By Karina Fabian
Deacon Carlton Quamme has always participated in the church, sometimes in unexpected ways. As a child growing up in the Diocese of Madison, Wis., he helped transform a chicken coop into a church.
“I helped clean out that chicken coop, and I remember the awful smell of all that manure and wondering how this could ever be anything but what it was, but then men came in and whitewashed it. It was the newly formed Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish. After it was whitewashed, it was a miracle. I always felt that is what happens to each of us when we are open to what God has in store for us. He whitewashes us from the inside out,” he said.
He served as an altar boy in that coop-turned-church and learned from Father Jerome Mersberger and the Dominican nuns who taught in his school.
Then when his life’s love, Deanna, decided to convert a year before they married, he attended classes with her and learned even more. They married in 1959 and had six children. (They now have 21 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.) Busy with family and career, he nonetheless found time to enjoy his hobbies of hunting, fishing, camping and other outdoor activities.
In 1980, they moved to Montana, and he attended a Cursillo. He said the experience awakened a spiritual hunger in him. Nonetheless, it took Father John Kindell, SJ, to push him into satisfying that hunger with work for the Church.
“In 1983, after a wonderful hunting experience, I was at Mass and Father said to me, ‘I know you love that mountain top experience, but we need you down here.’ ” The priest invited him to join the Lay Ministry program, then the diaconate. Deacon Quamme was ordained July 10, 1989.
Much of his work has been in nursing homes doing communion services, and filling in for vacationing priests at various parishes. In 1996, he served as interim pastoral administrator for the Choteau and Fairfield parishes and the Augusta mission.
Deacon Quamme said he most enjoys working with people. “I feel that my strengths show up when I interact with all of our people. I love doing this so much that it makes me feel invigorated mentally and yet it often saps my physical strength,” he said.
He also said that the diaconate helped make his family stronger; even now, he often shares his prayer life and the spiritual books he reads with his wife, Deanna. “I think it has made my and Deanna’s marriage stronger and made all of our family more aware of God and our Church,” he said.
From the unusual chore of mucking out a future parish building to ministering to people as a deacon, Deacon Quamme has done much to build the Church.
Published in The Montana Catholic, Vol. 24, No. 7, July 18, 2008.