Scott Warden
February 22, 2024 // Bishop

Deacon Urges Servus Omnium Crowd to ‘Cry Out to God’

Scott Warden

After a three-year hiatus, the annual Servus Omnium Lecture returned to the University of Saint Francis Performing Arts Center in downtown Fort Wayne on February 13, where attendees began Fat Tuesday by feasting on a Mardi Gras breakfast and being nourished spiritually as they prepared for their Lenten journey.

The event began in 2013 and was held annually until 2021, when it was canceled because of COVID-19. The founders of the event – Matt Smith, Chief Development Officer at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, and Lance Richey, Interim President of the University of Saint Francis – felt a call to bring it back this year, and their organizations partnered with the Catholic Community Foundation of Northeast Indiana to sponsor the lecture.

With a crowd of around 200 gathered for the 7 a.m. start time, Bishop Rhoades offered the opening blessing and joked that while the event was held on Fat Tuesday, “I feel like this is more like Lent getting up this early for this breakfast.”

Deacon Urges Servus Omnium Crowd to ‘Cry Out to God’

Deacon Larry Oney, a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, offered the morning’s lecture, which was titled, “Called and Sent for Such a Time as This,” in which he challenged those in attendance to lead with faith-filled excellence. With Bishop Rhoades sitting front and center, he opened with a joke. “You probably heard the story about the young man who didn’t want to go to church on Sunday morning,” Deacon Oney said. “His mother was a good Catholic woman, and finally the young man said, ‘Well, give me three good reasons to go to church.’ And the mother, quick on her feet … she said, ‘One, you’re getting older, you need to go to church. Number two, I’m your mother; I want you to go to church. And three, you’re the bishop, you have to go to church.’” The crowd, including Bishop Rhoades, roared with laughter.

Throughout his lecture, Deacon Oney kept the audience on its toes as he both entertained and challenged, joked and preached. While the event was billed as a lecture, Deacon Oney said he came to Fort Wayne to preach in the vein of St. Augustine, who said “whenever you have a ministerial moment before the People of God, you should be preaching, and when you preach, you should give a little bit of teaching, delighting, and persuasion to the truth of the Gospel.”

Throughout his 40-minute talk, Deacon Oney did just that, saying that the world right now is at an inflection point. “There’s something powerful happening,” he said. “There’s a hunger in the land, and there’s a thirst, but also there’s a great falling away at the same time. … We need something to inspire us forward. And I believe that the body of Christ is looking for something more. And I believe, I can see now prophetically, that the Lord has called me here to Fort Wayne. Not to Indianapolis … not to Chicago, but to this community. And I realize that I’m coming back to this state again in July for the Eucharistic Congress. I’ve been to your state once before for the SEEK Conference. There were 15,000, 16,000 gathered. Something is going on in Indiana. … I don’t know what, but something is going on.”

Throughout his time on stage, Deacon Oney preached about the specific moment of time in which God has placed us and the challenges and opportunities he has set before us.

Guests look on during Deacon Oney’s talk, which was entitled, “Called and Sent for Such a Time as This.”

“The question is, what will we do with these times?” Deacon Oney asked. “What do we do at this moment? This moment is not like other moments. Some people say, ‘Well, it’s always been like that.’” Deacon Oney shot back, ‘Never like this!’” He cited the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that society is still feeling today, especially, he said, in our young people, who were isolated at a critical time in their development. He cited the plague of social media and the identity crisis among today’s youth.

The answer to these problems, he said, lies with God and His Church. Catholics, he said, “have a body of social justice teaching. We have a body of faith. We have great saints of God. And God is saying, ‘I called you for this particular moment.’ … The question is, what will we do? Will we cower back, or will we stand up and say, like Isaiah said, ‘Lord, here I am; send me, use me. God has raised us up for such a time as this. We can’t let the moment go by and say, ‘Lord, I didn’t do anything at the moment. I didn’t know what to do.’”

Deacon Oney didn’t just raise questions; he offered solutions.

“The principal role that all of us are called to be a part of is to participate in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly mission of Jesus,” he said. “Not the ministerial priesthood, but the common priesthood. What was Jesus’ principal ministry? Preaching, teaching, and healing. You said, ‘Wow, I don’t have a healing ministry. You do. When you give a word of encouragement to somebody, you heal. When you give a smile to someone who’s down, you begin to heal. When you give a word of encouragement to a businessperson who might be struggling, you’re building up.

“God called us to open our mouths. We can’t just all be a silent witness. Pope St. John Paul says that unless the life, the death, the burial, the resurrection, the name of Jesus is mentioned, there’s no real evangelization. … I’m exhorting you this morning. I’m encouraging you. I’m preaching to you. … I’m testifying that Jesus Christ is King over the universe, despite what some people say. The Lord is not nervous because the stock market is up and down. He’s the Lamb of God. He’s the Prince of Peace. He’s the Great I Am. … Nothing shakes Him. You and I … we serve a King who is King over an unshakable Kingdom. And you and I are sons and daughters of the King as well. …

“But God is saying, there’s something for you to do now. I need you to cry out. … Remember, we need a deep groaning for souls for the Kingdom of God. And God is calling and asking us, ‘Will you spend some time on your face?’ That’s the message I have for Fort Wayne, Indiana, today. Will you cry out? You say, ‘It’s just me; it’s just me and my wife.’ You can do great things. You can touch another nation. You can raise up your community. You can raise up your family. … So, what do I have to do? Do I need to write a bigger check? Yeah, do that too. … But mainly what you do is get on your face in your own home and cry out to God. Can anybody say amen?”

And the early morning crowd, wide awake at this point, said, “Amen!”

Deacon Oney poses with Catholic leaders and businesspeople following his talk at the Servus Omnium Lecture.

To learn more about Deacon Oney and his ministry, visit

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