Deacon couple celebrates 40 years of service
By Michele Chan Santos
Deacon Ray Sanders remembers taking his grandson Charles to a swim lesson, learning to float, when Charles was a young boy.
His grandson flailed and kicked at the water, pumping his arms and legs so vigorously that he sank.
Deacon Ray told him to relax and let the water carry him, not to try so hard.
It was only after the deacon got home that he realized this lesson applied to life as well.
“You have to surrender to let God do what he wants to do with you,” Deacon Ray said. “If you’re not surrendering to God, he can’t hold you up.”
Deacon Ray and Joanne Sanders have dedicated their lives to others. The list of their ministries fills pages; more importantly, the emotional and spiritual impact of their guidance reaches throughout the Diocese of Austin and to the Houston communities where they once lived.
On May 30, at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Pflugerville, the Sanders celebrated the 40th anniversary of Deacon Ray’s ordination. Nearly all of their four children and 11 grandchildren were able to attend, as well as deacons from the formation class they led, couples from their deacon support group and many others they have connected with in their ministries. The most emotional part of the gathering was when different people stood up and spoke about Deacon Ray’s impact in their lives.
Deacon Ray and Joanne said they were blessed to be able to hear these words during their lifetimes.
“We didn’t realize how much of what we do and say affects others,” Joanne said. “It’s like dropping a pebble in the middle of a pond; except the ripples don’t stop at the edge of a pond, they go on for forever. If we love, our love goes on forever.”
Deacon Ray is the longest-serving deacon in the Diocese of Austin. He was ordained in the then-Diocese of Galveston-Houston (now Archdiocese) in 1975 by Bishop John L. Morkovsky. He worked for IBM for 25 years. After his retirement, the couple moved to Austin in 1999. Ray taught at the University of Texas and ministered at the University Catholic Center, St. Theresa Parish and St. Albert the Great Parish.
Ray is 77 and Joanne is 75. They have been married for 54 years. Among many other roles, Joanne was the diocesan director of Religious Education in Galveston-Houston from 1987 to 1998. In the Diocese of Austin, she was the assistant director of Diaconal Ministry and the co-director of Diaconal Formation (with Ray) from 2003 to 2007.
Deacon Ray said, “I have taught, visited hospitals and nursing homes, ministered in jails, prepared and/or witnessed the marriages of more than 300 couples. I have baptized countless babies and presided at vigil services and funerals.”
Over the years, he said, “My biggest change has been the metamorphosis from all head to mostly in the heart, from following rules to following God, and from self-interest to whatever God puts in front of me.”
A Navy man
Joanne and Ray met when she was 16 and he was 18. He was a student at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.; she was in high school living in Watchung, N.J. She was dating his roommate at the Naval Academy. After Joanne and Ray’s roommate broke up, he waited six months and “then I made my move,” Deacon Ray said, making Joanne laugh.
A while later, Ray decided to propose. He had Joanne pick out a ring. He asked her father to bring the ring when the family came to visit for the Army-Navy football game.
He remembers spending all day gathering up his courage to propose. When the moment seemed right, he asked Joanne’s dad for the ring. Her father was embarrassed – he had forgotten to bring it!
A few weeks later, he was able to propose with ring in hand.
“Back then, engagement parties weren’t the thing, but my father gave us a really nice one because he felt so bad about forgetting the ring,” Joanne said.
Today, their service includes volunteering at the diocesan Tribunal, spiritual direction, preparing couples for marriage, teaching diocesan classes, and, for Deacon Ray, substitute teaching at St. Dominic Savio High School in Austin.
Many people have thanked them for their guidance over the years. Deacon Ray says he doesn’t tell people what to do, “I just suggest options.”
“I see many miracles every day,” Deacon Ray said. “Once you are in the mode of seeing them, you see them all the time.”