Archbishop to ordain Robert Calleja, 47, on Oct. 17; widow of Joe Colleran, who died on Christmas Day 2018, to read Scripture in honor of husband

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DETROIT  The Archdiocese of Detroit should have been celebrating two permanent deacon ordinations this weekend. Instead, it will celebrate one — while remembering fondly the man who would have been the second.

On Saturday, Oct. 17, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron will ordain Robert Calleja, a member of St. Valentine Parish in Redford, while a classmate, Joe Colleran, is there in spirit.

Calleja was supposed to be ordained alongside Colleran of St. Kenneth Parish in Plymouth, but Colleran lost his battle with cancer on Christmas Day 2018. Kim Colleran, Joe’s widow, will do a reading at the ordination. 

For Calleja, being ordained is the culmination of a decade’s worth of prayer, discernment and study. He first felt the calling more than 10 years ago, but there was one hangup: he had just gotten married. 

Calleja had been baptized Catholic, but had not been confirmed when he and his wife, Christine, wanted to get married at the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak. In order to get married in the church, he had to take RCIA to complete his sacraments, and it was those classes that “lit me up,” he said.

After his confirmation, Calleja wanted to pursue the diaconate, but his pastor at St. Valentine Parish in Redford told him of one snag. 

“He told me you need to be married for 10 years, so he asked me to pray about it,” said Calleja, who will be ordained a permanent deacon at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit

The ordination, scheduled for 10 a.m., will be open to the public, but limited seating is available to encourage social distancing inside the cathedral. Visitors are encouraged to arrive early and wears masks.

The Archdiocese of Detroit will be livestreaming the ordination here.

“I prayed about it for a while, thinking about the diaconate and studying it, learning more about the faith,” Calleja told Detroit Catholic. “It was something that stayed with me. After my wife and I had our daughter and she was entering school, I finally got to the point where I said, maybe I’ll talk to Deacon (Kevin) Breen (associate director of diaconate formation for the Archdiocese of Detroit) about it.” 

Calleja applied at the end of 2015, and began his diaconate formation at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in 2016, which only confirmed his desire to serve the Church at the altar and throughout the parish. 

“The classes continued to appeal to me, as I learned the theology and developed a deeper understanding of the Bible, the witness of the Old Testament and the Acts of the Apostles, learning about the disciples working to spread the message of the Lord,” said Calleja, who works as maintenance and facilities director for St. Edith Parish in Livonia. “The classes brought more and more depth of understanding of how the Lord is working in the world today.” 

Calleja, who began diaconate formation during Synod 16, the archdiocesan-wide gathering that sparked the “Unleash the Gospel” movement, looks forward to seeing parishes work together as the archdiocese moves toward a “families of parishes” model this Advent. 

Deacons can play a special role in leading the way in terms of outreach, he said.

“We have great individual parishes, but we are all one archdiocese,” Calleja said. “I look forward to ways we can be interconnected. I’m already talking with my brother deacons about what we can do to unite as one family. The hands of the deacon are meant to be the hands of the parish, grabbing hold of each other to serve the people.” 

Calleja’s would-be classmate, Colleran, would have similarly been overjoyed at the prospect of diaconate service, said his widow, Kim. 

“Joe was always welcoming, always ready to help out, whether it was teaching catechism or helping with funeral vigils,” Kim Colleran said. 

Kim and Joe married in 2003, the second marriage for both of them. Joe discerned the diaconate before they got married, but knew he wanted to marry Kim, so, like Calleja, he put those plans aside for a while. 

Joe Colleran, pictured with his wife, Kim, was supposed to ordained a permanent deacon on Oct. 17, but passed away after a battle with cancer on Christmas Day 2018. Kim will be a lector at the ordination. (Photo courtesy of Kim Colleran)

Kim said the desire to be a deacon never left Joe, and at the encouragement of a visiting priest, the couple had their prior marriages annulled and their marriage validated, opening the opportunity for Joe to join the diaconate program. 

“In the middle of all that, he was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, but he didn’t stop at all; it was a goal in life to be ordained,” Colleran said. “Cancer wouldn’t beat him at all. He said, ‘I’m going to get ordained; I don’t care.’ He finished his Catholic theology degree, and I started taking classes with him.” 

Colleran said Joe had the support of the entire parish community as he was taking classes while fighting cancer. Fr. Tom Belczak, St. Kenneth’s pastor, was in talks with Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron about speeding up the process to ordain Joe — an idea Joe himself wasn’t super enthused about, wanting to avoid the appearance of receiving special treatment. 

On the same day Joe passed away, the Collerans had received a letter informing them that the archbishop was speaking with seminary leadership about moving up the ordination day.

“He was a very caring, compassionate person who was so relatable. He loved to speak and tell stories,” Colleran said. “He knew a lot about the Bible and had this aura about him that resonated.” 

During Joe’s diaconate formation, Kim learned about the role of a deacon’s wife and what the vocation would mean for their marriage. 

“I was a cradle Catholic who went to Catholic school, but I learned so much more about the Catholic Church going to classes for my husband’s diaconate formation,” Colleran said. “Talking with the teachers and professors was fun for me; I think I grew more with my faith. I’m like my husband in a lot of ways; we liked to help each other in terms of compassion and service.

“I was blessed to have Joe in my life,” Colleran said. “It was a gift from God to be able to take care of him, to hold him until he passed. He was very humble to the end, and he was ready to go and meet God and Jesus. He was an inspiration to many people, and still is.”