This is the first in a series I will be posting on the candidates for the permanent diaconate for the Diocese of Knoxville. My hope is that these brief introductions to the men preparing for ordination to the permanent diaconate will help introduce them to the people of the diocese.
Today, we hear from Shawn Ballard from St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Knoxville.
Tell me about your family. Ann & I met in college during our freshman year at University of Florida where she graduated as a registered nurse and I as a Math teacher. We have now been married for over 37 years. We have two grown sons; Kevin is a Captain in the U.S. Army who is currently stationed in Washington State, and Bryce works for the City of Knoxville in the IT department.
Are you originally from East Tennessee? What brought you to this area? I was born in Georgia and grew up in Florida before joining the Navy right after high school graduation. I moved around quite a bit in the military, but I ended up in the great Northwest (Washington & Oregon) for 20 years. I moved to Knoxville in 2010 after receiving a job offer from TVA as the Human Resources Information System Manager. I later accepted a voluntary reduction in force and retired in 2017 to devote myself full-time to the diaconate formation process. I love East Tennessee with the beautiful mountains, rolling hills and the mild climate, but I especially enjoy all the wonderful southern hospitality that I have found here.
What kind of work do/did you do? After serving in the U.S. Navy as a nuclear submarine officer for about 10 years, I left active duty military when we adopted our first son so I could spend more time with my family. I worked as a Senior Technical Instructor and as a Training Manager before becoming a Human Resources Manager. In parallel to this, I completed my Navy career as a reservist after 22 years of total military service.
What brought you to your parish? When locating to the area, we were looking for a home on the west end of town since I regularly traveled to Chattanooga for work in addition to working in downtown Knoxville, so Farragut seemed to be the perfect fit. We moved here just as the new St. John Neumann church was completed, and we were immediately drawn by the art and attention to detail that went into the design of the building. We quickly looked for ways to be involved in parish life and discovered many, vibrant ministries to choose from. Since that time, we have made many friends and feel like a part of an extended family at SJN.
In what ways do you serve/have you served your parish? At St. John Neumann, I am or have been active as a RCIA team member, Confirmation team member, St. Vincent de Paul Society member, Welcoming Committee member, usher, sacristan, perpetual adoration adorer and Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.
In what ways do you serve/have you served the diocese? I volunteer with the St. Vincent de Paul Society to assist neighbors in need in Knox County. I also volunteer with the Knoxville Bridge Ministry to help feed the homeless in downtown Knoxville. I am also active as a volunteer with the Knox Area Rescue Ministries (KARM).
What drew you to the diaconate? The example of St. Stephen in the Bible was my first attraction to the diaconate. He was called to serve the early church and courageously responded to the point of giving his own life for the faith. Even before I entered the Catholic Church in college, I had a strong desire to serve the Lord. Before I met Ann, I was considering entering the seminary to be a Protestant military chaplain. While I was still going through the process to be confirmed as a Catholic, I served St. Augustine Catholic Church in Gainesville, FL as a volunteer sacristan, server and lector. When I was confirmed, I took St. Stephen, first deacon and martyr, as my confirmation saint. Throughout my life as a Catholic, I have always felt that very personal attraction to serve the Church and the Altar of the Lord in a deeper way than just being a parishioner. I see the diaconate as a means to serve the Body of Christ in a more fulfilling way in which to bring the love of God in an ordered fashion to others so they too may be drawn into the eternal truths shared by Christ Jesus.
What has been most meaningful or rewarding about the diaconate training program? I really enjoy the opportunity to gather every month as a community of brothers, taking time out from the world to dive deeply into the depths of the Catholic faith and the amazing legacy of our Church’s history. I am humbled by how the Holy Spirit has guided the Church throughout 2,000 years of trials and turmoil in the world and remains standing today.
Have there been any special challenges during your time in the diaconate training program? As the saying goes, “The more I learn, the less I know.” I am daunted by the depths of our faith and the vast number of writings over the many centuries by very brilliant people. As I go through the training program, I pray that I retain what the Lord needs me to carry forward in my ministry, and that He directs me by His Holy Spirit to be the person that I am meant to be in His kingdom.
What are your hopes as a deacon? I trust through the power of the Holy Spirit imparted in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, God will bless me with the necessary gifts to serve the Body of Christ through preaching, teaching and service to the community in whatever ways He calls me for whatever time I have left on earth to serve.
Please pray for Shawn Ballard, his wife Ann, and all the deacon candidates on the journey to ordination.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.