By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published February 18, 2010
As fifteen men were ordained as new permanent deacons of the archdiocese Feb. 6, the archbishop encouraged them to be “ablaze” with the fire of the Gospel.
The 2010 class of candidates entered a church full of family, friends, about 100 of their brother deacons and 50 priests. The ordination Mass, celebrated at the Cathedral of Christ the King, marked the summit of years of prayer, practice and study. The day of celebration was also a day of continued prayer and focus on the servant role of the deacon.
“Deacons are special heralds of the Gospel … authorized by the Church to proclaim that mystery and joy,” said Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.
“Any herald must first of all have faith in the truth of what he proclaims,” he said. “Our candidates by their very presence should be saying to the Church that they believe in the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. … A herald who is not ablaze with the fire of his message will not be a very convincing emissary.”
The new deacons hope to be convincing emissaries to the faithful of the archdiocese and plan to do that through a variety of ways, bringing their experiences in life, marriage, work and service to their vocation.
The new deacons are Robert Brunton, Frank Devereux, Dayle Geroski, Bob Hauert, Bob Klein, Ed Krise, Ron Manning, Julio Martinez, John Paul McGuire, Philip Miles, Wayne Nacey, Francis Przybylek, Felix Rentas, John Wojcik and Gerald Zukauckas.
Professionally they are sales representatives, tax accountants, professors, engineers and members of the U.S. military. Some are Knights of Columbus while others serve in ministries like Life Teen and RCIA.
Deacon Dennis Dorner, director of the permanent diaconate, said the class had a special bond.
“They are very supportive of one another,” he said. “They also seem to have a clear understanding of their role as servant leader in the Church.”
“The deacon is to be an icon of ‘Christ the servant’ in his family, his workplace, school, community or wherever he finds himself,” said Deacon Steve Swope, the associate director of diaconate formation. “The men in the class of 2010 are now that living icon of Christ the servant and work in a wide variety of occupations, including supervising construction, running a survey company, a Ph.D. in ophthalmology, an attorney and even retirement.”
Deacon Przybylek said his journey began over arguments about the faith.
“(My brother) argued against the church, I was for the church. I was always on the losing side. I just need to be able to talk to my brother better about my faith,” he said.
“My calling was an answer to a prayer,” said the 58-year-old Massachusetts native.
Those intense conversations were in the mid-1980s. Move forward 20 years, and Przybylek found himself being asked by various people if he’d ever considered being a deacon.
“I told him he literally had rocks in his head,” he recalled telling his spiritual director.
But in 2004, Przybylek started his studies. It had been a long time since the civil engineer had been in a classroom, with daily homework, reading and research papers. But he said now he has a “burning to learn more and more.”
And prior to his ordination, Przybylek said he’s had the opportunity to minister to others. A colleague in his Atlanta engineering office had a question about annulments. He talked to him, telling him about the process and what it means.
He teaches a Bible study and reflection program at his parish, St. John Vianney, Lithia Springs. The class focuses on the upcoming Sunday’s readings to better prepare for Mass.
Przybylek joins his wife of 37 years, Georgiana, at a Bible study at her Lutheran church. It has broadened his understanding of other denominations, he said.
“I love talking about my faith. Anything that deals with the teachings of the church, I love,” he said.
During the homily, Archbishop Gregory highlighted the importance of preaching and how that directly relates to a deacon’s personal life.
“When you preach remember that your greatest homily will always be the integrity of your life,” he said. “Your preaching will always depend upon the witness of the way you live.”
Following his homily, Archbishop Gregory asked the candidates a series of questions about their readiness to perform the duties they would soon begin. The men confirmed that they would deepen their prayer life, proclaim the faith of the Church and conform their lives to that of Christ.
Each candidate approached the archbishop and promised obedience to him and his successors. The Archdiocesan Festival Choir and congregation sang the Litany of the Saints, asking for divine aid for the group as the men prostrated themselves before the altar.
The candidates again approached the archbishop for the laying on of hands. They knelt before him and bowed their heads as Archbishop Gregory closed his eyes and placed his hands on the candidates’ heads in silent prayer, conferring the office of deacon.
The candidates were then vested with the stole and dalmatic, assisted by a priest and deacon. Beautifully ornate vestments, signifying the completion of their transformation, covered the simple white albs they wore at the beginning of the Mass.
“Many were vested with their stoles by deacons who were close friends, and they received their dalmatics from their pastors,” said Deacon Swope. “This year, their wives were able to be with them during this special moment since the vesting occurred in the main aisle of the Cathedral and the wives were able to present the stole and dalmatic to the clergy that did the vesting.”
