Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

  • Candidates Jose Ortiz, left, and Dennis Carazza get ready to join eight other men to be ordained to the permanent diaconate, Feb. 11. Photo By Thomas Spink/Archdiocese of Atlanta
  • St. Thomas the Apostle Church diaconate candidate Mark Mitchell pledges his obedience to Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and his successors. Photo By Thomas Spink/Archdiocese of Atlanta
  • Tom Walter, right center, of Prince of Peace Church, Flowery Branch, and Barry Phillips, left center, of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Hartwell, kneel at the Communion rail during the prayer of consecration. Photo By Thomas Spink/Archdiocese of Atlanta
  • Deacon Thomas McGivney of St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Alpharetta, shares the kiss of peace with Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory. Photo By Thomas Spink/Archdiocese of Atlanta

Candidates Jose Ortiz, left, and Dennis Carazza get ready to join eight other men to be ordained to the permanent diaconate, Feb. 11. Photo By Thomas Spink/Archdiocese of Atlanta


Ten Deacons Ordained To Serve Archdiocese

By STEPHEN O'KANE and ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writers | Published February 16, 2012

Ten new permanent deacons were ordained for service to the Archdiocese of Atlanta on Saturday, Feb. 11, at the Cathedral of Christ the King.

Among family, friends, priests and brother deacons, the class of 2012 was all smiles as they reached the culmination of their formation during the Mass of Ordination, celebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and concelebrated by Bishop Luis R. Zarama.

The diaconate class of 2012 includes: Thomas Badger, Michael Briggs, Dennis Carazza, Thomas McGivney, Mark Mitchell, José Adán Ortiz Velásquez, Barry Phillips, Edward Santa, Dominic Saulino Jr. and Tom Walter.

The men come from varied backgrounds, from retired military personnel and graphic artists to investment advisors and counselors. The men also come from various parts of the country and beyond, including Georgians, New Yorkers and a Colombian. But when accepting the vocation as a deacon, the responsibilities are all the same, as Archbishop Gregory explained when he addressed the class during his homily.

The ten permanent diaconate candidates lay prostrate in the center aisle at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, as the Litany of the Saints is sang during their Feb. 11 ordination. Photo By Thomas Spink/Archdiocese of Atlanta

“My sons, the Office of Deacon is a ministry always intended to strengthen the bond of unity among all of God’s people—helping those who are fortunate to possess much to care for those who can claim very little. Deacons must constantly strive to draw the Church together in harmony and love just as you do within your own families,” said the archbishop.

The wives of the deacons hold a special place in the Mass of Ordination, from leading the procession to assisting with the investiture of the stole and dalmatic, garments the deacons receive upon their ordination.

As Archbishop Gregory noted, the family life of the deacon is reflected in his service to the Church. The Christian witness of the deacon to his family extends out to the larger family of the Church, aptly preparing him for diocesan ministry.

“You do … those things most effectively by the way that you live and witness your own love for Christ first within your own home and then within the household of the Church,” Archbishop Gregory said. “Always be attentive to the sacredness of the Church’s faith and her liturgy—care for the Church with the same intense love that you have already promised to provide for those you love at home.”

During the Rite of Ordination, Deacon Steve Swope testified to Archbishop Gregory that the men have been found worthy of the office of deacon. The candidates professed their obedience to the archbishop and received the prayer of consecration, before vesting in the stole and dalmatic for the first time.

This new class of deacons knows firsthand that the path to sharing in the sacrament of Holy Orders is not an easy journey. The process to become a deacon in the Archdiocese of Atlanta is a five-year commitment. And those involved in the program say the experiences deepen their faith as it grows in unexpected ways.

Deacon Mitchell, 52, wrote in an email, “I am doing things … that I never could have imagined before formation began. I am able to go places and do things without a second thought. That level of confidence was completely unexpected.”

The experience is “truly a formation process, not training,” added Deacon Carazza, 63, originally from Albany, N.Y. “You are not the person that began the program when you complete it. We are truly formed.”

He said people change during the experience, sometimes going through losing a job and other hardships; some leave when it becomes a challenge to balance family life with course work.

“Fortunately, we came together, both husbands and wives, and supported each other. It was a family effort,” he said, echoing the sentiments in the archbishop’s homily.

Kathryn Moya, the daughter of Deacon Walter and a parishioner of Prince of Peace Church, Flowery Branch, said it was very exciting to see her father reach this point in his formation.

“He has wanted to do this for some time,” she said. “Seeing all the hard work and time and dedication at this culminating ordination,” is beautiful, she said.

