Bishop Edward J. Burns will ordain 17 men as permanent deacons for the Diocese of Dallas during the celebration of a special Mass at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church in McKinney at 10 a.m., May 21. Among those candidates to be ordained is Daryl Avery.
By Michelle Johnson
Special to The Texas Catholic
A former Southern Baptist who converted to Catholicism nearly 30 years ago is scheduled for ordination into the diaconate on May 21. Daryl Avery, a Texan since birth, is one of 17 permanent deacon candidates and calls St. Monica in Dallas his parish home.
Avery credits his wife, Wanda, for introducing him to the Church. In 1990, one year after they both graduated from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La., they married. Wanda, a “cradle Catholic,” and her husband were married by her stepfather, a Baptist minister. In the beginning, they briefly flirted with the idea of trying to live as a dual-denomination family. But they quickly agreed to live as a fully Catholic family.
“We kind of slipped through the cracks,” Wanda said. “It was completely up to Daryl. I think for him, the going back and forth was not ideal. He was more comfortable with Catholicism.”
Four years later, Avery converted to Catholicism at St. Ann Catholic Church in Coppell. He said he wanted to do it before their son, Walden, now 34, started school.
Their son attended Catholic school all the way through college.
“When we got married, that was one of the decisions we made,” Avery said. “Raise our future children in the Church, Catholic school, I supported the whole idea. I wish I had received a Catholic education. Once we had our son, we dedicated our resources to that.”
Just as Avery credits Wanda for bringing him to the Church, he credits Walden for inspiring him to become more involved with St. Luke Catholic Church, their parish at the time. Avery soon joined the parish council there. Later, after the family moved to St. Monica, Walden was an altar server and youth leader and Wanda was a eucharistic minister.
“One of the things I admired about Walden being altar server is that he was more of a role model and was asked to help train the others,” Avery said. “I admired from the beginning him serving.”
Avery said he was the last one in the family to participate in the parish ministry.
“Wanda was first, then Walden, then me. Sitting in the pew by myself, I said I need to be doing something instead of watching my family participate,” he said. “The first time I rang the bells, my son was who I thought about, like this is how he felt up there.”
Over the years, Avery became more involved. He became a eucharistic minister, then a lector. The Knights of Columbus then called him to serve.
“Wanda pointed me in that direction,” Avery said, “So I joined Council 5656 and was treasurer for four years.”
Much as his family inspired him to Catholicism and to serve, others soon inspired him to begin considering the diaconate. He said several deacons in their parish suggested that he think about it. After praying over the decision and discussing it with Wanda, he decided to pursue it.
“Thinking back on it now, one of the requirements of becoming a deacon is that they want you to be involved in the ministry, whether it’s as a lector, eucharistic minister, etc.,” Avery said. “The Holy Spirit was putting these ministries in my path, so it was nothing new to me during the discernment time. I was comfortable doing it.”
Avery, who has a degree in mathematical statistics, was a software developer for 25 years and worked for the U.S. Department of Treasury for 13 years. Both he and his wife were career IT professionals. Besides their chosen professions, they have in common their love of travel and service. They visit their son in Chicago and family in southern Louisiana. They also both love binge-watching movies on television and cooking meals together. In fact, that’s one of the few places they differ.
Avery, a meat-eater, happened to marry the quite unique vegan Louisiana native. Just as he gave Catholicism a try, Avery tried veganism also. Only one of them stuck.
“I have always been a picky eater so I learned at a very early age not to let them put certain stuff on my plate,” Wanda said. “During Lent one year I decided to give up meat and Daryl said no way! He did try it for about six months though.”
The diaconate discernment process is several years in duration, so the candidates become more than colleagues. Many become friends, and in the case of the Averys, godparents. A fellow candidate, Chris Schraeder, and his wife, Kat, became pregnant with their eighth child during discernment. They asked the Averys to serve as godparents to their son, Gage.
“Daryl and Wanda both are just very special people,” Schraeder said. “They are very spiritual, very caring. Seeing them together as a couple, watching over Gage, praying for him, helping him learn the faith… we couldn’t have found anybody better. There’s not a day that goes by that they aren’t praying for him.”
In addition to his new “ministry” of being a godparent, Avery said he expects to become much more involved in serving once he is ordained. He said he hopes that those who already know him will treat him the same way, but he said he does become pensive when thinking about the “big day.”
“People ask me at church how many days I have left,” he said. “I don’t think about the days. I just know that the time is coming, God willing. God has placed me on this journey and I’m preaching my first homily the day after so I’m preparing for that. I’m looking forward to this next chapter in our lives. Wanda has been a very supportive wife and helping me set my priorities, like I’ve got to choose reading scripture or writing a paper over watching football. I couldn’t have done it without her.”
Avery also contemplates the responsibility of becoming a deacon as an African-American. His favorite Bible verse, Matthew 25:31-46, talks about providing food, drink, clothing and comfort to those in need.
“I try to make it my point to do for others,” he said. “I feel like God has blessed me with a beautiful family, I got to go to college, get a decent job. I guess I want to return the favor in the way God has blessed me, being a servant to the Church. I hope my presence encourages others to be interested.”
Wanda said the absence of African-American deacons where she spent her childhood makes her especially joyful about what her husband is about to become, but she said it’s much bigger than that.
“We sometimes speak for each other but I believe that Daryl doesn’t want to be known as an African-American deacon,” she said. “He wants to be a deacon for all. Being a cradle catholic, where I grew up, there were no black deacons. Daryl doesn’t want to only inspire men who look like him, but inspire all men who are called to be a deacon.”