A gift for the Church
Eleven deacons ordained to ministry of service
FORT WAYNE — “We give thanks to the Lord for the gift that he entrusts to these 11 men through the sacrament of Holy Orders. The call they have received is indeed a treasured gift, a gift for the Church in our diocese, a gift that will bear fruit for the exciting mission of the new evangelization here in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.”
Those words were spoken by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades at the Mass of Ordination of 11 men to the Sacred Order of the Diaconate. These 11, who were joined by their wives, family and friends at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on May 21, were the first new group of permanent deacons in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in the last 23 years. The newly-ordained were Robert Byrne, William Gallagher, Melvin Tardy, Jr., James Fuchs, David Elchert, Stanley LeMieux, James Fitzpatrick, John Hilger, Jerome Kohrman, James Kitchens and James Tighe.
The office of deacon in the Catholic Church may be described as one of service in the sacred liturgy and in the ministries of charity.
The deacon proclaims the Gospel during the Mass and also may be given the task of preaching. In addition, the deacon functions as an ordinary minister of Holy Communion. As clerics, deacons are required to recite the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours. Deacons, like priests and bishops, are ordinary ministers of the sacrament of Baptism, and can serve as the Church’s witness at the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony when done outside of Mass. Deacons also may bring Viaticum to the dying, and preside at funerals outside of Mass, as well as burial rites. They may lead various other liturgical services, such as Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and may bestow certain blessings. Deacons cannot celebrate Mass, anoint the sick, or hear confession and give absolution.
The ministry of charity involves service to the poor and marginalized, and pastoral work within the parish.
Bishop Rhoades, in his homily at the Mass of Ordination, said, “Often, in the early Church, the deacons assisted the poor. …. As deacons, you are called to have a special love and concern for the poor and needy. Your ministry of charity is not just an ‘added extra’ in your ministry — it is an essential part of your diaconal identity. … In your service as deacons, may you be ever conscious of your mission to practice charity, to serve the poor.”
Deacons teach in the name of the Church, and always with a close relationship to Sacred Scripture.
Bishop Rhoades said: “After you are ordained, I will present to you the Book of the Gospels and I will say to each one of you the following words: ‘Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach’ This will be your mission: to embrace and to share Christ’s Gospel. It will be important for you to reflect on the message of the Gospel frequently and prayerfully. To proclaim the Gospel worthily in the Church’s liturgy, you must first hear that Word in your own heart and bear witness to it in your daily lives, in word and in deed. To preach to God’s people is not only an honor, it is a real commitment to holiness of life. As St. Paul wrote to Timothy in our second reading today, deacons are to ‘hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.’ You are called to be servants of the liberating truth of the Gospel, leading God’s people to encounter Jesus Christ and to welcome Him into their lives.”
Bishop Rhoades emphasized their new responsibilities in the sacred liturgy by telling the deacons-elect, “Your service of the word and of charity is intimately linked to your service at the altar. … You are called to serve at the liturgy with reverence and devotion. It is an honor and a profound joy to be servants of the liturgy. The Body and Blood of our Lord is entrusted to you to be given to the faithful. Your devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, your love for the most Holy Eucharist, can be a powerful witness to those whom you serve. And, of course, it is the Eucharist that will sustain and nourish you in your diaconal ministry.”
And Bishop Rhoades addressed the wives of the deacons-elect in the homily. “What joy must be in your hearts today,” he said. “You have given your consent to your husbands’ request for ordination. The Church thanks you for your love and support of your husbands’ diaconal vocation. The diaconal vocation of your husbands will be a special grace for your Marriage and family life. You and your husbands are called to grow in mutual and sacrificial love, witnessing to the sanctity of marriage and the family, a witness so very much needed in our culture today. Your example can be a great encouragement to other married couples. May you continue to help one another to grow in holiness!”
Following the Mass of Ordination, a few of the newly ordained deacons spoke with Today’s Catholic.
Deacon Stan LeMieux, from St. Patrick, Ligonier, said, “It was the holiest day of my life.” His counterpart, Deacon Robert Byrne from St. Anthony, South Bend, agreed adding, “It’s overwhelming to be able to be called by God to serve his people. When you go through this experience, you know it’s from God.”
Sacred Heart, Notre Dame parishioner Deacon William Gallagher recalled that preparation for this day was intense, but the day always seemed “out there.” “Now it’s here,” he said, “The 11 of us have become family. The men are as close as my brother.” When asked what he expects for the future he said simply, “The sun will come up tomorrow and I’ll serve God the best I can.”
Deacon Jerome Kohrman, parishioner of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Fort Wayne, said of the day, “It was a grace-filled day. None of us feel worthy but we’re open to the Lord’s call. I remember that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
Melvin Tardy from South Bend’s St. Augustine Parish agreed and said the Rite of Ordination was “spiritually uplifting.” He believes that “everything is based on faith, so we’ll see where the Spirit leads me.”
And Deacon John Hilger of Queen of Angels in Fort Wayne summed it up for all the newly ordained deacons when he said of the ordination, “It’s as close to heaven as you can get!”
Mary Szymczak, the director of the Permanent Diaconate office for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, told Today’s Catholic, “These guys have tremendous faith. They are true servants of the Church. And they were that before they got into the (diaconate) program.”
She said, “I’ve watched them grow spiritually. I’ve watched their faith grow. I watched their marriages grow and change. It’s been an awesome experience.”
Szymczak said, “They’re going to be an inspiration to the people of this diocese. And we couldn’t have picked a better group to restart the diaconate program.”
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