By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
UNIVERSITY PARK — Deacon Peter Raad captivates his mechanical engineering students at Southern Methodist University, not only with the fine points of fluid dynamics but also with his ethical frankness about the responsibility that comes with knowledge.
Deacon Raad, an inventor with U.S. and international patents, also is a prolific author of articles for professional journals.
As the creative force behind The Guildhall at SMU, a digital game development education program, he gained a global reputation as an industry pioneer, and was named among the video gaming industry’s most influential people by “EDGE Magazine” in 2007.
“I tell people I’ve had four or five different careers without changing zip codes,” said Deacon Raad, a parishioner at St. Rita Catholic Community who was ordained to the permanent diaconate for the Diocese of Dallas on June 2. “The Lord has blessed me. I think I was more a spectator in my faith, and the Lord was asking me to become a participant, a player. I would sit in the pew and felt the Lord was calling me.
“I ignored the Lord for 25 years.”
Deacon Raad said that as soon as he conquered a challenge in science, engineering or applied mathematics, he pounced on the next project.
But the Lord’s call registered with him about seven years ago, said Deacon Raad, a native of Beirut, Lebanon, who has taught at SMU since 1986.
He began to seek information about the diaconate.
“I wanted to spend the second chapter of my life working in the Lord’s vineyard,” Deacon Raad said. “I didn’t want to build my own vineyard anymore.”
Deacon Raad said he fell in love with teaching when he was 22.
But in addition to a superb command of the academic content, he said he also believed in applying knowledge for the common good.
Those familiar with Deacon Raad’s presentations said that he makes learning an exhilarating adventure.
“It can be very dense material, but he really teaches the importance of what we’re learning and looking out for the common good,” said Courtney Schumacher, a mechanical engineering major at SMU and a graduate of John Paul II High School in Plano. “He knows his stuff, but he’s so down-to-earth.
“He emphasizes the big responsibility that comes with knowledge. He has done a lot for my formation as a Catholic professional.”
Father Abbot Peter Verhalen, O.Cist., the Abbot of the Cistercian Abbey Our Lady of Dallas in Irving, said that Deacon Raad brings great gifts to the Diocese of Dallas.
“Peter Raad will be a tremendous blessing,” Father Abbot Verhalen said. “He is exceptionally intelligent—not only as an engineer but as an administrator and as a reader and a writer. As a true deacon, as a minister, he wants to use his talents to serve the church and to serve Christ.”
Deacon Raad, an only child, was born in 1959 in Beirut, Lebanon, where he grew up a Maronite Catholic in the Eastern Rite of the Roman Catholic Church.
During his student years, the scenic and serene Beirut he knew as a boy deteriorated in the chaos of a civil war and regional tensions in the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s.
The “Troubles” escalated, and Deacon Raad, who had spent some time in the U.S., realized he could not go home again to settle permanently with a young family that needed to be kept safe.
He studied at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, earning a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering in1981, a master of science in 1982 and his Ph.D. in 1986.
By 1986, the conditions in Lebanon were such that he settled in Dallas, where he and his wife, Jocelyne, have four children.
“In 1986, Lebanon was on fire,” Deacon Raad said. “There was no going back.”
Deacon Raad said that when visa problems frustrated him, “doors opened.”
“God never, ever leaves you,” he said. “His promises are true. He never gives you more than you can handle.
“God will let me know what he wants me to do.”
To be ordained as a deacon for the Diocese of Dallas without ceasing to be a Maronite, Deacon Raad said an “accommodation of rites” process was required, with coordination of officials of the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon in St. Louis and the Diocese of Dallas to obtain the Vatican’s permission.
Deacon Denis Simon of All Saints Catholic Church said that Deacon Raad will make a great deacon.
“He’s a great husband and father and a faithful person,” Deacon Simon said. “He’s just so genuine and sincere that people will connect with him.”
Father Abbot Verhalen said that Deacon Raad’s remarkable ability to connect with people will characterize his ministry as he helps to spread Christ’s love.
“He is committed to bringing the love, mercy and joy of Christ to others,” Father Abbot Verhalen said. “I can’t wait to hear his sermons and to see how Bishop [Edward J.] Burns will use this man of exceptional intellectual and spiritual talent.”