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Deacon Mark and Linda Hooper are connected in faith—and connected to Christ the King Seminary's mission—in so many inspiring ways that it's difficult to capture it all in one story. From their years studying at the seminary to their service at their home parish (Saint John Paul II in Lake View) to the priests, deacons and lay people who've become their colleagues and friends along the way, Mark and Linda are on a journey together to serve God's calling.
Rooted in Christian faith from an early age, Mark says he was "born Catholic" and was educated at Catholic institutions. He attended Catholic grade school and St. Francis High School in Athol Springs, NY, and went on to study at Niagara University and the University of Detroit. Meanwhile, Linda grew up in Detroit and began her Christian faith journey in the Baptist Church.
Mark was studying engineering at the University of Detroit when he and Linda were introduced by mutual friends at a party.
"While we were dating," Mark said, "we would often attend Baptist services in the morning and Catholic Mass on campus at night," which is how they began to understand each other's background of faith.
After graduating and moving to Buffalo, they got married and Linda continued to attend Mass with Mark. A year later Linda converted to Catholicism.
While raising their family, they became actively involved in parish life—first at Our Lady of Basilica where they were both greeters and both participated in RENEW—a Catholic ministry that fosters spiritual renewal by empowering people to encounter God in everyday life and to share their faith.
After moving to Lake View, they became very involved in their new parish, participated in week-long parish missions, and volunteered at their children's Catholic school and school board. Linda also began working part-time at their parish and has continued to work there for over 20 years.
"As we worked with the school board and parish," said Deacon Mark, "I started thinking, 'there's a need for ministers.' Some parishioners encouraged me to consider it, and Fr. Jim Bastian and Msgr. John Zeitler encouraged me to pursue the diaconate."
Mark and Linda's first experience at the seminary was getting trained as Eucharistic Ministers in the early 90s. In 1996, Mark entered the diaconate formation program at the seminary with Linda's full support and participation. Throughout the four-year program, Linda also participated in the seminary's monthly weekend-long sessions that the candidates' wives were invited to attend.
Mark was ordained as a Deacon in 2000 and has served at their parish for 16 years, and Linda went on to develop a program for the diaconate candidates' wives at the seminary.
"I helped create a program for the wives of the men going through diaconate formation. In fact, I liked the formation program so well, I never left," said Linda. "The new program for the wives was a little more formalized than what I had experienced, and I was able to do this while I worked toward my certificate in pastoral studies."
Among the many connections that the Hoopers have made over the years, their faith journey with Rev. Michael LaMarca has grown into a lasting friendship and partnership in faith.
When Michael was a seminarian, the Hoopers invited the seminarians over for dinner a few times a year, and he often joined them. Close in age to the Hoopers' adult son Tim, Michael became an important part of their family over the years.
For example, when their oldest daughter entered religious life seven years ago, Michael was there to celebrate with them. When their other children, Tim and Mary celebrated their weddings, Michael served at the wedding Masses. When Michael became a deacon in 2015, Mark had the honor of vesting him. And when Michael became a priest and was assigned to the Hooper's parish this year as the parochial vicar, Mark served as the deacon at Michael's first Mass.
This path of learning and serving together in our diocese is one of the many reasons the Hoopers, and so many others, deeply value the role that Christ the King Seminary serves in our community.
"It's an advantage for the seminarians to be able to interact with the local diocese," said Mark, "and for the diaconate community and lay people to take classes together with the seminarians and get degrees in pastoral ministry and theology, because they're all going to be working together down the road."
Linda added, "They're also doing field education during the school year, such as prison ministry and hospital ministry. So, they're meeting people here in their own diocese and getting to know them, making connections."
Currently, Deacon Mark and Linda continue to work closely with their home parish and with Rev. Michael. As they look to the future with open hearts, they plan to continue to serve God's calling and joyfully anticipate whatever He has in store for them down the road.
Photography: Tom Wolf Imaging