Cathedral Deacon Filling in at Diaconate Office
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
August 26, 2021
ROCKFORD—Deacon Robert Mitchison has begun part-time service as Interim Director of the Office for the Permanent Diaconate while Father Ken Wasilewski continues a health leave of absence.
Deacon Mitchison was ordained a permanent deacon in 2008 and has served at the Cathedral of St. Peter. Although most people see him assisting at the altar, he says the ministry he most enjoys is the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program at the parish.
“My own faith gets re-energized during the year (with RCIA),” he says. “It’s a spiritual and emotional renewal for me.”
His journey to becoming a permanent deacon began with prayer.
“In the mid ‘90’s I prayed that I could find a way to use my talents and spare time,” he says. “The Lord must have enjoyed hearing me, because several ministries soon opened for me. Those eventually led to the deanery men’s bible study where I felt challenged to find ways to put scripture into action.”
He was drawn to consider the diaconate, and some direct help from a particular deacon moved that process along.
“What helped me see (the diaconate) as a potential vocation was (watching) two deacons at the Cathedral doing baptismal preparation, baptisms, facilitating RCIA, starting a men’s Bible study,” he says.  
In 2000, he had a conversation with Deacon Jim Olson.When he expressed that perhaps he’d wait until retirement to explore the vocation, Deacon Olson gave what Deacon Mitchison calls “probably the best advice I ever heard: Do not wait!” 
It turned out to be great advice because, he says, “I’m still not retired!” from lifelong work as a legal assistant for an area law firm, and “being a deacon has been good.”
That “good” includes his personal spiritual growth as well as helping others grow.
“My spiritual life has grown immensely,” he says, describing how when he offers some assistance to another, he ends up gaining twice what he was able to give.
During the pandemic when churches were closed, Deacon Mitchison benefitted from the extra hours in his schedule and the prayers he read from the Liturgy of the Hours, beyond a deacon’s commitment to morning prayer and evening prayer.
“It has enriched my intellectual understanding of the wisdom of the Church — to read daily from one of the saints,” he says, describing it as “just those little tidbits that I can hold close to my heart and hopefully bring them out when I need them” in my ministry.
Deacon Mitchison says he loves the permanent diaconate ministry, and that was one reason he agreed to fill in at the diocesan office. 
He was happy to find that “99% (of the program) is already done and in the pipeline. I’m just the caretaker and making sure there are no loose ends.”
He is also happy to have the support and knowledge of Msgr. Stephen Knox, Msgr. Glenn Nelson and administrative assistant Dorothea Barger. 
“It’s not like walking in and having to face a completely blank slate,” he says.
Currently, there are about 140 active deacons, and three groups of men in various stages of formation: classes of 2022, 2024, and brand-new aspirants that may become the class of 2026. That and putting final touches on a retreat for the deacons over Labor Day weekend and another deacon couples retreat in October are some of his early duties.
The Rockford Diocese, he says, “has been blessed” to have a priest in charge of the office. 
“Ideally the director is at least a deacon. You have to experience that (vocation) to be able to relate that to others.”
Deacon Mitchison has the experience, and the heart, to do just that. 
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