By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published February 21, 2008
Twenty robes and neatly folded stoles rested on the marble communion rail. The buzz of chatter and laughter signaled a growing crowd in Christ the King Cathedral.
One level below, the deacons-in-waiting who would soon wear the vestments of Catholic clergymen crowded into a room and passed the time keeping butterflies at bay by snacking on vegetables and dip and a mix of nuts and chocolate.
A friendly face in the form of Father Victor Galier appeared at 6:47 p.m.
“Like lambs to the slaughter,” joked Father Galier, the men’s teacher of two years, spiritual counselor and retreat leader. He quickly moved from man to man, hugging each. “I’m happy for you guys,” he said. He wrote and took pictures of the ordination for his blog, PadreVic.
Minutes later, the powerful pipe organ in the cathedral filled the mother church of the Atlanta Archdiocese and the 20 men ended their five years of studies and prayer to become the newest ministers of charity, as permanent deacons are called.
“He’s in love with the church, absolutely in love with the church. I’m sharing my husband with the church. It’s really cool. I’m very excited for him,” said Fran Thibodeau, whose husband, Richard, was among the new permanent deacons.
Permanent deacons are a growing segment of clergy in the Atlanta Archdiocese and are soon to outnumber priests. The number of permanent deacons has grown 30 percent in the last six years.
The Feb. 8 Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory with Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue and two dozen priests as concelebrants and scores of deacons assisting and attending.
During the ordination, each man promised obedience and respect to the archbishop and his successors. All of them lay prostrate in the aisle of the church as the worshippers prayed for blessings on the men. Finally, the archbishop handed to each man the Gospels with the mandate: “Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.”
A wave of thunderous applause started with Archbishop Gregory and washed over the new deacons as the ritual ended.
Keep Your Priorities
Archbishop Gregory reminded the deacons that after the pomp of the ceremony ended, they must find people living on the margins of society.
“As deacons, you must devote yourselves to the care of the poor, the lonely, the disenfranchised, and the forgotten. These people can be found in every community. They are members of every race. As deacons you must make it your highest calling always to seek them out, to welcome them to the church, to offer them the same compassionate care that they would find from Christ Jesus himself,” he said.
The diaconate is “an obligation to work for charity and justice in the tradition of the Catholic Church,” he said.
He offered some advice: Never be harsh or short. Treat Catholics with the respect they deserve. Offer the Catholic faith undiluted. Be reverent at baptisms, weddings and funerals. Work cooperatively with pastors. Develop a deep prayer life.
However, the archbishop told them their first priority is their families, the “noble women” who are their wives, and their work outside of the church.
Their new service as deacons will be more successful only if they keep those priorities in order, he said.
Deacon Loris Sinanian, director of formation for the diaconate, said the men represent four ethnic groups “and Alabama,” a joke which brought the house down. They are to serve in 17 parishes.
More of the deacons’ wives participated in the program than ever with nine earning a designation as a master catechist, he said. The men grew into a community.
“They struggled with the illness of their brothers in formation, the loss of others, and yet became a cohesive team,” said Deacon Sinanian. “They will be missed, and may their formation be an asset to their parishes.”
A deacon is ordained by the archbishop to minister in the Catholic Church. A deacon serves by proclaiming Scripture, preaching, and performing charity for others. Deacons also baptize, assist at marriages, preside at funerals and burial rites and lead Communion and prayer services.
The program prepares men with academic, spiritual and pastoral experiences. Men are either single or married. If single, they take a vow of celibacy. Most deacons hold full-time jobs in addition to serving the church in ministry. Some become deacons after retiring from the work force.
The new deacons’ age runs from 46 to 66. All are married. They work in a variety of professions, from the IT world and the steel fabrication business to court translator and the global travel industry.
The new deacons are: Antonius P. Anugerah, Kenneth P. Bishop, Terry S. Blind, Jose G. Campos, Paul L. Doppel, Bobby A. Jennings, Gerard G. Kazin, Arthur Lerma, Dale F. Lister, Thomas J. Metzger, Edward M. Patterson, Gregory L. Pecore, John R. Peterson, Stephen P. Ponichtera, John D. Puetz, Edward D. Rademacher, Thomas J. Ryan, David C. Sandlin, Steve Swope and Richard R. Thibodeau.
Fran Thibodeau, 50, said the experience has been a boon for her and her husband, deepening the faith of the couple of 31 years.
“There’s been a lot of spiritual growth. It’s been very enriching spiritually to both of us,” she said.
Her husband’s ordination completes a long process that started as a seed planted long ago, she said.
Despite the doubts of her 54-year-old husband, the idea “kept resurfacing from other directions” so he finally pursued the calling when the retired couple moved to Gainesville, she said. He will serve at St. Michael Church.
“He was not a very good practicing Catholic. He’s come a long way,” Thibodeau said.
From “Extravagant Lifestyle” To Serving The Homebound
Barbara Metzger, 55, celebrated the occasion with a pew full of friends and family.
“It’s 100 times better then we dreaded. I think we were more apprehensive. We had no idea it’d be this educational, this spiritual,” she said about the experience that her husband, Tom, went through.
“It really taught him to be more gentle, more loving,” she said.
Deacon Tom Metzger had what he called a “reconversion” to his Catholic roots 15 years ago that propelled him into church ministries, like leading the community in song as a cantor.
It wasn’t always so. Deacon Metzger, a native of Ohio, said he lived an “extravagant lifestyle,” a period of his life that he isn’t proud of.
