Deacon Bialkowski: ‘I wasn’t meant to keep that personal connection to Christ to myself’
At 38, Mark Bialkowski is unusually young for a deacon, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t put a lot of thought into his vocation. As a teen, he joined the St. Joseph Club, a program for young men discerning priesthood. From there he spent three years living at the John Paul II Residence in North Buffalo while working on pre-theology courses with the plan of entering into the seminary.
“It’s funny, because that’s where the deacon formation stuff happens now. So, 20 years later, I’ve come full circle,” he said.
A lot of Deacon Bialkowski’s experiences have that full-circle motif to it. He grew up bouncing around the Lackawanna/Blasdell area, making most of his sacraments at Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish. He currently attends OLV National Shrine and Basilica in Lackawanna. He attended Frontier High School and D’Youville College. He returned to D’Youville (now a university) to work as a librarian, where he also teaches a chiropractic course and assists with campus ministry.
“I came home,” he said. “Well, it felt like coming home. Whenever you get to work for your alma mater, that’s a fun thing.”
His spiritual journey began in junior high school, first through his family, then through his parish family.
“It was actually my great aunt who first brought me to Church,” he explained. “Then Father Ed Czarnecki and Sister Marcella, who were at Our Mother of Good Counsel, got me interested in becoming an altar server. By the time I was in the eighth grade I just felt called to go deeper into learning about my faith, and I always felt I should be of more service to my church. From that, I always had that calling.”
He joined the St. Joseph Club, and later moved into the John Paul II Residence. Over the years he served as lector and a catechist. He and his wife, Stephanie, served in youth ministry for seven years.
“I was always so drawn to having a deeper connection to the Church. I just always felt called to be of service, which is what being a deacon means,” he said. “I’m just happy to help the people of God in any way I can.”
His spiritual director of 20 years, Father Robert Mock, would always open conversations with the question, “Where do you think God is calling you?” He still asks that.
It was Father Mock who first brought up the idea of the diaconate. Deacon candidates must be 30 before they begin formation. Deacon Bialkowski was married and raising his young daughter when he hit the big 3-0. (His son was born during his formation years.) Still feeling called to deepen his faith life and wanting to serve the Church, he followed Father Mock’s suggestion and entered into the inquiry phase of formation thinking he could leave after a year, but he stayed with it.
“Here we are five years later,” he said.
As a deacon, he can preach at Masses, preside of weddings and funerals, and perform baptisms. He looks forward to “being able to be a comfort to people, help accompany people as Christ would accompany them through the funeral rites. I’m really looking forward to serve the Church in that way.”
Deacon Bialkowski has received a parish ministry at OLV National Shrine and Basilica, and a ministry of charity at D’Youville University.
“I wasn’t meant to keep that personal connection to Christ to myself. I was being called to share that with others; to spread the Gospel message,” he said.