Jeremy and Andrea Tickle of Birmingham, Ala., share a light moment July 23 with their 9-month-old daughter, Chrysalis, while attending the 2018 National Diaconate Congress in New Orleans. Jeremy Tickle is in the inquiry phase of the diaconate program for the Diocese of Birmingham and thought the conference would give the entire family a deeper sense of the vocational call. (CNS photo/Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald)

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) — They stood out because they stood together, employing the wisdom of young parents, in the back of a hotel ballroom packed with 2,800 permanent deacons, their wives and children.

Jeremy Tickle and his wife, Andrea, who met in Atlanta, married in 2015 and moved to Birmingham, Alabama. Two weeks ago, they brought their 9-month-old daughter, Chrysalis, with them to the 2018 National Diaconate Congress in New Orleans.

Jeremy, 43, is not yet a permanent deacon. In fact, he has advanced only to the inquiry phase in the diaconate program of the Diocese of Birmingham. But the Tickles felt compelled to come to the national conference in New Orleans to learn more about the diaconate ministry that one day may be a part of their lives.

“I have been discerning for a long time a potential call, even before we met,” said Jeremy, a real estate agent who was baptized Catholic but raised in the Methodist church before going through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process and entering into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2012.

A short time later, he made a pilgrimage to Rome and listened to Pope Francis deliver his general audience at St. Peter’s Square.

“I was sitting there all day, and there was a series of events,” Jeremy told the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the New Orleans Archdiocese. “Just seeing all the apostles around the top (of St. Peter’s), I had this overwhelming sense of, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’ I thought, ‘I would like to join this mission, these people, these initial apostles.’ I see the diaconate as part of that.”

Jeremy and Andrea met a short time later while participating in a Catholic singles group at Christ the King Cathedral in Atlanta. For Jeremy, it was “definitely love at first sight.”

Andrea, who grew up in a family that had been touched by divorce and multiple marriages, said she had been praying and consulting for years with two permanent deacons from Atlanta “trying to understand healthy marriages and healthy family systems.”

“Those two deacons who were helping me understand the healthy dynamics I was seeking helped me in my spiritual development and brought me closer to God and Our Lady, and my faith developed very, very rapidly,” Andrea said. “These two deacons had grown children — they were much older — but I realized that these (kind of) men are out there, and I am going to marry one. I am not going to settle.

“I am going to find someone who is good-hearted like this, who wants to be a servant in this way, who has a servant’s heart. And that is, to a ‘T,’ what Jeremy has,” she added.

The Tickles understand that the diaconate formation suggests a couple be married for at least five years and already have children. Jeremy said the initial inquiry phase has given them both a chance to reflect on the vocation. Coming to the national congress was a chance for both of them to investigate further.

“I thought this would be a great way to experience and get immersed in what the diaconate is all about,” Jeremy said. “They encouraged wives and families to come. We could meet 2,800 people who are living this vocation and get more affirmation if this is a calling that we have.”

The Tickles took their honeymoon to Rome and wore their wedding attire to a papal audience, where they got to meet briefly with and received a blessing from Pope Francis.

“It was one of the greatest blessings we have ever received,” Andrea said. “We asked that he would pray for us that we would be a holy family. He asked us to pray for his health.”

In a big crowd in New Orleans, the Tickles have been the center of attention.

“People have been very encouraging,” Jeremy said. “I think they’ve enjoyed gazing upon the baby.”

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Finney is executive editor/general manager of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.