But people grow and change. Deacon Metzger, who is 56, is to preach to his home parish of St. Augustine Church, Covington.
Deacon Metzger is a father of two and grandfather of four. He is also a business entrepreneur who started a steel fabrication manufacturing business in 1994 that employs 23 people.
As he volunteered for ministries at his parish, one stuck out. It was taking Communion to people at home.
“We are all called to emulate Christ. I find that was one ministry where people were starved for Christ. I never dreamed I would ever do something like that,” Deacon Metzger said.
The idea of ordination always seems so far off when you are in studies, but it goes by in a blur, he said.
“It’s going to take me about a month to understand what happened,” he said.
“What Is A Deacon?”
Deacon Antonius Anugerah has been assigned to serve the Indonesian community at Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Atlanta.
Deacon Anugerah, who is originally from Surabaya, Indonesia, came to the United States in 1982. After spending a few weeks visiting his brother in northern California, he settled here.
Active as a parishioner at St. Thomas More Church, Decatur, the 47-year-old was instrumental in finding a home for the Indonesian Catholic community. After attempts to establish an Indonesian Mass at St. Thomas More and Immaculate Heart of Mary, Atlanta, the Indonesian community celebrated in 2000 as Our Lady of the Assumption Parish became the home of an Indonesian Mass.
Deacon Anugerah became more involved with the parish and the priests took notice. One day, as he was arriving for Mass, pastor Father Jim Duffy asked to speak with him following the liturgy. He was admittedly a little nervous, and thought arriving at Mass a few minutes late might have gotten him in trouble. But talking with Father Duffy, he was surprised when he was asked to consider the diaconate.
“What is a deacon?” he quizzed the priest.
Deacon Anugerah became more interested in the idea as he learned how he could serve the community. He prayed with his wife, Yesica, and they decided that he should apply. He was not accepted his first year. He persisted and was chosen the following year.
He described his years of formation as a positive experience.
“We grew a lot during that time,” he said.
It was a little difficult for Deacon Anugerah since English was his second language, but his classmates were always willing to lend a hand, he said.
“I was lucky that my classmates were so helpful,” he said.
Deacon Anugerah looks forward to serving the Atlanta Indonesian community. And he will use what he learned in the formation program to help him along the way.
“I wish everyone could go through the formation program, if they become a deacon or not,” said Deacon Anugerah with a giggle.
“Something Never Thought Of”
If anyone asked Deacon Ken Bishop a few years ago where he expected to be in the future, serving as a deacon certainly would not have been the answer. According to Deacon Bishop, the diaconate “was something that I never thought of.”
While he had been very involved with his parish of St. Brendan in Cumming, the diaconate did not seem like a natural path for the 60-year-old. The Pittsburgh native, who grew up in southern California, had been retired for eight years after working for UPS as a division manager for 25 years. He was enjoying building, from scratch, a Hatz 1920s biplane with a two-seat open cockpit and playing with his five grandchildren.
However, it seems that God had other plans. After Mass one Monday, his pastor asked him if he would ever consider applying for the diaconate. Deacon Bishop wasn’t even sure the priest was speaking to him. He could not think of specific reasons why he should consider the diaconate, but he also could not think of any reasons why he shouldn’t. The next day he applied for the diaconate formation program.
He was one of two dozen chosen from 80 men applying for the program in his class. He describes the applicants as “men from all walks of life” that wanted to pursue a unique way of serving the church.
“The more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t know,” said Deacon Bishop about the diaconate.
Looking back on the years of his formation, he appreciates many aspects of his experience. He recalls how, even though all of the men were taking the same classes, they were all growing in a different way.
“It was not a ‘cookie-cutter’ program,” he said. “The classes were all the same, but the outcome was different.”
Despite their differences, the men involved in the formation program become one family, Deacon Bishop said. But no matter how close you become, or how comfortable you feel, there is always room for doubt.
After the ordination, Deacon Bishop recalled still being nervous about whether he was doing the right thing or not.
“But when he (the archbishop) placed his hands on me, there was a change,” he said. “I feel like I am a different person today than I was on Friday.”
Deacon Bishop has been assigned to Sacred Heart Church in Griffin, where he now lives and where he will serve alongside the pastor, Father Dennis Juan.
High School Sweethearts Become Master Catechist, Deacon
JoAnn Rademacher called Ed, her high-school sweetheart and husband of 36 years, “kind, gentle, compassionate, understanding.”
Rademacher said the idea of her husband as a deacon took some time to get used to.
“I was surprised, but I felt he was serious. He didn’t tell me right away. He prayed about it,” she said. She was one of the wives who is now certified as a master catechist.
“I wanted to be able to grow together in the process. I didn’t want to be left behind,” she said.
The couple also belong to the secular Franciscan order, a part of the Franciscan family that is open to lay members of the church.
Deacon Rademacher said the spirituality matches nicely his service as a deacon.
“It causes us to stop and think about what’s important,” he said.
In the same way, taking the steps to become a deacon caused him to think about what makes life sweet.
“You get caught up in the everyday chaos, but then you separate out what is more important in life. Some of the chaos you can put aside,” he said.
Looking ahead, Deacon Rademacher, 60, said he’ll join two other deacons at St. Monica Church, Duluth, where he expects to help out with adult education.
“Our journey is starting over again,” he said about his classmates.
Stephen O’Kane also contributed to this article.