Former Jehovah’s Witness turned deacon bids farewell to local Catholics

Deacon Jim Mickens, reacts to words of gratitude from members of Phoenix's Catholic Retreat for Young Singles group for his years of service. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Deacon Jim Mickens, reacts to words of gratitude from members of Phoenix’s Catholic Retreat for Young Singles group for his years of service. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

He was a married deacon who found his calling among Catholic singles. Deacon Jim Mickens, who  touched the hearts of many Catholic singles in the Diocese of Phoenix, said farewell Jan. 27. Ongoing health problems forced him and his wife, Janice, to move closer to his wife’s family in Pennsylvania.

“He always promoted that the most important thing in life is the search for Christ, even if that means losing your family, even if that means losing your job,” said Eric Nanneman, who was instrumental in getting the deacon involved with the Catholic Retreat for Young Singles group nine years ago.

Deacon Mickens has no connection with his own family because he chose to follow Christ. When Nanneman learned that the deacon was once a Protestant pastor, he invited him to share his conversion story with the singles group.

“He started at three in the afternoon and finished about 6:30 and nobody left,” Nanneman said.

It’s not every day that Catholics hear how a deacon went from a top-ranking position as a Jehovah’s Witness to a Catholic deacon. Deacon Mickens was raised Jehovah’s Witness and baptized shortly after his father died in 1956. He saw himself as a child of God’s and climbed his way through the ranks as a Jehovah’s Witness ministerial servant in 1971 and an elder 11 years later. Three years after that, he began to question the teachings of the Watchtower bible.

One time, he felt God calling out to him in a tangible way. The deacon remembers a pressure on the back of his head while on the freeway. He temporarily went blind. Then his vision went upside down and was corrected again.

“I remember a voice saying, ‘Do you trust me?’” the deacon said.

It became more intense the second time. He thought of when Jesus confronted Peter and asked, “Do you love me?”

The Jehovah’s Witness elder continued to question things, a taboo, and ultimately spent at least five years on what he referred to as a “wilderness journey.” He resigned in 1987, which meant he was dis-fellowshipped and classified as an agent of Satan. His family considers him dead.

His name would soon become alive again, this time in the Catholic Church. His new friend, Janice,  invited him to attend Mass for the first time.

She recalled how Deacon Mickens whispered to her throughout Mass, finding a biblical basis for every part of the liturgy. They continued going to Mass together and Deacon Mickens signed up for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Janice reluctantly sponsored him.

“I kept envisioning the questions he was going to ask me and I wouldn’t know the answer,” she said.

He was baptized in 1994 and remained hungry for the Truth, so he sought further answers through the diocesan Kino Institute. The couple wed and ultimately went through deaconate formation together in preparation for Deacon Mickens’ ordination 10 years ago.

The deacon spent four years at St. Jerome working in religious education and four at St. Bernadette in Scottsdale. He also regularly served on retreats for Catholic singles, delivered faith talks and hosted four Christmas parties, a balance of celebration and teaching.

CRYS gave him a venue to share his knowledge of the Scriptures, Deacon Mickens said. He made it his goal to teach the young adult Catholics the wealth of their faith.

Local Catholics who knew Deacon Jim Mickens through his involvement in the Catholic Retreat for Young Singles group pray over him and his wife Janice as a sign of gratitude for their service and for a safe trip to their new home on the east coast. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Local Catholics, who knew Deacon Jim Mickens through his involvement in the Catholic Retreat for Young Singles group, pray over him and his wife Janice as a sign of gratitude for their service and for a safe trip to their new home on the East Coast. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

“I was real amazed at how ignorant they were,” he said.

But they were eager to learn.

“You touched us in our heart and you’ve welcomed us into your home,” said Nick Caneppa, a member of the singles group until he got married.

The deacon was adamant that before the first guest left his going away party, he would impart a final group blessing. He affirmed the welcoming spirit of the group and challenged them to make a daily goal to “look for the Lord and the smile of approval that He has for each of you,” he said.

God’s call is a form of service, even if it doesn’t feel like enough, he said.

“And if by chance, a disability should overshadow you,” the deacon said getting choked up, “don’t let it stop you from serving the Lord and serving each other.”