons were supposed to retire at age 80, the pastor ignored that mandate, since Deacon Egendoerfer was still technically a deacon of the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. At age 82, he finally retired from active ministry.
To observe the 50th anniversary of Deacon Egendoerfer’s ordination, his parish in Easley held a special Mass at which the pastor spoke about the responsibilities of a deacon and presented him with a framed commemoration from Pope Francis. A reception followed. Since Egendoerfer is hard of hearing, his daughter made sure the ceremony was recorded for him to listen to later.
Besides his seven years in prison ministry, a highlight Deacon Egendoerfer recalls from his ministry was serving at the closing Mass of a charismatic conference in the University of Notre Dame stadium, vesting and then coming through the tunnel to the platform on the 50-yard line.
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