­­­­(Six new permanent deacons are scheduled to be ordained Aug. 8 at St. Joseph cathedral in Baton Rouge. This is the third of a series on each of the deacon candidates.) 

By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

Billy Messenger.jpeg

Billy Messenger

 

Retirement … time to travel the world, bask in “a job well done” and relax. But Billy Messenger said a life of ease is not for him.  

“I’m ready to go to work,” said Messenger, who recently retired after spending many years working for the East Baton Rouge and Zachary school s­­ystems, adding that he is excited about his upcoming role as a permanent deacon of the ­­Diocese of Baton Rouge. Bishop Michael G. Duca will ordain him Aug. 8 at S­t. Joseph Cathedral in Baton Rouge.  

A member of Immaculate Conception Church in Denham Springs, Messenger was raised in a family of eight siblings in Baton Rouge. His family attended St. Thomas More Church in Baton Rouge and then St. Louis King of France Church, also in Baton Rouge, when it was established. He graduated from St. Thomas More School and Catholic High School in Baton Rouge.  

“I was a Sunday Catholic,” Messenger acknowledged in an interview at St. Agnes Church in Baton Rouge following an early morning Mass. But he had a conversion experience in his mid-20s.  

“(It happened right) here at St. Agnes,” said Messenger, who pointed out that two of his brothers were members of a Legion of Mary group that met at St. Agnes. He eventually joined the organization.  

“We knocked on doors in the neighborhoods and talked to people about Jesus Christ and invited them to come to the Catholic Church and answered their questions about the faith,” said Messenger. “We met some really wonderful people who weren’t Catholic but loved the Lord … that, and working with people in the Legion of Mary who loved Jesus, knew him and their faith was real, was when I said, ‘I want that.’ That’s when my faith moved to love of God and love of neighbor.”  

Messenger became involved in various ministries at Immaculate Conception.  

Messenger’s wife of 40 years, Melinda, asked him if he thought about becoming a deacon. He went through the discernment process in 2015.  

“That first year I really struggled because it was such a huge time commitment,” said Messenger. “Somewhere in the second year, I told my spiritual director, ‘I feel this is what God is calling me to. I was going to rely on those involved in the formation process or my wife to tell me, ‘I don’t think this is what God is calling you to.’ ”  

But he continually received positive feedback and encouragement.  

Messenger will be part of the first class to graduate from the diaconate formation program since it was revamped and classes were offered at Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University in Baton Rouge.  

“We were called ‘guinea pigs’ because we were going to be the first class to graduate,” grinned Messenger.  

He said the reality of becoming a deacon will most likely “sink in” at the ordination ceremony rehearsal.  

Messenger will be vested by his brother Deacon Tim Messenger, deacon assistant at St. Margaret Queen of Scotland Church in Albany, and Deacon “Zeek” Nola, deacon assistant at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in St. Francisville. Billy Messenger worked alongside Deacon Nola at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola as part of his assignment for the past year.  

“Deacon Zeek is my model, he’s 77 years old and going strong … he goes to Angola five days a week,” said Messenger. “That’s the way I see myself being. I don’t want to ‘retire’ and be comfortable.”  

This will especially be the case with his wife by his side, according to Messenger. The couple have four children and 15 grandchildren. Melinda has accompanied him and helped with faith formation classes at Angola and Dixon Correction Institute in Jackson.  

This past fall he was in the sacristy of St. Agnes after assisting at a 6 a.m. Mass when an inmate who had been released from DCI to the Joseph Homes of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge approached him. Messenger was touched when he said, “I just want you to know how much I and the guys at DCI appreciate what all of you do.” 

“He had no ulterior motive, he was speaking from his heart,” said Messenger.  

It’s such opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives that motivates him to become a deacon.  

“I don’t think there’s anything more joyful in life than serving the Lord,” Messenger said. “Instead of storing up treasures on Earth, I’m storing up treasure in heaven.”