Despite a busy medical practice, pediatrician Michael Giuliano has embarked on a spiritual journey to become a deacon.
As a neonatal pediatrician and medical educator in Hackensack, N.J.,
Dr. Michael Giuliano leads an intensely busy life. “Literally there were
years when I worked, studied, worked, slept,” he says.
And yet, Giuliano has added two classes a week to his schedule as part of a four-year program of diaconate formation at Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology (ICSST).
For the 58-year-old father of five grown children, answering the call
to serve as a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church meant undergoing a
rigorous discernment and interview process. “I always felt a pull [to
become a deacon], even though clearly the priesthood wasn’t a serious
consideration, because I felt the pull to the vocation of marriage,”
says Giuliano, who recently celebrated his 30th wedding anniversary with
his wife, Marybeth.
Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) restored the biblical
office of deacon after centuries of desuetude (priesthood candidates are
still ordained as “transitional deacons” about one year before their
priestly ordination), the diaconate in the United States has seen a
surge of candidates. In the 1970s, there were nearly 1,000 deacons
nationwide. In 2010, a study from Georgetown University’s Center for
Applied Research in the Apostolate put the total number of deacons in
the U.S. at more than 17,000, which makes up more than 40 percent of the
diaconate population worldwide. Closer to home, the Immaculate
Conception Seminary formation program has grown from 38 students in fall
2011 to 75 in fall 2013.
Giuliano and his fellow candidates in the program represent the
dioceses of Metuchen and Paterson and the Archdiocese of Newark. “They
are medical practitioners, lawyers, policemen, business executives and
owners, former military officers — all mature men in their mid-40s and
older. Most, except for very few, still work and have family and
professional responsibilities and are active in their parishes in
leadership positions,” says Deacon Andrew Saunders, associate director
of the Center for Diaconal Formation at the Seminary.
For Giuliano, faith was the foundational issue that drew him to serve
in the medical profession. Throughout his pre-med and medical studies,
his faith — handed down to him by his parents and by an uncle who was a
priest — was “never completely gone. It was always a pretty important
part of my life, though frankly, work consumed so much time. There was
never a lot of time for prayer, but it was always there, always in the
He has a special devotion to St. Gianna Beretta Molla, the patron
saint of difficult pregnancies, who was also a pediatrician — and who
carried her own child to full term, knowing it would threaten her life
to do so. Soon after the baby was delivered, St. Gianna died.
Giuliano first learned about the saint about 10 years ago when, by
chance, he encountered two Sisters of Life — whom he had never met
before (nor seen since) — and had a 45-minute conversation with them.
Then in June 2012, at the end of a long day working at the hospital, he
and his wife attended a retreat at which Dianne Traflet, associate dean
of ICSST, spoke about St. Gianna. “It was one of those subtle
coincidences that are not possible without a gentle hand pushing us in
the right direction,” he says.
Michael Giuliano sums up in a simple and direct way his decision to
serve the Church: “I am a regular person who has just gotten quiet
enough to hear the call. I don’t think there is anything unique about
me. It is just a question about where the Lord is pulling you.
Journalist, physician, plumber, garbage man. If you are quiet and allow
God into your silence and listen, you will likely find you are being
pulled in a direction as well. The universal call to holiness comes out
of Vatican II and the heart of our Church.”
Gregory Tobin, M.A. ’06 is the author of The Good Pope, a biography of the soon-to-be canonized Pope John XXIII.
This article first appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of Seton Hall Magazine.
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