History was made in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend on Saturday, June 23, with the ordination of 11 Hispanic deacons at St. Matthew Cathedral, South Bend.
The newly ordained deacons and their home parishes are Juan Manuel Campos, St. Patrick, Ligonier; Marco Castillo Gómez, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Warsaw; Frederick W. Everett, Corpus Christi, South Bend; Alejandro M. García García, Our Lady of Hungary, South Bend; Ricardo García Ramos, St. Patrick, Ligonier; Giovani Muñoz Reyes, Christian Nieves Figueroa and Blas Olayo, all of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen; José Ruvalcaba Sánchez, St. Adalbert, South Bend; and Victor Sandoval Ceja and Huberto M. Vázquez Osorio, both of St. Patrick, Fort Wayne.
The cathedral was filled with family, friends and supporters, who all awaited the grand procession of diaconate candidates. Wives and family members of the candidates to be ordained expressed feelings of nervousness before the Mass, but also said they felt happy and blessed. The 18-year-old daughter of Deacon Marco Castillo, Flor de María, said she was feeling “a lot of mixed emotions — really excited, nervous for what’s to come, but mostly happy and excited.”
Flor de Maria was only 13 when her father joined the diaconate formation. “It’s been amazing to see how he’s grown as a person and future deacon,” she said.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades began by welcoming everyone on the joyful day and acknowledging its singularity.
Following the Liturgy of the Word, the congregation remained standing while the bishop blessed them with the Book of the Gospels. The candidates were then called by name and each stood and responded, “presente.” They approached the altar and stood before the bishop, where their readiness for ordination was affirmed.
“Relying on the help of our Lord God and Our Savior Jesus Christ, we choose these our brothers for the Sacred Order of the Diaconate,” Bishop Rhoades said.
He spoke again in his homily about the widespread excitement over it. “We meet with great joy to celebrate this Mass of Ordination to the Diaconate of 11 brothers in Christ. This is an historic event in our diocese: It is not only the formation of our first Hispanic permanent deacons, but also the first ordination in Spanish,” he said.
“These 11 brothers are responding with faith to a call of the Lord and have been very dedicated to this diaconate formation the last five years. Also, their dear wives and their children have supported them. Thank you to the wives of the ordinands, who are an important part of the response of their husbands to the call of the Lord. I ask you all to continue to pray for them. This ordination is an occasion of joy for these families, as it is throughout our diocese.”
The bishop asked those present to reflect on the ministry the men would be receiving that day. Strengthened with the gift of the Holy Spirit, they will help the bishop and his presbyterate in sharing the Word of God; in service of the altar; and in the ministry of charity.
As ministers of the altar, they will proclaim the Gospel and prepare the sacrifice of the Eucharist, sharing the body and blood of Christ with the faithful. In addition, sent by the bishop, they will call both believers and nonbelievers to faith, teaching them the sacred doctrine; they will lead prayers, administer the sacrament of baptism, officiate at marriages, take viaticum to the dying and perform funeral rites that are conducted outside of Mass.
“Consecrated by the laying on of hands, which has been inherited from the Apostles and linked to the service of the altar, they shall exercise the ministry of charity on behalf of the bishop or the pastor. With the help of God, they should work in such a way that you recognize them as true disciples of the One who came not to be served, but to serve,” Bishop Rhoades said.
He then spoke directly to the candidates, saying, “The Lord gave you the example so that, what He did, you also should do.” He told them that in their ministry as deacons — as servants of Jesus Christ, who willingly followed God’s will — they should serve both God and man with love and joy.
“Today, they receive a special grace of the Holy Spirit to act in the name of Christ the servant. … The Gospel we have heard provides the fundamental key to this ministry — you will be servants in the service of Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.”
The bishop asked the candidates to express their resolve to proclaim the faith in word and action, as taught by the Gospels and Church’s Tradition; to maintain and deepen their prayer life; to celebrate faithfully the Liturgy of the Hours for the Church and the whole world; and to shape their lives according to Christ’s example. Each candidate then knelt before the bishop and promised respect and obedience to him and his successors.
The congregation then participated in the Litany of Saints, after which each man knelt before Bishop Rhoades as he silently laid his hands upon them. He then said the prayer of consecration.
“Almighty God, be present with us by your power. You are the source of all power, you assign to each his rank, you give to each his ministry,” he said. “Lord, look with favor on this servant of yours, whom we now dedicate to the office of deacon, to minister at your holy altar.”
The newly ordained deacons were then vested with the deacon’s stole and dalmatic by a fellow deacon or by a priest. Then they returned to the bishop, where he handed the Book of Gospels to each man individually, saying, “Receive the Word of God, whose herald you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.”
The deacons were given the fraternal kiss of peace first by the bishop, who welcomed them into their new ministry; and then by the dozen brother deacons in attendance.
After the celebration of the Eucharist, Bishop Rhoades took the opportunity to thank everyone involved in the Mass and those who helped support the deacons during their formation. He again gave special thanks to the wives, children and parents of the new deacons and asked for continued prayers for them. He reiterated that it was a special day for everyone, noting “Not a lot of dioceses in the United States have a diaconate program in Spanish.”
Deacon Nieves Figueroa said he felt very happy and very grateful following his ordination. “I feel blessed and now I want to go to work to preach the Gospel of the Lord, to visit the people in jail and the homebound, to help the poor.”
Deacon Dave Elchert of St. John the Evangelist said he felt privileged to be present at the ordination Mass. “At the Bishop’s request I did the field formation with these young men — taking them to prison and to visit the sick, so they’d know what they would be doing. I kept them busy in the summers. They worked so hard over the past five years.”
“Something very beautiful happened today — I have no words,” admitted Deacon Campos.
Someone else who was momentarily without words was Deacon Muñoz Reyes.
“I just have great joy in my heart,” he finally said. “I feel God called me to the diaconate and He put something special in me to help people get closer to God; to show them through my words and actions, God’s love. Today I see the fruition of the whole Church — everyone helping each other grow in faith. I feel so blessed to be a part of the program and so proud our bishop started the program in Spanish.”
He then asked for prayers so through the grace of God he’d be able to help people.
Deacon Stan LeMieux, director of formation for the permanent diaconate, said he had focused on the bishop’s opening statement about it being a historic day for the diocese.
“It speaks to the Bishop’s commitment to the Hispanic community to fund this for five years,” he said. “On a personal level over the past few years these men have become brothers — not just Christian brothers, but brothers in the diaconate too. They are going to touch a lot of lives for a long time; they’re young men with young families.”
Deacon García García commented, “It’s a new beginning for me. Now I’m going to start service and give my best to them.”
Director of Hispanic Ministry Enid Roman de Jesús said with the help and permission of the bishop, “We saw a little seed planted and now it’s going to bear fruit. They are going to be a fantastic help for everyone,” she said. “Because these deacons are young, they can relate to young families better.”
Father Royce Gregerson, pastor of St. John the Evangelist, and Father Anthony Steinacker, formerly of the same parish, spoke about the three deacons from St. John the Evangelist.
“As pastor, I’m very excited about the three new deacons from our parish and with all the parish support. I’m pretty excited to see the fruits the Lord will produce in them,” Father Gregerson said.
“I feel as though they are my three sons. As priests we have no children of our own, but these three men I’m very close to. I’m very proud of them,” added Father Steinacker. “They and their families have sacrificed a great deal.”
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.