Catholic Free Press

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Always in ministry, now an ordained minister

Posted By June 16, 2017 | 11:01 am | Lead Story #3
Deacon Paul F.X. Covino baptizes his first grandchild, Calvin Xavier Covino, at his Mass of Thanksgiving June 4 at their parish, St. Patrick’s in Whitinsville. With them are Calvin’s parents, Sarah and Peter Covino.
Deacon Paul F.X. Covino baptizes his first grandchild, Calvin Xavier Covino, at his Mass of Thanksgiving June 4 at their parish, St. Patrick’s in Whitinsville. With them are Calvin’s parents, Sarah and Peter Covino.

By Tanya Connor | The Catholic Free Press

“As of Saturday morning I will end 36 years of ministry as a lay person.”
Paul Covino, director of campus ministry at Assumption College, was reflecting on his ordination to the permanent diaconate a few days before it took place. On June 3 he was ordained to the permanent diaconate for the Diocese of Worcester.
“It doesn’t feel like an enormous change for me, because I’ve been doing ministry,” he said. “I see this as a growth, an expansion, a new step in my ministry. What I hope to do is integrate the role of a deacon into what I’m already doing.”
He said that in college he started discerning his vocation, entertaining the possibility of priesthood, but also feeling a pull toward marriage. He wanted to serve the Church, and the laymen he saw doing ministry showed him that was possible for married men.
He and his then wife-to-be, Anne Hallisey, had met in high school, when he was at St. John’s in Shrewsbury and she at Notre Dame Academy in Worcester. They dated some as students at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he majored in philosophy and minored in theology.
He went on to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, where he got his master’s in theology with a concentration in liturgy in 1981. Before he finished, a Jesuit who was starting the Georgetown Center for Liturgy offered him a job.
“I ended up loving the work so much that I never went back for my doctorate,” Deacon Covino said. “We were immersed in the life of … the Jesuit parish of Holy Trinity. It was – still is – a thriving, active parish.” He coordinated a Mass there for the 20th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and later one at Arlington National Cemetery after Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination, he said.
The Georgetown Center also educated adults about liturgy in parishes and dioceses and at conferences around the United States, Deacon Covino said.
“I sort of ended up on the speaking circuit for a number of years,” and taught overseas, primarily for the United States Catholic Chaplains program.

Deacon Covino holds his grandson Calvin.

Deacon Covino holds his grandson Calvin.

In 1983 he married his college sweetheart, who was a midwife in a neonatal clinic that Georgetown’s nursing program staffed. They have four children: Matthew, Peter, Justin and Benjamin.
In 1989, after the first two had been born, the couple left their “excellent jobs” in Washington and returned to the Worcester area, despite not having jobs here.
“We wanted our children to know their grandparents,” Deacon Covino explained.
He said his wife got a job and he freelanced for four years. He continued working for the Georgetown Center and did work for the Boston Archdiocese’s liturgy office and conferences around the United States, as well as writing for liturgical magazines.
“It was fun,” Deacon Covino said. “It was also very taxing on our family because I was gone so much.” He eventually accepted a job at the College of the Holy Cross, which enabled him to be home more.
He started in the fall of 1993 and had 21 “great years” there, as assistant chaplain and director of liturgy, then associate chaplain and director of liturgy, he said.
In 2010, Deacon Covino said, he began to realize he was too comfortable with his work, and felt God was calling him to something different, though he wasn’t sure what that was. So he made a five-day silent retreat.
“I came out of that retreat feeling God was saying … ‘Look into being a director of campus ministry,’” he said. He desired to be a pastoral leader and knew a layperson could do that in campus ministry.
He said he also felt God was saying, “Pursue the diaconate.” That surprised him. He hadn’t seriously considered it; he was happy doing ministry as a lay person.
He asked Bishop McManus about the permanent diaconate, and learned the program was being suspended. He said the bishop suggested he take courses on his own, in preparation for its expected re-opening.
So he took four courses at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. He was accepted into the diaconate program after it reopened, and received credit for the education he already had and ministry he’s done, he said.
For a one-week course in Rome, he did a project about a Church named for St. Lawrence.
“He’s kind of become a real model for me as a deacon,” Deacon Covino said of this third-century deacon.
The story goes that, when Emperor Valerian demanded that Lawrence “hand over the treasures of the Church,” Lawrence gave them to poor people, then presented these people as the Church’s treasures.
“We deacons are supposed to connect word, sacrament and charity,” Deacon Covino said. “For me, the word and sacrament has been the better part of my life. “The reason why I find Lawrence such an inspiration is because he reminds me of the role of charity for a deacon. The hope is that I can integrate the work I’ve already done in liturgy…with the ministry of charity.”
After his five-day retreat, Deacon Covino pursued not only the diaconate, but a job as a campus ministry director. He said he looked around the country  – and eventually found it at Assumption College, where he started in July of 2014.
Most Sundays he’s at Assumption, where he’s been assigned as a deacon, he said. Now he’ll be allowed to preach. But he doesn’t expect to have many opportunities to perform baptisms or weddings, even though his master’s thesis was about infant baptism, and he’s taught many people to do baptisms, and has co-authored a book about preparing for wedding liturgies.
But at his Mass of Thanksgiving June 4 at his parish, St. Patrick Parish in Whitinsville, Deacon Covino preached and baptized his first grandchild. And the following weekend preached at a wedding for two of his former students from Holy Cross.
Speaking of the two things he felt God calling him to pursue on that five-day retreat, Deacon Covino said, “I have the privilege of doing them both in the same job – at a place I never expected to be. God’s full of surprises.”