January 26, 2023 // Diocese
High School Diaconal Ministry a First for Diocese
Two high school teachers made diocesan history when Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades ordained them to the permanent diaconate earlier this month. According to the bishop, the ordinations of Deacons Harry Verhiley and Andrew Oross marked the first time that diaconal ministry has been carried out at a diocesan high school.
Saint Joseph High School, South Bend, honored both deacons in a ceremony following Mass on Tuesday, Jan. 17. In a recorded message to the student body, Bishop Rhoades said that they will be able to “proclaim the Gospel, preach homilies, and minister at the altar during school liturgies.
“Most of their other diaconal ministries will be at their parishes, including celebrating baptisms, marriages, and funeral services. There are various diaconal functions, as you probably know: functions associated with their sacramental identity as servants — ‘diakonoi’ in Greek — exercising the ministry of the Word, service at the liturgy, and the service of charity.”
Bishop Rhoades mentioned that Deacon Oross has taught in the diocese for 31 years, including the last 20 years at St. Joseph. Deacon Verhiley has served the diocese for 22 years, including teaching the past five years at the high school.
“I am deeply grateful to them both,” he continued, “not only for their teaching, but for their example — their witness to the Gospel. And I am grateful to their wonderful wives, Teresa and Joanne, and their families.”
Saint Joseph High School Principal John Kennedy presented both deacons with community awards, saying that their new role takes “a tremendous abundance of dedication, time, effort, devotion, and prayer. They have each made a life commitment to be clergy in the Catholic Church, and this community now has two deacons in our theology department every day.”
In an interview, Deacon Verhiley said that his ordination changed some aspects of his role and methods as a teacher. While in the past students would ask him to pray for special intentions like familial issues or a sick relative, he has noticed an increase in these requests during the short time since his ordination on Jan. 7. He and Deacon Oross emphasized their new ability to bless their students, the former describing it as a “blessing for me as well.”
Sanctifying grace received from Holy Orders, too, now influences his teaching. “I think it’s not the approach or the lessons that change, but it’s Christ who works through me,” Deacon Verhiley said. “Certainly, His Holy Spirit has worked through me as a theology teacher, but I’m very aware now, as a result of the sanctifying grace, that Christ is working through me.”
Outside of school, both deacons serve at parishes in South Bend. Deacon Oross spoke of one particular experience in the short time since his ordination. “My father died literally minutes after my first Mass as a deacon. Being with my mom, my siblings, and my nephews, and nieces as a deacon was a pretty special thing for them and me. For me, that’s immediately what has stood out. I did my dad’s vigil the night before I served at his funeral, and I did his committal at the cemetery. That’s definitely something I’ll never forget. But also, as a deacon, I led my family in prayer with my father’s body after his death. It was a very special thing for me to be able to bless my whole family in that moment.”
Both deacons also spoke of discernment. Deacon Oross recommends being open to what God is asking in particular, then looking at what other people are suggesting.
“And then definitely praying daily about God’s will for our lives, and then really being open to the possibility that God could be calling us to something more … It’s like God is calling us to whatever vocation — He wants us to be happy — and He knows what will lead us to that happiness.”
Deacon Verhiley said that the number-one vocation for all Christians is a universal call to holiness, outlined by the Lumen gentium. “That’s the best start. If we could just draw ourselves as close to God as we’re capable of doing, God does the rest. Whatever our secondary vocation is from there, whether it’s married, single, religious life, or a call to the priesthood or the diaconate, then I think God will convey that to us.”
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.