In hindsight, becoming a deacon of the Catholic Church makes a lot of sense for Floyd McCubbins. He’d long been a community leader, and he was raised in a religious family. But how it all came about makes for an interesting story.
A Flathead High School graduate and member of the Flathead Valley Community College’s first graduating class, McCubbins went on to college in Montana and Idaho.
Armed with a civil engineering degree, he spent 10 years with the Forest Service as a survey and design engineer and nearly 20 years with F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Co. He and his wife Connie then ran the Moving Image health club and travel agency in Columbia Falls until illness overcame him in 2008.
“My life came crashing down,” he recalled.
During those first three decades, McCubbins immersed himself in his career, fishing and hunting, and community service. He lived in Hungry Horse for 18 years, where he served as a volunteer fireman and on the volunteer fire board and helped create the Hungry Horse Water and Sewer District. They got grants and designed and built a community water system there.
In Columbia Falls, McCubbins served on the city-county planning board for 11 years, including nine as the chairman. He and Connie helped organize the annual Heritage Days event for 11 years and the Night of Lights event for 20 years. With two young boys of his own and Connie’s younger brother to raise, McCubbins was active in coaching and serving on the board of directors for Minor League, Pee Wee and Babe Ruth baseball.
Connie’s great grandparents homesteaded west of Kalispell where the Batavia School sits now. Her brother was a friend of McCubbins’ from sixth grade. They got married in 1972 and now have a son in Arizona, a son in the Flathead and five grandchildren.
McCubbins was raised a Baptist and was a regular churchgoer until he was 18.
“After that, my interests turned to hunting and fishing — literally,” he said.
Connie was raised a Catholic and attended church every Sunday. But she was having difficulties getting her three young boys to sit still during services. Floyd agreed to come along and help. Along the way, he decided to become a Catholic.
“I met with Father Bud Sullivan at St. Richard’s and talked it over,” Floyd said.
After completing the required “lessons,” McCubbins was baptized and confirmed. He and his son Bryan together underwent first communion during Easter Vigil in 1985.
McCubbins first thought about becoming a deacon about a dozen years later. He and two other church members had been leading “communion services” at the Community Hall at Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park, and McCubbins decided to take the next step.
That next step, however, was set back by extreme illness beginning in 2008. McCubbins underwent multiple surgeries, and his weight plummeted from 210 to 138.
“It changed my world view,” he said. “I found I didn’t need a fancy house, a fancy car, or new expensive toys. Life has become very simple.”
McCubbins is involved in jail ministry, visiting the sick and homebound, helping the homeless and pro-life activities. He’s assigned to St. Richard’s Catholic Church in Columbia Falls with Father John Miller but finds himself working with ministries across the Flathead. He’s also a sub-chaplain at both of Flathead’s hospitals.
“As a deacon, I can baptize, witness at marriages, perform funerals. I cannot consecrate at Mass, hear confessions, or anoint the sick or conduct last rites, but I can offer prayers and blessings for the sick and dying” he noted.
A deacon serves at the behest of the bishop in Helena, McCubbins explained.
“He’s assigned to a parish and ordained, but at a different level than a priest,” he said. “He’s the eyes and the ears of the community. We come to serve, not to be served.”
McCubbins said he’s “all about social justice.” On one recent Wednesday at St. Richard’s, he helped a woman who couldn’t pay an electric bill, helped another person get gas to complete a trip, and helped a woman with an abusive boyfriend line up a bus ticket back home.
“Columbia Falls needs a shelter or home for battered women and children and for the homeless,” McCubbins said, adding that he and Doug Cordier, St. Richard’s other deacon, have talked about how to address this problem for a long time.
McCubbins, Cordier and Charlie Harball applied to become deacons in 2005. Seventy couples from western Montana were invited to Carroll College in November 2007. Of those, 25 couples were chosen and 17 finished the training. McCubbins, Cordier and Harball were ordained in June 2012.
During those 4 1/2 years, they studied philosophy, church history and other religions, read more than a hundred books and wrote papers on what they learned. A big topic was the role of free will and reason and how they affect our everyday lives. Each candidate and his wife also signed a pledge every year.
“The church believes that by keeping a wife involved, their marriage grows stronger,” McCubbins said. “If a wife disagrees, then it’s all over. We actually function as a team in our ministry. I would be lost without her.”
Last week, Floyd and Connie traveled to Helena for Chrism Mass, held each year one week prior to Holy Thursday, the day of Christ’s crucifixion. Representatives from each of Montana’s Catholic churches returned with a year’s supply of oil for baptism, confirmation and the sick.
McCubbins said he supports Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign. He said he watched how Pope John Paul II’s health slowly declined over the years and didn’t want to see that again. He’s also encouraged by Pope Francis, who was installed March 13.
“He’s the best thing to come along in a long time — simple and humble,” McCubbins said.