Sarah Mullinix | Staff Writer
More than three decades ago, Jeff Gallagher of Larchwood felt led to be of more service within his church, St. Mary’s Catholic Church. After prayer and reflection and encouragement from the parish priest at the time, Father Adams, Gallagher started his path to being ordained a Catholic deacon and has served St. Mary’s parish 36 years and Holy Name parish in Rock Rapids 22 of those years. He has been present for many changes within the church and in March chose to retire as deacon. “It felt like the right time,” said Gallagher.
He was ordained in November 1982 after five years of schooling in Storm Lake, Iowa. “I went to class one night per week,” he explained. The process was a three-year commitment and candidates had to be 35 years old; however, because Gallagher was too young when he started, he had to wait and it took him five years. “I had to get dispensation from the Pope to continue,” said Gallagher.
Jeff’s wife, Trudy, was also part of the process. The two took the opportunity to grow as a couple during a required class one weekend a month. “We choose to do the classes together,” said Trudy, who has been by Jeff’s side through it all. “They want you to grow together.”
Once ordained, Jeff and Trudy faced challenges while serving the parish. “One of the challenges has always been adapting to the different priests’ personalities,” admits Jeff. “You have to blend with them.”
The challenges weren’t only found within the walls of the church. “Another challenge was trying to blend as a business owner in Larchwood,” explained Jeff. The Gallaghers have owned Larchwood True Value since 1975, taking it over from Jeff’s father.
Along with Jeff’s service to the church as deacon, both he and Trudy have been active in children’s and family faith formation religious education programs. “One of the main reasons we moved here was the Catholic school,” said Trudy. Unfortunately, the school closed about a year after they moved to Larchwood and the couple focused their attention on enhancing the religious education program.
Deacon Jeff has performed baptisms and marriages, and he and Trudy teach baptism and marriage classes for parishioners. “It’s amazing to have done weddings for people whose parents I married,” Jeff said as he reflected on the different aspects of his role in the church. The couple was also involved in the pre-cana program, a program for couples that wish to be married in the Catholic church. Baptism and marriage preparation was important to them because it gave them a chance to help couples understand the importance of church in their lives.
Through these services to the church, the couple has seen the parish grow. “Our parish has definitely grown and we saw the building of the new church building,” said Jeff. “But a parish is like anything else — it ebbs and flows, it has vibrant times and not so vibrant times but it comes back,” he said.
Although Jeff will miss all aspects of the church, he and Trudy agree that now was the right time to step back. “We’ve been really praying about it,” said Trudy. “We’ve been really trying to discern what God is doing with the rest of our lives,” adds Jeff. Meetings for various parish committees took Jeff away during the evenings several times per week. “I never really thought about how much Trudy was left alone and just decided it was time to draw back,” said Jeff. This has allowed the couple more time together and allows for more travel to see their four children and nine grandchildren. Easter 2018 was the first time in 38 years that Jeff was away for the Easter holiday.
For parishioners and visitors to St. Mary’s or Holy Name who’ve listened to one of Deacon Jeff’s homilies — a message presented to during Mass — his talent for speaking is evident and one aspect he says he will miss greatly. “I really did enjoy the homilies,” he said. “I always felt that God was able to use me in some way to say something.”
Trudy agreed. “I always felt his gift was homilies — a word gift,” she said.
Those listening to him speak would never know he was nervous, but Jeff said there was never a time that he didn’t feel nervous. “Father Adams told me 38 years ago, ‘If you ever quit felling nervous, you’re not doing the job right anymore’.”
Jeff also misses greeting parishioners as they come in to church, having spent decades working with members of the church in different capacities. He and Trudy both have shared their time, talent and treasure with the family faith formation program and have enjoyed working with the children and parents involved. “Probably one of the most fun things was praise and worship with family faith formation,” said Jeff with a smile.
Jeff has also enjoyed singing in the choir, something he will continue to do at St. Mary’s. He will also help the current priest, Father Francis. “I will be available to Father Francis if he has a need,” said Jeff. “I will still have all my faculties and will be able to do all of my usual duties, just not on a regular basis.
Both Jeff and Trudy agree they will continue to serve in the church for as long as they are here. “Anytime you give service, the Lord blesses you and I feel like we have been very blessed in our family,” reflected Trudy. “We received more than we ever gave,” added Jeff.