By Karina Fabian
Bob Pearce became a deacon to help people understand the Word of God and the teaching of the Church, and because he foresaw the need for deacons due to a declining priesthood.
Born in Pennsylvania on a snowy March 13, 1928, he was delivered by his grandmother and warmed in the family’s coal oven. He attended nine different schools, alternating between Catholic and secular. It was in Catholic third grade that he got his first taste of misunderstandings of our faith. “I remember getting very angry at the nuns because they said my father was going to hell because he was Episcopalian,” he said. It’s one of the misunderstandings he works to rectify.
“God is the God of all of us,” he said.
He attended Seton Hall Preparatory School for high school, taking his first two years of classes in a theological track. He said he felt a hint of a calling there, but his brother had the stronger calling, so he elected to pursue a secular life. After graduation, he worked for the railroad, then joined the Army and spent two years in Korea as part of the occupation forces before the peace treaty was signed. Once he got out, he took advantage of the GI Bill to attend Seton Hall University for his bachelor’s degree, then earned master’s degrees in chemical engineering and engineering management. Afterward, he returned to New Jersey to work for RCA as a manufacturing engineer and manager. In 1972, he moved to warmer climes, taking a job as product manager for Mohasco Furniture in Mississippi. He married Mary Lou in 1948, and they have three children (Robert, Jr., Kathleen and Diane), nine grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.
After his children had grown, he felt a return to the call of serving the Church. He’d always been active, from altar boy to religious education teacher, and lector and Eucharistic minister after Vatican II; as he had more free time, however, he felt compelled to do more.
He also realized the Church would need its deacons to support priests and their ministry. He had already seen some of his brother’s colleagues leaving the priesthood to marry. Deacon Pearce was ordained in 1982.
He said he found in those first years that both priests and the laity had a hard time getting used to deacons. He felt that part of the reason was that many of the priests in the Jackson, Mississippi, diocese weren’t accustomed to the deacons’ presence. However, he’s seen that attitude change for the better over the years.
In 1992, he retired from Mohasco Furniture and moved to Columbia Falls in order to be closer to his children. He now serves in St. Richard Parish, doing the “usual duties” of a deacon—handling administrative matters, preaching once a month, ministering to the sick and to those in nursing homes. He said his years of management experience have been especially helpful, and that he and Father John Miller work very well together.
Even today, helping people understand and find comfort in our faith is still his favorite part of being a deacon.
Published in The Montana Catholic, Vol. 25, No. 6, June 19, 2009.