Eighteen men are set to be ordained as deacons on Jan. 7, 2023, and according to Director of Diaconate Formation Deacon Stan LeMieux, it’s the largest class since the 1980s.
Their four years of formation is winding down. Deacon LeMieux said the candidates gave up 24 Saturdays each year for classes. The classes were mostly taught by theology professors from the University of Notre Dame and included topics such as liturgical time management, the married deacon, evangelization and catechesis, and homiletics. They also attended workshops and retreats.
“Academically, it has been a tough program with 15 hours of homework a week, taught at the college level,” said Deacon LeMieux.
A few of the men talked about what the experience has been like for them and why they wanted to become a deacon.
Orlando Miranda, St. Joseph Parish, Fort Wayne, said, “It’s been in my heart for years but it’s about timing, and it happened beautifully how I said yes to the Lord.”
Miranda’s pastor first spoke to his wife about the program, so when his pastor asked him if he would like to join, Miranda was surprised to learn that his wife already knew about it.
James Summers, St. Pius, Granger, wasn’t thinking about the diaconate; he was considering becoming a lector. “For me, I was concerned about people who feel left out, who are treated as ‘other’ and I’d ask God ‘why does this happen?’ I sensed through prayer ‘because you know what it feels like, you’ll recognize when others are being treated that way and I want you to let them know they are loved.’”
That’s what drives him, and others suggested to him that he should consider joining the diaconate program. “So, I thought, ‘let me see what God wants.’”
Joseph Cochran, St. Paul of the Cross, Columbia City, said he also had someone approach him about joining the program. He had known about the diaconate program since the early 1980s because his father-in-law is a permanent deacon. Cochran had never thought about it, though he enjoyed watching his father-in-law. He added that since he’s been married, he and his wife and children have had a very full prayer life.
“It’s been a joy,” he said. “I believe the class itself has become a form of our prayer and it’s deepened every aspect.”
The diaconate was not on the mind of Philip Hayes, St. Pius, Granger, but a pilgrimage he and his wife took to Fatima in 2017 changed that. On that pilgrimage, he heard a calling from all the pilgrims, saying, “Are you willing to do more for the Church instead of trying to maximize the almighty dollar at work?”
When he got home, he turned in his one-year retirement notice and four months later, saw a notice in his church bulletin about the diaconate program. “Classes started the same week my retirement happened. That was the Holy Spirit working,” he said.
The men also talked about what they love about the Catholic Church. Summers said for him, it’s the tradition. “I do a lot of work in the community and work with people and pastors of different denominations and faiths, and I’ve not seen anyone else with that tradition. Some young Catholics don’t like the idea that the Mass is always the same but that’s really the most beautiful thing — no matter where you go it’s the same sacrifice.”
He went to the Holy Land and had the opportunity to serve at Mass twice there. “The consistency and all the traditions and rituals have so much meaning, and I haven’t seen that anywhere else.”
Miranda loves that the Church is universal. “The diversity — (it’s) for all people. You can spread God’s word in any language and meet people where they are. When interacting with people, you see Christ in them, and we are all called to serve the Church with our gifts.”
“I love that the Church teaches us about God,” Hayes said. He’s been a religious education instructor for 18 years. “I love teaching children about God, and I love passing the love of God along.”
Cochran loves the tradition too, and remembers his parents and grandparents practicing the Faith. “I love the face of our faith community today with kids participating in song, parents teaching (religious education) classes, all the things that go on in the parish around us.” He mentioned how the massive crowds at the Eucharistic Revival showed signs of solidarity.
The four deacon candidates also shared some of their experiences during formation, including what surprised them the most.
Miranda said, “How God works — how He transforms you — when you open your heart and stop resisting and let Him do the work. What He touches, He transforms. The people He calls, He’ll prepare.”
The first thing that surprised Cochran, although he admitted maybe it shouldn’t have, was “the complete support given to our spouses and the emphasis on marriage as our vocation.” The support shown to the wives has helped them feel more confident.
Secondly, he said he was “amazed at the clear friendships all 18 of us have made.” He also believes formation “strengthened marriages.”
As a seventh-generation Catholic, Summers was surprised by how little he really knew about what the Church teaches and was amazed by the connection between the sacraments and Church teaching, “especially the power of the Eucharist to feed us to go out and do the work we’re supposed to be doing and the amazing power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” He went on to say, “As deacons, we can help the laity realize we can go into the community and do little things in our neighborhoods. People are hurting, they don’t feel loved, don’t get support. Each one of us are given gifts from God in order to do that if we recognize it and try to apply it with God’s grace.”
Hayes was “pleasantly surprised and pleased with the involvement of our spouses in the program and how we support each other in this new vocation as deacons and deacon spouses.”
The men did admit there have been challenges as well. Getting used to being back in a classroom again was mentioned by all.
“There were some words in theology I never heard before. It took time to absorb the writing and reading,” Miranda said.
By admitting his weakness and allowing God to work through him, he received graces to weather the challenges. “The discipline of prayer and following the example of our Holy Mother’s humility and obedience helped me get through,” he said. “We were given a Litany of Humility and I’ve been praying that every day and that’s helped.”
The extensive reading and time management were some of the greatest challenges the men faced. “I have a degree in engineering, so a lot of math and no reading,” Hayes said with a laugh. “Theology and philosophy were at first a challenge, but then I enjoyed it and soaked it all in.”
As husband, father of eight, and business manager, finding time was difficult for Cochran at first, “but everything fell into place and I was waking naturally at 4 or 5 a.m. to do the reading.”
“I said to my wife that it’s been 100 years since I’ve been in school and she responded, ‘it’s literally been 50 years’,” Summers said. He admitted he also struggled with the genealogy and the Liturgy of the Hours, but his spiritual director encouraged him to give it time. “Now it’s naturally my morning prayer and a way to kick off the day.”
The deacon candidates expressed appreciation for the professors and for Deacon Stan LeMieux, acknowledging they all also gave a huge time commitment. “He’s been a good dad to us, a good example of how to be a deacon,” said Miranda. “He’s had good words of wisdom for us and has shown us such love.”
Asked what they are most looking forward to once they’re ordained, Summers responded, “Reading the Gospel. Serving at Mass every day. It just gets better every time, but I’m looking forward to just being able to proclaim the Gospel.”
While they don’t know yet where they will be assigned, Miranda said that he looked forward to “continuing to serve the people with the grace of God. I’m excited and humbled to see where God is going to take me and what He wants me to do to serve His people.”
Cochran and Hayes both agreed that serving the community is the most important part of being ordained a deacon.
Hayes stated, “In our lives, we spent 25 years in education and then work and family and providing for the family. All that time we’ve been blessed. Now I have the opportunity to give back to God for all the wonderful things He’s given to us.”
For now, Miranda said, “It feels beautiful being here with my brothers sitting next to me and hearing God’s will and following His will.”
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