By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator

On July 13, 2002, Frank Bains of Baton Rouge was ordained a deacon in the Diocese of Baton Rouge. Two years later, his life changed in a way he could never have imagined.

Deacon Frank Bains, right, joined Father Trey Nelson, pastor of St. Jude the Apostle Church in Baton Rouge, to celebrate Mass on Sunday, May 6. It was Deacon Bains’ final Mass before retiring. Photo by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator

 

“I first noticed it down in Manresa (House of Retreats in Convent) in October 2004. My left eye started acting funny,” recalled Deacon Bains. “I had something called NAION or Non-Arteritic Anterior Ischemic Optic Neuropathy and that was in October of ’04. I didn’t know it at the time but if you have that, it’s inevitably going to hit the other eye and in August of ’05, it hit the right eye. It took about a month from the time it hit until the time I lost it, and since August ‘O5, I’ve lost sight in both eyes.”

“Frank was a Marine Corps pilot in Vietnam, so we knew he had good vision and we never worried about his sight, I mean that’s nothing that ever came across as a problem,” explained his wife, Mary Margaret.

As Bains’ eyesight began to deteriorate, the couple was referred to a specialist in Atlanta for a second opinion. The appointment was set for August 29, 2005. With a massive hurricane churning in the Gulf of Mexico, the couple left at 3:30 a.m. to avoid the traffic overflow of evacuees. The Bains made it to the appointment and the diagnosis of NAION was confirmed, but returning home to Baton Rouge was another challenge.

“No gas stations were open. It’s like the angels were just guiding us, ” said Mary Margaret.

“We filled up in Birmingham and we wound up desperately trying to get to a gas station,” said Deacon Bains. “We limped on to O’Neal Lane and one station was open. We had to wait awhile but we got five gallons pumped before they lost electricity but it was enough to get us home.”

While most of south Louisiana was adjusting to a new normal after Hurricane Katrina, the Bains had to adjust to their own new normal. Father David Allen, pastor of Holy Family Church in Port Allen, was pastor of St. Jude the Apostle Church in Baton Rouge at the time and advised Deacon Bains “to take 6 months off and pray and think about this situation because he didn’t know what to do and we didn’t know what to do,” remembered Mary Margaret.

Five months later, Father Allen suggested Deacon Bains read the Gospel at Christmas Mass. It was a challenge that helped the couple realize that Deacon Bains could continue his call to ministry. For this first occasion, Mary Margaret recorded the reading and it was played back through an earpiece for Deacon Bains to repeat.

“When he came back up on the altar it was almost like everybody was just lifting him up, you know,” said Mary Margaret. “It was a true witness to the people and the congregation, when you come from the depths of despair, ‘What am I going to do with my life?,’ you know – so he started doing baptisms and weddings and funerals.”

For each occasion, Mary Margaret wrote a special liturgy, which was recorded played back through the earpiece.

“They’d see the little thing in his ear but sometimes that’s a mic, you know,” she said. “It was just beautiful that he could get through those years just doing it that way.”

With special computer software for the blind, Deacon Bains continued his job as an engineer for two more years. After retiring from that job, he was recruited to work for DEQ, a job he held for nine years. And, during it all, he continued to minister, eventually memorizing the Gospel readings.

“Over the years I’ve had so many people come up and say that through his courage and inspiration and continuing to do this in spite of his disability, he’s inspiring them not to give up in certain things,” said Mary Margaret.

“I was at Mass one time and the gospel was about the agony in the garden,” said Deacon Bains. “In that gospel, that’s a Thursday, and he’s getting ready to face what he faces on that Friday. And, Jesus is praying and the Bible says he’s praying so hard that his sweat becomes like drops of blood and he prays, ‘Father, if it’s your will, let this cup pass me by’ and then he went on to say, ‘Nevertheless, not my will but thy will be done,’ and hearing that, that particular Gospel passage inspired me, you know.”

Mary Margaret, once an assistant principal at St. Jude School in Baton Rouge, became the director of campus ministry at St. Michael the Archangel High School in Baton Rouge. She and her husband became an integral part of the students’ life, serving as “a platform for (Deacon Bains) in his ministry,” according to Mary Margaret.

“I became ‘The Deke,’ ” said Deacon Bains. “They’d refer to me as ‘The Deke’ – ‘Hey! It’s ‘The Deke.’ ”

After a couple of health setbacks for Mary Margaret, including breast cancer in 2014 and surgery on a benign brain tumor this year, the couple is ready for a slower pace and more time with their family, including eight grandchildren. As the couple reflects on this challenging journey they’ve taken together, it is obvious they know each other’s strength.

“I can’t say enough about Mary Margaret. She has been special,” said Deacon Bains. “I think our marriage was made in heaven.”

“’You never give up,’ that was our motto, said Mary Margaret. “We’ll fight it to the end, and this is not the end, it’s just different.”

“Deacon Frank and his wife, Mary Margaret, have been such a diligent and authentic example, not only for their family and our parish, but beyond the Saint Jude community.  Their presence at Saint Michael High School, for example, instills courage in our young people during a very challenging time in their lives,” said Father Trey Nelson, pastor of St. Jude Church in Baton Rouge. “Here in our parish, Frank and Mary Margaret have facilitated baptism seminars and have always been ready to help in any way possible.  Frank has assisted countless times at Mass, proclaiming the Gospel and offering the homily.  If I were to sum up his example in one simple statement, I would say that, in admirably facing his difficulties with his vision and blindness, Frank has taught all of us how to see in a new way.”

“I’ve learned to appreciate people and feel their warmth and love and support,” said Deacon Bains. “I just can’t say enough about St. Jude parish.”