Douglas Robertson is being ordained a permanent deacon at St Michael's Church in Linlithgow on Saturday. We spoke to him about his journey to the diaconate.
What parish do you attend?
St Michael’s in Linlithgow. I have been a parishioner here for over 30 years.
What is a deacon, and what do they do?
Deacons (the word comes from the Greek word diakonia, meaning 'service') are ordained clergy who are not priests, but assist the priest at Mass by proclaiming the Gospel, reading the Intercessions, distributing Communion and dismissing the Faithful. A deacon assists the priest outside of Mass by administering the Sacrament of Baptism, bringing Viaticum to the dying, presiding for prayer services, officiating at funerals and burial services and witnessing marriages. As ministers of service, deacons perform charitable works such as visiting the sick, sacramental preparation and outreach to the poor.
Wherever I have been I have appreciated the many people who have taken the time to quietly encourage me.
What was your day job?
I worked in IT for forty years, in a number of different jobs and for several companies, starting with Rolls-Royce in Glasgow and ending with Lloyds Bank in Edinburgh.
Why did you decide to apply for the diaconate?
Looking back I feel that my whole life was leading up to this point. My faith journey took me from being a child attending Church of Scotland Sunday school, and not wanting to be there, to a teenager who went to Scripture Union camps, and found a living faith but could not sustain it.
In this Vocations Awareness Week, please keep in your prayers Michael Robertson who is being ordained a permanent deacon at St Michael's Church in Linlithgow on Saturday.
Despite this, my faith was always there and in my early thirties, I wanted to integrate it fully into my life and joined the Catholic Church. This was the start of a wonderful and exciting journey. My faith continued to develop and I found myself saying “God, whatever you want me to do, I will do”. During a conversation with my Parish Priest Canon Paul Kelly he challenged me to go much further than my own limited plans for the future and look at the Permanent Diaconate. The words in Malcolm Muggeridge’s book about Mother Teresa inspired me – “as the whole story of Christendom shows, if everything is asked for, everything – and more – will be accorded; if little, then nothing”. So I applied!
What support have you been given?
I am so grateful to my wife Margaret, whose own faith and that of her family is so important to me. Her Uncle Monsignor McShane, latterly of St Margaret’s in Clydebank, was a bedrock of the Catholic faith in our lives. Margaret has read my essays, tolerated the hours of study and said the right things when I found the formation challenging. I have had huge support both from this parish with its live faith and committed parishioners and that of my parish placement at St Francis Xavier, Falkirk, where I was provided with an insight into the life of a Deacon in a large parish. Wherever I have been I have appreciated the many people who have taken the time to quietly encourage me.
What are you most looking forward to in your ministry?
Serving my parish!
What advice would you give to married men who are considering the diaconate?
Contact your vocation director, an exciting journey is in front of you.
Douglas Robertson will be ordained a permanent deacon at midday on Saturday 14 September at St Michael's in Linlithgow. Interested in the Permanent Diaconate? Contact Deacon Ronnie Macaulay at firstname.lastname@example.org
Vocations Week: The wonder of the Call of God
Bishop John Keenan, of Paisley Diocese, has issued the following letter for Vocations Awareness Week. Bishop Keenan is the President of Priests for Scotland
Dear brothers and sisters,
This Sunday (10 Sep), we begin our celebration of Vocations Awareness Week in Scotland.
It is a time when we are encouraged to pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood, the diaconate and the consecrated life.
Our Gospel this Sunday tackles the difficult issue of how a Christian community should deal with internal problems and disputes. At first, the answer seems a bit obtuse and legalistic, at least to our modern ears. A bit of reflection on the LORD’s advice to the community, however, opens up a horizon of love and compassion.
At the heart of the LORD’s instruction is a reminder that we need to be a caring community; a community that cares for any person in difficulty and that cares for the truth that alone can set them free.
A community that cares about the person and cares about the truth.
Might I suggest that this simple maxim, drawn from our Gospel, is a concise yet powerful description of a life of service in the Church.
Our priests, your priests, are called and chosen to care for each and every person, to respond to every human need wherever and however they encountered it.
Following the example of Jesus Himself, our priests seek out the lost, offer guidance to the young, forgive sinners and offer comfort to the sick, the dying and the bereaved. From the beginning to the end of our lives they offer us direction, meaning and compassion.
Our Priests are also called and chosen to care for the truth. In a time of uncertainty, confusion and anxiety, they are witnesses of GOD’s presence and His promise in our world.
Faithful to a life of prayer, their priestly ministry reminds the world that GOD’s Word lasts forever, is always faithful and is ever inspiring of new ways of hope.
Pray for Vocations
Our Vocations Awareness Week is a precious opportunity for recalling the wonder of GOD’s call to serve His People, and of gratitude for all of those who said Yes down the years.
This week I hope you and your parish communities will pray for vocations to the Priesthood, Diaconate and Religious life, and encourage all those engaged in ministry in your community, and finally that our young people may be given time and space to discern if they are called to these special vocations in the life of the Church.
May the prayer that Pope Saint Paul VI composed for the first World Day of Prayer for Vocations accompany us on our journey: “O Jesus, Divine Shepherd of souls, You called the Apostles and made them fishers of men. Continue to draw to Yourself ardent and generous souls from among the young, in order to make them Your followers and Your ministers. Give them a share in Your thirst for the redemption of all… Open before them the horizons of the entire world. By responding to Your call, may they prolong Your mission here on earth, build up your Mystical Body, which is the Church, and be ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world”.