Each deacon received the Book of the Gospels from Archbishop Gregory, with the culminating words of the rite.
“Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach,” Archbishop Gregory said to each.
A standing-room-only crowd, support from family, friends and clergy made the event memorable. Deacon Dorner said he was particularly pleased by the number of clergy who came.
“Saturday was a beautiful liturgy. We were thrilled with the large number of priests in attendance, over 50, and deacons about 100. We actually had a seating problem with both priests and deacons; a good problem to have,” said Deacon Dorner.
“I would like to believe that this is some indication of how the diaconate formation program is being viewed by the clergy,” he said. “This particular class of men comes from all over the archdiocese and so the deacons and priests in attendance were representative of that. But the fact that so many attended is also an indicator that they hold the men being ordained in high regard.”
There are many reasons why they answered the call to the diaconate.
As a young man, Deacon Devereux fled from the church, turned off by church leaders who dictated by fiat. He explored new beliefs from atheism to agnosticism. Questions of “Who am I? Where am I going?” he asked as a young man turned to questions of “love and loneliness” as he grew into adulthood.
He crossed paths with Marist Father Lawrence Schmuhl in his 40s, and together they talked about God and life.
“It’s been a long and wonderful road since then,” said Deacon Devereux, who is 60. In fact, Father Schmuhl assisted the new deacon in putting on his vestments.
A Brooklyn native, he said he likes “playing with country skills like making hard cider, preserving smoked meats.” He has his own land surveying company. He and his wife, Marie, who is Methodist, have two children, a stepdaughter Michelle and a son, Patrick. He is a grandfather to two.
Deacon Devereux said he was “blindsided” by the invitation to serve as a deacon.
“I never had cause to doubt it. I doubt if I was worthy,” he said.
The training exposed him to unfamiliar traditions of the church, such as the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayers recited during the morning, daytime and evening.
“It’s a conversation with God. It taught me the discipline of conversing with God,” he said.
For Deacon Hauert, a parishioner at St. Stephen Church in Lilburn, an admiration for the diaconate had been present for a long time. He said there wasn’t a specific moment when he felt called to the diaconate, but rather it happened over a period of time.
During those months of prayer and discernment, Hauert was teaching adult education. His wife, Louise, noticed how well he was doing in that position and told him he should think about becoming a deacon. Little did she know that he had already begun the discernment process.
Confirmation came when he was riding in the car with a friend.
“We were riding along in the car and we were talking about something totally unrelated. All of a sudden (my friend) looks at me and says, ‘Have you ever thought about being a deacon?’”
“I was really trying to avoid answering the call … but the Lord was relentless,” he said.
He expressed how wonderful it was to have his family and friends present at the Mass, including his four children and four grandchildren. Deacon Hauert, a native of Berwyn, Ill., described the ordination Mass as surreal. He began to get nervous as the processional music began, but as he and his fellow candidates eventually began the rite of ordination, he felt a sense of peace come over him.
“I went into it not knowing what to expect in terms of how I would react to it all,” he said. “As the ordination proceeded, I got this marvelous sense of peace and a real joy.”
His wife felt a similar emotion watching her husband and the other men officially answer God’s call to the diaconate. For her, having their loved ones present was an important part of the day.
“It was a very wonderful and joyous day,” she said. “It was great to have everyone there and to see the emotions of the deacons and their families.”
“The first deacons were chosen to assist in the Church’s works of charity and so does the Church even today desire her deacons to continue that ministry of care for the poor, the downtrodden and the neglected,” said Archbishop Gregory. “A deacon must be a man who desires to serve those that the Lord has identified as the least of his sisters and brothers.”
Deacon Swope believes this class represents clearly what a deacon should be. Even before they were ordained, they had been pursuing this kind of service.
“As a class they have energetically embraced opportunities to support and serve those in most need, locally in our parishes and communities and in conjunction with the Missionaries of the Poor in Jamaica,” said Deacon Swope. “I am excited about their continued service to our archdiocese as men who have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Holy Orders.”
“May your preaching, your works of charity, your sacramental ministrations proclaim to the entire world that the mystery of God’s kingdom is in our midst and everyone—especially those who are often excluded from the good things in life—will have a pride of place in that kingdom because they have a special place within your hearts and diaconal service,” the archbishop told the class.
Andrew Nelson also contributed to this article.