By SUZANNE HAUGH, Special To The Bulletin | Published September 11, 2008
For Deacon Loris Sinanian, “a good parent gives his children roots and then gives them wings to fly.”
A father to “the band of brothers” whose vocations to the diaconate he has nurtured over more than a decade, Deacon Sinanian recalled “the wonderful journey” he has had as formation director for the archdiocesan diaconate program, after he retired in June.
His departure was capped off with an emotionally charged celebration.
“For his farewell party there wasn’t a dry eye,” said Deacon Dick Conti, who entered the program in 1996, a year after Deacon Sinanian became formation director. “All the men in the formation program were there, plus 50 to 60 deacons who were ordained under his watch.”
“Loris is a wonderful man with the patience of Job,” Deacon Conti added. “He was a wonderful task master and an inspiration to all of us.”
Jim Tramonte, who is scheduled to be ordained a deacon in 2009, said the analogy of Deacon Sinanian as a parent is “a good one.”
He often had to shift his focus from rules, guidelines and program fundamentals to offering encouragement, Tramonte said.
“You need that parental love, not just the parental discipline. … He challenged us, always calling us to be more, to be better.”
In formation, Tramonte added, the men in a diaconate class aspire to become “the band of brothers.”
This task has inherent challenges, Deacon Sinanian said.
When they enter the five-year formation program, “they really have nothing in common except their desire to serve the church,” he said.
“They work hard over the years. They begin with 15 to 20 men in their class, none know each other, their personalities are different, but all of a sudden they work together, learn together, pray together, look out for each other. The formation is not just as an individual but as a class.”
“It’s pretty exciting to see that happening,” he said.
This relationship is nurtured by academic demands that require candidates to attend classes every other Saturday for up to 10 hours a day and by a summer mission trip the class takes to Jamaica to help the Missionaries of the Poor.
“Before that I couldn’t imagine myself working with people who’ve been in bed all night and then needed help getting into a shower, eating, finding clothes and dressing themselves,” Tramonte said. “It made me stretch in ways I didn’t have the opportunity to before.”
The mission is a “great experience” for the candidates, Deacon Sinanian said. “When we go, we are absolutely servants to the Missionaries of the Poor and we only do what they ask us to do. We learn to be 100 percent servants. Everybody comes back saying it is life-changing.”
Adding the mission trip is one of many changes to the diaconate program shaped during Deacon Sinanian’s tenure. Currently there are more than 75 men in the process of studying. About half of the 200-plus deacons in the archdiocese were ordained while he directed formation.
It has evolved from three years to five years to allow more time for coursework and practicums, according to Deacon Dennis Dorner, director of the office of the diaconate.
He characterized his own formation under Deacon Sinanian as “a good experience.”
“It was challenging, but that’s what formation is supposed to be. Loris ran it from start to finish and did an incredible job. … He wore all the hats necessary to have formation in place.”
To some, Deacon Sinanian may have come across as “the tough guy who would determine if you’d go all the way through,” Deacon Dorner said, but as they became closer to him men in formation found him to be a “loving, caring guy … with a genuine concern for them.”
Continuing the analogy of a parent, Deacon Dorner said, “At times he would have to prune those roots. He wasn’t afraid to do that. He did look at that as a father would.”
The program is undergoing further changes to comply with the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and will more closely parallel preparation for the priesthood, according to Deacon Dorner.
A collaborative board was formed to share in the program’s responsibilities, “which means there’s more people doing the heavy lifting,” Deacon Dorner said.
One area of the program he said would be expanding “dramatically” is the evaluation process.
“So much of the burden (Deacon Sinanian) took upon himself,” Deacon Dorner added. “He has had to wear two hats—to be compassionate helping everyone get through everything and on the other hand he’s had to be the policeman when something wasn’t working or when someone had to pull out and leave.”
Wives are welcomed to journey closely with their husbands during the formation process. Deacon Sinanian’s wife, Peggy, once the pro-life director for the Atlanta Archdiocese, has had the opportunity to be a “keen observer” and “prayer warrior” for the program.
“I tell you that his job as formation director was considered a part-time position, but he gave 150 percent of himself. There was nothing too small for him to do, whether it was getting there to open up a building or seeing the facility himself to make sure the conditions were comfortable for the men. He was involved with each person, each candidate. Sometimes a lot of personal problems would come up and he was there for them doing what he could to assuage the situation. Maybe it was that someone was looking for a job or there was a situation with their children, whatever. He worked arm and arm with them through their trials.”
Deacon Sinanian endured his own personal trials including his wife’s illness.
“He was right there at the ready nursing me and attending to every detail of my care,” Peggy said. “I’m not joking or exaggerating when I say that I wouldn’t be among the living—I was that critical—if it weren’t for him.”
While managing his role as formation director he stayed attuned to his marriage as well.
While at times over the years there would be some frustration or regrets over not being able to share every event together as her husband nurtured those becoming “men of God,” she was able to share many memorable moments.
“It’s a glorious journey they went through and hopefully I can say we (as husband and wife) went through together.”
She and her husband were “on cloud nine” after the farewell party.
“We kind of floated out of there,” she said with a laugh. “Now we’re open to wherever God leads us.”
Deacon Sinanian was presented a statue of St. Stephen, the patron saint of deacons, to be placed at the St. Stephen’s Center, which houses the diaconate program, and a DVD with testimonies by many of the deacons and candidates entitled “A Wonderful Journey.”
“What they called (the DVD) characterized my days involved with formation,” Deacon Sinanian said.
His plans include writing a book or two about the diaconate and participating in the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. He will also continue serving as a deacon at his parish, St. Anthony in Blue Ridge, and has enjoyed spending more time with Peggy, who serves as the parish director of religious education.
“It’s been wonderful working with my wife, to know more about my faith, more about love.”
To show for his efforts, God has graced him with those who may have started as sons but have grown to be brothers.