Archdiocese Local Religious life

Day of history, day of grace

Archdiocese ordains its first class of permanent deacons

by Joe Bollig

LEAWOOD — It was history in the making, and everyone here at St. Michael the Archangel Parish on April 9 knew it.

The occasion of ordaining 17 men to the diaconate was memorable enough, but the fact that these men were the first class of permanent deacons in archdiocesan history made it doubly so.

In nearly all aspects, these ordinations were very much like the ordinations of seminarians to the transitional diaconate, part of their journey to the priesthood. The 17 men pledged their fidelity and loyalty, and were ordained by the ancient rite of the laying on of hands by their ordinary, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.

These ordinations were different, however, and not only because the candidates’ wives and children were present. These deacons are part of an ancient order of clerics founded by the apostles, but only revived in the 20th century.

These deacons are not bound for the priesthood, but rather will exercise the ministry appropriate to their office. They live lives similar to other laypeople — with spouses, children and jobs. This being the case, deacons can be misunderstood.

“As with anything that is new or, in this case, an ordained ministry that had essentially disappeared,” said Archbishop Naumann in his homily, “there have been challenges and misunderstandings with the restoration of the diaconate in the church.”

“One of these confusions is exemplified by the mistaken term ‘lay deacons,’” he continued. “I want to officially banish this term from the archdiocesan lexicon. There is no such thing as a lay deacon.”

The process began with 25 candidates meeting for the first time in late 2005 and having their first class in early 2006. It was a time of learning, discernment and spiritual growth — for not only the men, but for their families as well.

“My family has really embraced it,” said Deacon John Weist, a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish.

“When my wife Zena and I first sat down with our pastor, Father Bill Porter, I think she said ‘yes’ before I did,” he continued. “When [Father Porter] mentioned the possibility of the permanent diaconate, something inside her compelled her to say, ‘Yes, this sounds like a great ministry for John.’”

The Weists’ daughter Aviana was only two weeks old when John began his discernment and studies.

“She has grown up as I’ve grown through the formation program,” he said. “She’s been my little measuring stick. It was kind of a wonderful parallel.”

For some of the deacons, the process has actually been longer than five years.

“For myself, it has actually been a 25-year process, because I was originally approached about becoming a deacon when I lived in Iowa in 1986,” said Deacon Michael Hill, a member of St. Paul Parish in Olathe.

“Because we did not have the diaconate when I moved back here [in the archdiocese], I had to wait for this process to come through,” he continued. “So today has been the climax of 25 years of God slowly working his way through my life, forming me so I’m ready to take on the responsibilities of deacon.”

In his homily, Archbishop Naumann talked about the duties and ministries of the deacon.

“Part of the impetus for the reestablishment of the permanent diaconate . . . was to create a cadre of new clergy who could be married and would spend a majority of their life fulfilling their family responsibilities, including their professional and work commitments,” said the archbishop.

The deacons are called to live lives of heroic witness to Christian marriage, said the archbishop, never to distract or detract from the deacon’s obligations as a husband and father as they fulfill their diaconal ministries.

Deacons have a unique role to play in the new evangelization of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, said the archbishop. Because of their role in society, the deacons are in a unique position to bring the truth and beauty of the Gospel to every part of society and culture.

Deacons also have an essential role in ministering to the poor and vulnerable, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.

They also have a sacramental ministry in assisting at Mass, proclaiming the Gospel and preaching, baptizing, preparing couples for marriage and presiding at marriages, presiding at funerals and comforting those who mourn.

The deacons do not yet know what their assignments will be, but will receive them in the summer at the same time priests receive their assignments. In the meantime, they are free to serve at their home parishes and will wear gray clerical shirts with the Roman collar. Deacons do not receive financial compensation, unless they hold a position that would normally be compensated.

“I have no preferences at all [for an assignment],” said Deacon Hill. “I’ve left that up to God. I said, ‘You know my talents and abilities.’ I’ve expressed [them] to the committee that will make the decisions, and I’m totally open.”

“I’m at St. Paul right now,” he continued. “If it’s God’s will I stay there, that’s wonderful. If it’s God’s will I go somewhere else, then it’s God’s will, and someday I may go back [to St. Paul].”

In his homily, Archbishop Naumann also thanked all who made the day possible, including the wives and families, Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher, and Msgr. Gary Applegate, who created and led the archdiocesan permanent diaconate program according to the norms established by Vatican congregations and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The deacons

Deacon Guy Berry

Deacon Todd Brower

Deacon Porfidio Ray Delgado

Deacon David Gaumer

Deacon Keith Geary

Deacon Michael Hill

Deacon Stuart Holland

Deacon George Karnaze

Deacon James Lavin

Deacon Thomas Mulvenon

Deacon Dana Nearmyer

Deacon Daniel Ondracek

Deacon Don Poole

Deacon Michael Schreck

Deacon Christopher Seago

Deacon Mark Stukel

Deacon John Weist

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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