By Trish Linner
SOUTH BEND — With over 100 family, friends and faithful in attendance, the deacons of the Diocese of Fort Wayne- South Bend were honored with an anniversary Mass at St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend on Saturday, Aug. 10. It was no coincidence that the Mass was held on Aug. 10, it is the feast day of St. Lawrence, one of the greatest deacons to ever serve the Church.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades served as the celebrant with many priests from around the diocese in attendance.
He expressed his gratitude to the deacons for their years of service. “This is a Mass of thanksgiving,” he began. “Our deacons are a blessing to our diocese. We are thankful for the vocation and remember the deacons who have passed. I thank you for your devoted service of charity in our diocese, for your fidelity and witness to the Gospel. I also thank your wives and families for their support of your diaconal vocation.”
The deceased deacons of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend who were remembered at the Mass include Edward Alexejun, Paul Baumgartner, N. Arthur Bleau, Richard Crowder, Thomas Doell, Milton Folds, William Hamilton, Harris Hoeffel, Francis Hubbard, Richard Jackson, Richard Keusch, Francis (Bud) Kiebel, Ted Krizman, Fred Larson, Edward Lyczak, Robert Madey, Louis McDougall, Francis McGinnity, Ronald Moser, Walter Osterholt, Andrew Plodowski, Phillip J. Sanborn, Eugene Szynski, Dean Tucker, Francis (Pat) Walsh and Joseph Zickgraf.
Bishop Rhoades spoke at length about St. Lawrence, the proto-deacon of the Church of Rome, and the archdeacon of Pope Sixtus II. “St. Lawrence is an example of concern and love for the poor. He reminds us that the poor are the true treasure of the Church. And he reminds us that the service of charity is essential to the Church’s mission,” Bishop Rhoades said.
Bishop Rhoades also read a beautiful account by St. Ambrose of the martyrdom of St. Lawrence that included a dialogue between Lawrence and Pope Sixtus when the pope was being led to his martyrdom. The account shows the love and devotion between the two men and their great faith in the Lord. “Holy martyrs teach us this strength of soul, something we need today: strength of soul for the ministry of charity, for the New Evangelization, for the courageous self-giving love. Deacons are called to have this strength of soul as they witness to Christ the Servant, the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep. Bishops and priests need this strength of soul,” said Bishop Rhoades.
Bishop Rhoades concluded his homily by reflecting on the reading from the Gospel. “The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel, lived by St. Lawrence, are words for us to mediate and reflect on often: Whoever serves Me must follow Me, and where I am, there also will My servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves Me.”
A reception immediately followed the Mass, where the deacons celebrated with their families and reflected on the Bishop Rhoades’ words. “The Mass was beautiful, very meaningful. It is a message that the Catholic faithful need to hear. Many do not understand what being a deacon is all about,” said Deacon Guy Gizzi who is celebrating his 30th year as a deacon at St. Matthew Cathedral.
Deacon Dave Elchert from St. John the Evangelist in Goshen shared Deacon Gizzi’s sentiment. “What a beautiful liturgy. We needed to hear what the bishop had to say, to hear the words of St. Lawrence. I am impressed and humbled the diocese has taken the time to celebrate us today.”
The Mass and reception not only honored the deacons, but also gave them a chance to spend time with one another. “The Mass was very nice,” said Deacon James Rauner, who serves at the Immaculate Conception in Hartford, Mich., and is celebrating his 39th anniversary as a deacon, “This is also a chance to see fellow deacons from my own class so long ago. Many I haven’t seen in years.”
The celebration was the idea of the deacon board. “We wanted to honor these men for their service,” said board member Mary Szymczak. “With so many deacons celebrating milestones this year we felt the time was right and actually overdue to thank them for all that they do for our Church and parishioners.”
Szymczak, Carolyn Moser and Manuela Tugman served on the committee to organize the event. “It was a lot of fun to plan and we are glad so many of our deacons and priests could attend and enjoy the celebration today,” said Szymczak.
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