May the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and the Lady of Paisley watch over you and protect you.
With the assurance of my prayers and blessings, Bishop John Keenan.
Find out more about Vocations in our Archdiocese here.
Join us to pray that more young people in our Archdiocese respond to God's call to the priesthood and religious life.
Becoming a Deacon: Paul Henderson's story
The Cathedral is my spiritual home. Without the Cathedral, and its parish community, I might not be a Catholic, never mind training to be a priest.
It was through the Cathedral’s RCIA group that I was introduced fully to the faith and, on Easter Sunday at the Cathedral in 2016, received into the Catholic Church.
Being part of the RCIA programme was a profound experience.
I felt the truth of Jesus Christ growing in me, in the depth of my being, and was continually moved by the piety of the volunteers.
They would be there, always smiling, to welcome us enquirers, despite some of them having come straight from work (and surely exhausted) yet still willing to do this Christian service.
I remember how one evening a young priest from Africa explained his clerical garments and their ritual significance, before vesting and saying Mass.
I was struck as much by the beauty of his faith as by anything.
I remember asking him “how long did your training as a priest take?”
When I said this, one of the RCIA volunteers said to me “It’s not too late to get your application in, Paul!”
That really stuck in my mind, even though, at fifty-one, I presumed I must be too old to train to be a priest.
Beauty of the Mass
When I started RCIA, I thought I should acclimatise myself better to the liturgy, so started attending the twelve-noon Mass.
It wasn’t long before my eyes would fill with tears as I sang the Latin Creed joyously with the others: “Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum…!”
I was so moved at the aching beauty of the Mass and can honestly say that the Cathedral choir was thus part of my conversion, as was the devotion of the congregation, and whoever was responsible for the incredible flowers that appeared each week.
I remember Masses when Fr Patrick Burke was celebrating without a Deacon.
I can’t quite explain why, but the image of him on those occasions burnt itself in my memory, an isolated Catholic Priest acting in persona Christi.
I loved the multicultural congregation as well, the myriad of Europeans and “ethnic minorities”, so different from the very white Anglican church I was used to.
My eventual Confirmation in 2016 left me feeling so content.
There were drinks with the archbishop, clergy, and others, after that Easter Vigil, for those who had been baptised and confirmed at the cathedral that evening, and I had the strongest feeling that I had come “home”, by joining a truly global Catholic Church.
Just over two months later, on 23 June as it happened: I went to see Fr Patrick with a strong feeling I wished to serve the Church in a deeper way.
I’ll never forget the leap of joy in my heart when he asked if I’d considered the priesthood.
I will not forget the date, partly because it was the day of the Referendum on whether the UK should leave the European Union!
I asked him if there was any possibility I could look into the Permanent Diaconate.
I’ll never forget the leap of joy in my heart when he asked if I’d considered the priesthood.
At the meeting, he continued to say that, at my age, I would probably be sent to the Beda College in Rome. Strange though it is, I immediately knew I was going to this college I’d never heard of in Rome.
Following the call
The next day I called people close to me and told them that I was offering myself as a Catholic priest.
I can honestly say I felt something of the rushing wind of the Holy Spirit pushing me forward.
That said, it took me considerable effort to extricate myself from my career and life in Edinburgh in order to follow the call.
In case this doesn’t sound all too rosy-tinted, I must add that before starting RCIA at this wonderful Cathedral, at the recommendation of a friend, I had approached two Catholic priests asking for advice on becoming a Roman Catholic.
In both cases, I had the strong impression that they were almost bemused at the idea, as if they could not understand why anyone might want to join.
It really was through Fr Patrick that I finally glimpsed the heights and the depth and the incomparable grandeur of the Catholic Church and understood that (as the Magisterium puts it) the Body of Christ ‘subsists’ in the Catholic Church, mystically and physically embodied in the institutional Church we see with our eyes, in our congregations, in its liturgy and its social action around the world.
I was also struck by Fr Patrick’s ability to reveal the depth of the Scriptures in his sermons.
I’ve had such good connections formed with the Cathedral community that in many ways it has become like a family.
It gives me joy that my sister Rowena followed me, joining a later Cathedral RCIA programme and being confirmed in the Cathedral.
Also, my good friends Diana and her children Catherine-Charlotte and Iain, were likewise confirmed into the Cathedral in 2021.
The Cathedral has as well, for the time being anyway, literally become my home. When I left for the preparatory seminary in Salamanca at the start of 2020, Covid hit, and I had to return to Scotland.
Fr Patrick very kindly let me stay at the Cathedral, as I no longer had a place of my own.
This kind offer has extended to the present and I’ve stayed at the Cathedral during breaks from here at the Pontifical Beda College in southwest Rome.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge that I would never be here if Archbishop Leo had not approved it. I am extremely grateful for all the support he has given me.
Indeed, I am indebted to the whole Cathedral community who have been so supportive of my journey. Thank you.
Paul Henderson will be ordained a Deacon by Archbishop Leo Cushley at the Papal Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome on Wednesday 14 June 2023. He will be ordained alongside Peter Shankland, who is also a parishioner of the Cathedral. Read his story here. This article first appeared in Crux, the magazine of the Friends of St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, Spring 2023 edition.