October 8, 2017

An important step for six men preparing to become permanent deacons

Story and photos by John Thornton

The diaconate class of 2019 takes an important step in the formation process.

SPRINGFIELD –  Vowing to serve Christ and his church, six men preparing to become permanent deacons reached another milestone in their four-year formation process.

Surrounded by family and friends, they gathered at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield, Saturday, Oct. 7 for  the Rite of Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders. Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski was the principal celebrant for this special 11 a.m. Mass. The is the second major step in the formation process for the class of 2019.

The candidates are Angel Delgado, Michael Forrest, Andrew Hogan, Oswaldo Mendez, John Miller, and Robert O’Connor. The four-year diaconate formation program requires men to attend college courses at Our Lady of the Elms College in Chicopee two nights a week, while holding down full-time jobs and caring for their families.

Candidate Robert O’Connor explained to iObserve the long road that led the men to this point.

“The formation program is four years of classes,” said O’Connor. “Within the formation there’s a lot of education, Scriptures and theology and a whole lot of other things, but mainly it’s a discernment, a process of looking in and removing those things that get in the way of my response to God.”

When it was time for the Rite of Admission, the six candidates gathered in front of the altar. After Bishop Rozanski called their names he said, “The church accepts your resolve with joy. May God, who has begun the good work in you, bring it to fulfillment.” Bishop Rozanski then personally congratulated each of the men.

Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski celebrates a special Mass, called the Rite of Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders, Saturday, Oct. 7 at St. Michael’s Cathedral.

O’Connor told iObserve what first drew him to the vocation of deacon.       

“It was an experience of God,” explained O’Connor. “An experience of something that I wasn’t able to put into the normal idea of what you would experience with your senses. It was a sense of something bigger and something greater.”

John Miller, who served as the principal at the former Cathedral High School in Springfield, is also a member of the 2019 class.

“Well, it’s a first step in one sense,” said Miller. “It’s a formal step forward, moving toward the ordination of deacon. In another sense, it’s a culmination of years of study, but more than that a number of years of reflection and decision-making as to whether or not I want to go in this direction.”

The word deacon means “servant.” In the early Catholic Church, a deacon was considered a clerical position. Later on, the position of deacon became less prominent and the only men ordained as deacons were seminarians. Today there are transitional deacons, who are men preparing to become priests, and permanent deacons, who can be married. Single men, who make a commitment to celibacy, can also be ordained as permanent deacons.

Miller explained what the current role of the permanent deacon is in today’s church.

“In the early church the role of deacon was very evident and then over the years it slipped into being just a step towards priesthood. But it was brought back with two main objectives in mind. One was to assist the priest at liturgy and the other was to serve the church and serve the community by helping people realize the Good News in their lives,” said Miller.

Deacons assist a priest during Mass. They can proclaim the Gospel and preach, and, like a priest, they are also ordinary ministers of the sacrament of baptism.

The candidates still have a long road ahead of them, which includes two more years of training and volunteer work in parishes, before they can be ordained as deacons.

Bishop Joseph F. Maguire ordained the first permanent deacons in the Diocese of Springfield on Jan. 15, 1983.

 A video version of this story will be featured on an upcoming edition of the Springfield Diocese’s weekly newsmagazine, “Real to Reel,” which airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS