Principal ‘Mr. Deacon’ Fitzmaurice sees blessings in dual calling

Being ordained allows Port Huron school leader to set stronger example by faith

Deacon John Fitzmaurice, principal of St. Mary/McCormick Catholic Academy in Port Huron, sits with students at the school in January. Deacon Fitzmaurice, who was ordained in October 2015, is another example of the growing role of deacons in Church ministries such as education.  Photo by St. Mary/McCormick Academy

Deacon John Fitzmaurice, principal of St. Mary/McCormick Catholic Academy in Port Huron, sits with students at the school in January. Deacon Fitzmaurice, who was ordained in October 2015, is another example of the growing role of deacons in Church ministries such as education.
Photo by St. Mary/McCormick Academy

Port Huron — Until recently, it wouldn’t be too uncommon to see a priest or nun serving as principal of a Catholic school. In the 21st century, perhaps it’s more common for that job to be filled by a layperson.

But a deacon? That could be a new one.

Since the reinstatement of the permanent diaconate after the Second Vatican Council, working deacons have taken over various roles and ministries within the Church, and Deacon John Fitzmaurice is no exception.

Deacon Fitzmaurice is in his second year as principal at St. Mary/McCormick Catholic Academy in Port Huron, but his first as a member of the Church’s clergy.

“When I was a principal in the public school system, I was very involved in my church and men’s groups,” said Deacon Fitzmaurice, who spent 17 years in the East China Public School system before arriving at St. Mary/McCormick. “But I still felt uneasiness, something was calling me. I talked with my pastor at St. Mary Parish in St. Clair (and) one of the current deacons and explored the idea of becoming a deacon.”

He took diaconal classes at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and in October 2015, was ordained by Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament and assigned to his home parish, St. Mary in St. Clair.

Being a principal for 17 years, and teaching at St. Mary of Redford and Christ the King in Detroit before that, Deacon Fitzmaurice felt prepared to take on the new ministry.

“Being a teacher prepares you for being a deacon, because I had lots of experience dealing with different types of people,” Deacon Fitzmaurice said. “A deacon’s role isn’t only serving people of faith, but serving people not of faith, trying to evangelize them. Those experiences of working with all different kinds of people as a principal help when you become a deacon.”

The roles of a principal and deacon naturally overlap, according to Deacon Fitzmaurice, but unlike being a principal, there is no “time off” for a deacon.

“Answering God’s call and becoming a deacon is a lot more involved than being a principal,” he said. “You have to be there for your family, fulfill the sacrament of holy orders and marriage.”

Still, even though he’s only been a deacon for a few months, Deacon Fitzmaurice says being a principal naturally fits into his ministry.

“As a Catholic school principal, my job first and foremost is to be the spiritual leader and then make sure academic excellence is taking place in the school through Jesus Christ,” he said.

Deacon Fitzmaurice hasn’t noticed too much of a difference in his job since being ordained, but he said some teachers and his pastor have noticed a difference: the students have taken to calling him, “Mr. Deacon Fitzmaurice.”

“My presence on the altar during the weekly school Mass has been a change, getting the opportunity to preach once a month, a direct opportunity to address our students on how faith helps us with our school,” Deacon Fitzmaurice said.

“Mr. Deacon Fitzmaurice” may seem like a confusing title, but Deacon Fitzmaurice said there is a difference when he addresses students as a deacon and when he addresses them as a principal.

“We do school assemblies with the archdiocese’s Virtue program, and there I’m addressing them as a principal,” he said. “My message there, even though based on virtue, is a different message. When I’m giving a homily, I’m preaching the Gospel for that day and relating to the students.”

Besides being a principal at St. Mary/McCormick Academy, Deacon Fitzmaurice also gives Communion services at nursing homes and works at the Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Center, providing services and talking to people going through rehab.

But his main ministry is with his students, balancing the life of being a principal and being a deacon at the same time. Deacon Fitzmaurice doesn’t separate the two by juggling a day-to-day schedule, but sees both as an enhancement to his call to serve others.

“I really do think I have the opportunity now to give blessings to my fellow principals and teachers,” Deacon Fitzmaurice said. “My presence provides more of a presence of Christ in the school community. After holy orders, you receive special graces, and it’s been fun to put those to work and provide the community an outlet of the Holy Spirit.”