Dcn. John Osnes recalls beautiful moments of service

Deacon John Osnes serves at Our Lady of the Black Hills, Piedmont. He was ordained October 24, 2001, by Bishop Blase Cupich. To celebrate, the Piedmont parish will host a cupcake reception after the 8 a.m. Mass, Sunday, October 24.
He was born in Burke and raised on the Osnes homestead near there. He has been married to his wife Joni for 39 years and they have three married daughters and two granddaughters.

“I was raised in a family that very actively practiced their faith at the First United Methodist Church in Burke. My father was an elder in the church, and my mother was a leader in the Women’s Society,” said Osnes. “However, I seem to have been regularly drawn to the Catholic Church. During high school, I remember attending release time classes at Sacred Heart Church in Burke. (Some small-town schools allow students time off to attend religious instruction.) At one of the classes, the teacher told us that offering one hour a week to God, who gave us 168 hours each week, was not much to ask. This message really resonated with me, so when I moved to Rapid City to attend college, I was fairly faithful to Sunday attendance because of it. Since I lived right next to Immaculate Conception Church, I often attended services there because it was convenient.

“Ultimately, my cradle-Catholic wife was responsible for my commitment to the Catholic Church. She didn’t force the issue, but on the night that we became engaged, I told her I was going to convert because I simply couldn’t imagine having our future family divided by religion. Little could I have imagined the richness and blessings that the Catholic Church held in store for me and our family!” he said.

Osnes earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Rapid City. He earned his masters and doctorate degrees in Civil Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. He worked as a consulting engineer for a Rapid City business and retired as a principal consultant in 2017

“Although I had a very successful and satisfying career as a consulting engineer, my passion for diaconal ministry grew over the years to the point where I retired early to devote more time to ministry,” he said.

The seed for becoming a deacon was first planted by Joni’s uncle, Deacon Justin Lauer, when he baptized their first daughter, Jennifer. “My conversion to Catholicism was not accepted by some members of my family, but Deacon Justy found a way to bring unity to our religiously divided families in that touchable moment. His pastoral care inspired me, and I considered the possibilities of ordained ministry in the Catholic Church.

“In 1987, we moved to Black Hawk and became members of Our Lady of the Black Hills Church. There I was regularly exposed to the pastoral possibilities of the diaconate by Deacon Walt Wilson. His servant’s heart was so apparent to me, regardless of whether he was preaching in such a concrete, lived way, or playing the banjo in the folk group, or building our church using his wide array of skills.

“His model of servanthood for Christ harkened back to my parents, who always told my sister and me that God gave us gifts and talents not for our praise, but to share them with others in praise of him and they lived those words in their service to the church,” said Osnes.

The call to the diaconate was reinforced by others, particularly Fr. Ron Garry, but it took several years of back-and-forth discernment with Osnes’ spouse before he answered the call and entered formation in 1996. His formation directors included Jesuit Fathers Steve Mitten, John Schwantes, and Will Prospero, as well as Dcn. Pat Coy and his wife Fran.

His primary assignments were to homebound and funeral ministry. He has presided at about 60 funeral vigils and had the privilege of accompanying those families at a very touchable moment. Osnes has baptized more than 25 babies and presided at a few weddings.

He assists and preaches at the weekend Masses about once a month. He has served as a catechist, primarily for confirmation and adult classes, and in leadership positions, most recently on the Pastoral and Stewardship Councils. Outside of the parish, he has been adopted by the first graders at St. Elizabeth Seton Elementary School for 18 years and served on the Board of Trustees at Mount Marty University in Yankton for 9 years.

“Although I have had many beautiful moments serving the parish and diocese, I think the best moments of my ordained life have occurred outside the church. Being an ordained minister in a secular job provided unique opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Some of the best moments were at the worst times,” said Osnes. “I particularly recall when my vice president’s wife died suddenly, he asked me to gather the employees together to share the tragic news and lead them in prayer. Throughout the years, other employees came to my office for spiritual care and counsel when their loved ones faced death and dying.”

He concluded, “On a more joyous note, our office’s Christmas party has begun with an invocation for more than a decade, and I have had the privilege of offering that prayer most of those years. Outside of the office, I shared that I am a deacon in the Catholic Church with most of my engineering clients. Although few were Catholics, we often shared our religious beliefs and spirituality and occasionally, we even prayed together. Being a deacon definitely raised these business relationships to a higher plane.”