Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo By Thomas Spink/Archdiocese of Atlanta
Tri Nguyen, foreground left, and Mark Starr, foreground right, walk from the rectory followed by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, background left, and Auxiliary Bishop Luis Zarama over to the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, for the May 28 Rite of Ordination to the Order of Diaconate.


Stepping Out In Faith: Two Ordained Deacons

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published June 9, 2011

Nearly 20 members of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Church surrounded Rev. Mr. Mark Starr, heads bowed in prayer. Ordained to the diaconate for less than an hour, the former parishioner at the Douglasville parish offered a prayer for the group of friends, from white-haired senior citizens to gangly teens.

“He has so many special gifts. He’s been so open to the Spirit,” said Theresa Butorac, the director of religious education at the parish. “His prayer life is amazing,” said Butorac, who worked with the seminarian when he was a volunteer teacher and co-coordinator for the parish Eucharistic Congress efforts.

Rev. Mr. Starr and Rev. Mr. Tri Nguyen were ordained Saturday, May 28, at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory. They will serve as “servant ministers” for a year before ordination to the priesthood.

In the hallway of the Cathedral parish center, several members of the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Society, in white shirts and red scarves, hammed it up for the cameras, making Rev. Mr. Nguyen smile.

Transitional deaconate candidate Mark Starr, background left, greets Archbishop Wilton Gregory (back to camera) as Bishop Luis Zarama, background right, looks on inside the Cathedral of Christ the King rectory, May 28. Photo By Thomas Spink/Archdiocese of Atlanta

“He’s very creative, a good leader. He’s a people guy,” said Quoc Chu, a member of Our Lady of Vietnam Church in Riverdale.

The new deacon is very popular with teens at the parish. The young people feel that the deacon takes them seriously, said Chu. “He sits and listens and then he gives his opinion,” he said. But it’ll be a new relationship for both the young people and the new deacon.

“I also feel a bit nervous because from now on, I have the responsibility of preaching the Word of God to others. It’s just too awesome and overwhelming a responsibility,” wrote Rev. Mr. Nguyen by e-mail.

Calling the two men “my sons,” Archbishop Gregory urged them to embrace their new roles, not as a steppingstone to the priesthood, but to savor the experience.

“Proclaim the Gospel with enthusiasm because people still want to hear Good News. Preach with conviction and with energy. The Word of God still has the force to transform the world, even when the world might want to resist its message,” he said.

“Be faithful in your ministry as deacons since from the beginning the Church has chosen and ordained servant ministers to extend the compassion of Christ to all those who are poor,” he said.

New transitional deacon Tri Nguyen censes the congregation before the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Photo By Thomas Spink/Archdiocese of Atlanta

He said the first deacons in the Church ministered to bickering Christian widows in the Hebrew and Greek communities. Today, deacons care for the young and the old, the stranger and the widowed.

“The same compassion that marked the ministry of those first deacons will be yours, the works of charity and compassion,” he said.

Archbishop Gregory said, “Learn from your liturgical ministry that the Church continues to experience great and transforming acts of power when you open your lives to the Spirit of God who continues to work miracles in his Church even after 2,000 years.”

Deacons Starr and Nguyen now look to the year ahead, where they’ll have to balance the final year in seminary before ordination as priests and being clergy as they deliver homilies, baptize youngsters, marry couples and bury the faithful. Lessons learned in the classroom will be tested. Both are capable of serving the growing number of immigrants in the archdiocese.

Father Luke Ballman, the vocations director, said Rev. Mr. Starr “has a heart for ministry in general, but especially for Hispanic ministry,” while Rev. Mr. Nguyen will be able to share his own story.

“He is uniquely qualified to serve immigrants, as he himself is an immigrant,” said Father Ballman.

“Both Tri and Mark bring a good deal of life experience to the transitional deaconate,” he said. And while the last year of seminary can be a challenge, Father Ballman said the new deacons should continue to allow themselves to be shaped by God.

“It is important during the last year of seminary not to coast, but to allow God to continue to refine one’s heart.  Often God does his greatest work with the seminarians towards the end of the program,” he said.

Rev. Mr. Starr, originally from Ohio, said, “I feel certainly unworthy in a sense to serve the Church, but I know with God’s grace he will provide me the strength I need as I enter the sacred order of deacon.”

Douglasville is the 51-year-old deacon’s adopted home. He is the oldest of five surviving children of Richard and Patricia A. Starr. Two of his siblings, a brother and a sister, have died. He was a licensed engineer with his own business before entering the seminary. Before his ordination, he spent three days at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery near Birmingham, Ala., in a time of prayer. He attends Mount St Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.

Deacon Michael Stephen Paris of the Archdiocese of Washington, left, prepares to place the stole around the neck of Mark Starr during the investiture. Photo By Thomas Spink/Archdiocese of Atlanta

With Hispanic Catholics making up a significant part of the Catholic community in North Georgia, Rev. Mr. Starr said “perfecting my Spanish skills” will be his challenge. He spent two months in an immersion program in Mexico in 2010 to improve his Spanish. He will spend the summer at St Thomas Aquinas Church in Alpharetta helping at the parish Vacation Bible School, as well celebrating baptisms and preaching.

“I think another challenge will be trying to do too much. I will need to be able to budget my time and duties with time for personal time and prayer,” he said.

Rev. Mr. Nguyen, 36, said he looks forward to sharing the Gospel with others, especially young people. A native of Vietnam, the deacon, his parents and two older sisters immigrated to the United States in 1993. He lives in Rex and worships at Our Lady of Vietnam Church, Riverdale. He attends St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pa. He is a teacher by training, teaching at a Catholic school, including middle school at St. Joseph School in Marietta, and has been a counselor at Atlanta-area vocational and community colleges.

His summer will be spent at his home parish serving as a deacon at Mass and working with different parish organizations. He is helping a group of young adults heading to World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain, this August.

“I feel ever more grateful to God’s gift of my vocation, of my parents, family and of the people he has put in my life to guide, support and inspire me on my faith journey,” he said.