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Answering the Call to Serve

When 9-1-1 calls come in and fire alarms sound in Biddeford and Saco, police and firefighters aren’t the only ones ready to respond, so is Deacon Kevin Jacques.

“A lot of times, I’ll get called in the middle of the night, two o’clock in the morning,” he says.

For nearly two decades, Deacon Kevin has served as a fire and police chaplain, first with the Biddeford Fire Department, then adding Biddeford Police and Saco Fire to his responsibilities. He sometimes assists other York County departments as well.

“It was my way of wanting to give back to the community. That’s why I really started off at first,” he says, “because the community, I felt, gave me so much.”

Deacon Kevin responds to the most serious calls: those in which there may be injury, death, or significant property loss.

“It’s really difficult for the fire department to do both roles. They have to take care of the family as well as fight the fire,” he says. “So, I kind of slowly took on that role. When there was a major fire, and there was a loss of a house or whatever, I would assist the family. I would call the Red Cross. I would make sure they’re o.k.  And the same thing with the police department -- if there is an unattended death or whatever, I’m sort of like a liaison between the family and the police.”

It’s a role that doesn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated.

“When we respond to a fire, our main aim is to put the fire out. Kevin, as our fire department chaplain, is there to take care of the victims, and also, he gets information that we might need.  Like one victim might say, ‘Oh, someone might still be in the house.’ He can find that out,” says Michael Tremblay, who recently retired after 41 years with Saco Police Department and still serves on the fire department’s call force.  “Even though he’s not one of us, he is one of us.”

Deacon Kevin says when he gets a call to respond to a fire or police scene, he always approaches it the same way.

“Every single call that I go on, no matter what it is, when I get in my car, I just say, ‘O.k., Holy Spirit, you have to guide me and tell me what to do, what to say,” he says. “I know it’s not me that’s leading this; it’s the Holy Spirit working through me.”

He says he is always confident that God is at his side.

“When I’m called to a house and somebody is sad or suffering, I don’t think I’m worthy of being there. I think God has called me there,” he says. “Any chaplain will say that it’s a moment of grace to be there…to be able to bring God to their lives, to bring faith to their lives, or hope.”

He sees the chaplaincy not as a job but as a calling.

“I’m really blessed by being in that position and listening to somebody telling me their story. I love being able to be there if I can help them.”

Deacon Kevin says he not only tries to support the victims but the firefighters and police officers as well.

“There are things that I’ve seen throughout my career that have been horrifying, but these firefighters and police have seen the same thing. So, I’m constantly praying for them,” he says.

He accompanies injured firefighters or police officers to the hospital. He conducts funeral services for them and their family members.  He has baptized their children.  And, he is available if they need to talk.

“They talk about what they experienced and how it affected them and what they took away from it,” says Deacon Kevin.

“Even though we’re not a religious organization, we need a conduit for the emotional and the spiritual things,” says Tremblay.

As much as he is there for others, Deacon Kevin admits that, at times, he needs some support himself.  When he does, he heads to the Perpetual Adoration Chapel in Saco.

“I’ll sit there for 15 or 20 minutes, a half hour.  If there is a fire and a loss in the fire, I find myself going to perpetual adoration in my fire gear, my turnout gear. It’s just a time to say, ‘O.K., God, you’ve got to take it over. I’m just overwhelmed.’ It’s a place that just anybody can go to, and it’s just an incredible experience.”

Deacon Kevin says he loves being both a chaplain and a deacon.

“I just feel that it’s part of who I am now,” he says.

The two roles have always been intertwined.  When he was preparing for the permanent diaconate in the late 1990s, he and the other candidates were advised to identify a specific area of service.  He thought of the chaplaincy because his grandfather was a firefighter.

Deacon Kevin was born and raised in Biddeford where he attended Saint Joseph Catholic School and then Biddeford High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire.  Always involved with the Church, he felt that he might be called to the priesthood, and in 1985, he entered Saint John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass., to discern whether that was his path.

“The more that I discerned, the more I felt that God was calling me to family life, still involvement in the Church but through family life.”

He met his wife, Aline, when they were both teaching religious education.

“It was kind of cute. She is the one who asked me out, so we went out for pizza, and we never ate the pizza. We took a walk on the beach.”

He says his wife has always been his strongest advocate.

"I could not perform any of these ministries if it wasn't for the support and love of my wife.  She is an incredible person,” he says.

Deacon Kevin became a member of the second class of permanent deacons. He was ordained by Bishop Joseph Gerry, O.S.B., in 2001.  He calls it an incredible experience and a great ministry.  He says people sometimes ask him whether he would have preferred to have been a priest if priests were allowed to marry but he says the answer is no.

“I think marriage is a calling, diaconate is a calling, priesthood is a calling, lay ministry, being single, is a calling,” he says. “I see that God has called me to be a deacon, to do service, to work, in whatever capacity, with the poor, with the needy, or with the elderly. That’s where I love being. I love preaching. I love talking with people about how God walks with them on their journey.”

Deacon Kevin formerly worked at UNUM and Idexx Laboratories and is now a partner in a vehicle hands-free technology company, but despite full work weeks, he has always found time to serve.

He taught at Saint James School in Biddeford.  He was director of the Catholic Committee on Scouting.  He is a fourth-degree Knight of Columbus. He and his wife own Deacon Outfitters, an online company that sells everything from stationery to stoles.

At Good Shepherd Parish in Saco, Deacon Kevin coordinates the parish’s visitation program, which includes more than 60 volunteers visiting and bringing the Eucharist to the homebound and those in nursing homes. He works in bereavement ministry, reaching out to those who have lost loved ones. He is involved in religious education and with the worship and spirituality commission. He and his wife have been active in the marriage preparation program.

“He’s very devoted. He takes his work of service seriously,” says Deacon Robert Parenteau, who also serves at Good Shepherd.

“Everything I’m involved with, I just love it,” says Deacon Kevin. “I love this parish. It’s a great parish. The parishioners are awesome, and they’ve been so supportive.”

Deacon Kevin says he has also been blessed to have the backing of the priests serving at Good Shepherd, including Monsignor Rene Mathieu, the pastor.

“He’s supported me in whatever I’ve wanted to do, and that makes me feel like I’m a valued deacon in this parish.”

For his service and dedication, Deacon Kevin was honored as the diocese’s 2015 Deacon of the Year.

“When we discussed possible candidates for this year’s award, Deacon Kevin Jacques' outstanding record of service immediately came to mind,” says Father Joseph Daniels, director of the Office of the Diaconate. “The Deacon Board was not only impressed with the example that he sets for living the vocation of a permanent deacon in Good Shepherd Parish but also his enthusiasm for promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life to the parish schoolchildren and youth.”

Deacon Kevin describes winning the award as humbling.

“When I first heard from Father Joe, I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’”

He says he believes that there are many other deacons who deserve the honor.

“I just feel that I’m doing what I love to do,” he says. “I do it because I love it, and that’s all it is. You don’t need rewards for something that you love and something you feel that you’re called to. It’s a gift.”