May 18, 2016 // Local

Seminarians to be ordained to diaconate

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades will celebrate the Mass of Ordination of Dennis Di Benedetto and Eric Burgener at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 21, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Fort Wayne. 

Eric Burgener

It was a normal week during the schedule of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School and the students filed into the church for Mass. Looking out at the rows of students kneeling during the consecration, one would notice that it was completely silent for all present. All, except for one sixth grade boy who heard a distinct voice inside his heart that said, “Be my priest.” That boy was Eric Burgener.

For him, the voice wasn’t accompanied loudly by an opening up of the heavens or angels singing. “It was quiet and felt right, and immediately in my heart, I said yes,” Burgener remembers. He went up for communion and upon coming back to the pew found that tears of joy filled his eyes as he knelt down to pray. “At that age, being cool was everything, so I quickly wiped the tears away from my eyes, and afterwards, I quickly pushed the thought of joining the priesthood out of my mind.”

Burgener graduated from Bishop Dwenger and went off to Indiana University in Bloomington. It was during that time when Burgener noticed that his life felt like there was something missing. “I really did live the life that the world offers in college and it left me totally empty — I knew that there was something wrong.” Burgener recalls, “There were things happening in my life and I just didn’t know what to do.”

A turnkey moment in coming back to his vocation was a day when Burgener went into St. Paul’s Church in Bloomington. He was sitting in front of the tabernacle praying about all the things going on in his life when he again, distinctly felt that nudge, ‘be my priest.’ “I remember that my response was, ‘but God, don’t you see all that is wrong with me and what I’m doing with my life?’” Burgener smiled, “But God’s response to me was, ‘yes, but it will be okay, I want you to be my priest.’”

From that time, Burgener began participating in the sacraments regularly and seeking out spiritual direction with the Dominican priests who ran the parish in Bloomington. Graduating with a degree in geography and a minor in history, Burgener enrolled into the seminary at Mount St. Mary’s and says that one of the best surprises that he has learned in seminary is how real friendships can be when they are ordered towards God. “It’s hard to be vulnerable to other people because in the world, most of the time being vulnerable means getting burned. But here, it’s the opposite, because we enter into that suffering with each other.”

Despite both being places of higher education, Burgener reflected on how different his life is now at seminary than in college. “It’s different than college, but in a positive way. In college, I would consider myself happy, but it was a rollercoaster happy that came and went depending on the activities that I was involved in, or who I was hanging out with. But in seminary, I have found a huge devotion to spending time in adoration, which is for me a perpetual happiness. It is a wholeness that doesn’t leave you; it’s sustaining and I am more fulfilled than I ever have been in my life.”

Burgener’s road to discerning a vocation to the priesthood has been anything but simple, but, using an analogy, he is grateful for the challenges that he has had to face in the process. “This life we have is like a mountain. We are supposed to keeping going up, but instead of walking up the path, I started going downward,” Burgener explained. “And like the momentum that happens when you start quickly down a path on a mountain side, the momentum can carry you down so fast that you can fall and hurt yourself.” He continued the analogy, “But God puts help for us along our journey up the mountain: Spiritual direction can help keep you on the right path, Confession helps heal that twisted ankle and the Eucharist is an adrenaline shot straight to the heart. The beauty of the work of a priest is that while he is walking up the mountain, he can help people along the way, truly walking with people during the hard times in their life. If you’ve ever hiked before, you know the path is always rough and difficult, but as soon as you get to the top, you forget about how hard it was to get there because the view is so incredible. That’s heaven, and as a priest, I want to help as many people get there as possible.”

Burgener will be ordained a deacon on Saturday, May 21st at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at 11 a.m.

Dennis Di Benedetto 

Sometimes the route of discernment to the priesthood isn’t a four-lane highway, but rather a meandering rural road. Such was the experience of Dennis Di Benedetto.

Born to Michael and Nancy Di Benedetto, Dennis and his older sister, Anne-Marie, grew up in Medford, N.J., in a family of practicing Catholics. Their mother, a former Baptist, had converted to Catholicism, and read the Bible to her family. His father’s mother attended daily Mass and practiced a prayerful devotion to St. Jude.

Di Benedetto began to consider a vocation to religious life during high school, participating in both his parish and the diocesan youth group. He was still thinking along those lines upon entering Mount St. Mary University in 2002. After graduating in 2006 with a degree in philosophy, he became a postulant with Mother Angelica’s Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Way in Birmingham, Ala.

“There, I received vey good formation — I feel as though I really learned how to pray, and I developed a love for the Eucharist,” he said. After two years, however, he declined to profess temporary vows within the community. He moved back home with a feeling of disconnectedness.

Soon afterward, Di Benedetto met the acquaintance of Fr. David Mary Engo, who became his spiritual director.

“He got me back on track and praying the liturgy of the Hours again. With his help I resumed discerning, and entered the Oratory of St. Phillip Neri in Pittsburgh in 2010.”

As an Oratory novice, Di Benedetto returned to Mount St. Mary’s — this time to study at the seminary. At the end of three years his studies were complete; but he once again discerned out of making a permanent commitment to his religious community.

“In my prayer life at seminary I felt God calling me to the diocesan priesthood. That had never really been my focus before,” he recalled. Additionally, a number of acquaintances and friends had moved to the Midwest and become active in leadership, ministry and religious life in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. In 2012, he traveled to visit of one them.

“From my first visit to this diocese, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and of being at home. During the whole drive back I couldn’t shake that thought. It became the first thing I thought of in the morning and the last thing I thought of before going to bed.”

In 2013, shortly after approaching Director of Vocations Monsignor Bernard Galic to begin the process, Bishop Rhoades accepted Di Benedetto as a seminarian of the diocese. He has continued his studies and served at the parish of St. Vincent de Paul in Fort Wayne for the last three years.”I’m really grateful to
Bishop Rhoades for accepting me, for agreeing to have a seminarian,” he said.

He’s also conscious of being ordained to the transitional diaconate during the Year of Mercy.

“I’m very aware of my unworthiness to be ordained. I keep falling back on that mercy. I’m so glad I don’t have to dwell on whether I’m worthy, or whether I’m qualified. I know God will lead, and He will make me qualified.”

Di Benedetto ministers for the first time as a deacon at the 11 a.m. Mass at St. Vincent de Paul on Sunday, May 22. A reception in his honor will follow in the church’s gathering space. He will remain in Fort Wayne for the summer and attend World Youth Day with the diocese before returning east for his final year of seminary.

“I’m not nervous now, but I think I will be one or two days before. I hope the people of the diocese will pray for me. I’m so thankful for the welcome I’ve received in Indiana … It’s that Hoosier hospitality. I’ve always felt comfortable here.”

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