“He will be an asset to the archdiocese,” added Valerie Guero, a friend of the Walter family. “I know he is very excited. It has been a long journey.”

The newly ordained men hit the books for years, from studying church history to the roles of deacons. Outside of the classroom, they visited with people suffering from illness and poverty.

Deacon Carazza, an “avid sports fan” for his native New York teams, said he was challenged with the mission trip to Jamaica where he worked with the Missionaries of the Poor.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory lays hands upon diaconate candidate Dominic Saulino, Jr. of Church of the Transfiguration, Marietta. Photo By Thomas Spink/Archdiocese of Atlanta

“It put me in situations that I had not experienced to minister to people I did not know in very challenging situations and I did not know if I had the ability to minister to them and meet their needs,” he said in an email.

Walking into a stranger’s hospital room to bring God’s word gave Deacon Mitchell pause.

“The program takes you out of your comfort zone. My greatest fear during formation was taking the pastoral care class at St. Joseph’s Hospital. It took me a long time to walk into that first hospital room and visit with someone I did not know. Now it is something that I will do on a weekly basis and am really looking forward to it,” said Deacon Mitchell, 52, a geologist and environmental consultant.

The process of becoming a deacon is filled with these trials and triumphs, but also some surprises as well. Asked what surprised them about their journey to ordination, the reactions varied as much as the men.

“I have been surprised at just how much the priests in the archdiocese embrace the diaconate,” said Deacon Phillips, 48, who joined the church in his late 30s.

He feared that deacons might be viewed as a burden, but he has found the opposite.

“Instead of treating deacons like a burden, they let us minister,” he said.

Deacon Phillips received permission from his bishop in South Carolina, where he lives just across the state line, to serve in the Atlanta Archdiocese and at Sacred Heart Church, Hartwell.

He would leave his house at 5:30 a.m. Saturday mornings to make the 125-mile one-way trip to Atlanta for classes.

Permanent diaconate candidate Tom Badger, right, of St. Ann’s Church, Marietta, stands in the pew as the opening procession of clergy enters the church. Photo By Thomas Spink/Archdiocese of Atlanta

“On the way in, I took the time to pray, listen to music and just meditate,” he said.

For Deacon Briggs, 57, the owner of a sprinkler company, it was the classwork that took him by surprise.

“The depth of academics was a challenging and pleasant surprise. The hardest part of formation has been keeping up with all the reading!” said Deacon Briggs, who enjoys antique cars and fishing.

The classwork and the hands-on work also made him face uncomfortable situations, he said.

“From mission trips in Honduras and Jamaica, to working with hospice patients, I have been exposed to the basic needs of many of the people of God,” he said. “The solution to these needs begins with the inspiration of God working in our life to be compassionate toward others. This includes our great country, the United States of America, where the public ministry of Jesus Christ is a constant reminder of my call to follow Him.”

Maggie Briggs, 16, one of Deacon Briggs’ three daughters in attendance at the Mass of Ordination, was excited to see her father finally reach the end of formation, as it has been a long journey.

“He has gone through so many classes,” she said. “He has learned a lot from it. He’s been able to help out more people through his formation.”

In addition to helping people throughout the archdiocese, the group of deacons also became sources of support for one another. The years experienced together touched the men in different ways, from developing a bond among each other to diving deeper into their faith. For Deacon Phillips, the experience of being together with other deacons was his favorite part of the program.

“A bond of brotherhood has been cemented among us and we will always have a special camaraderie,” said Deacon Phillips. He joked the most challenging part was hearing the pre-dawn alarm wake him up.

Newly ordained deacons (L-r, facing the camera) Edward Santa, Dennis Carazza and Mark Mitchell share the kiss of peace with their brother deacons. Photo By Thomas Spink/Archdiocese of Atlanta

Deacon Carazza said when he carved out time for spiritual retreats it renewed him. “It was a time of reflection and introspection and I came away with a feeling in my heart that this is what God truly is calling me to be, thanks in large measure to the retreat master and my brothers in formation who were on the retreat.”

The bonds formed within the new class of deacons are a special relationship of the ordained. But, as Archbishop Gregory noted, the family life of the deacon must come first, as a healthy and spiritually sound family unit naturally leads to selfless service of the larger church community.

“These newest responsibilities must necessarily take second place to those sacramental obligations that you have already embraced in the sacrament of marriage. You are husbands and fathers and grandfathers and those responsibilities must always hold the very first place of honor in your lives,” said Archbishop Gregory.

“Paul first reminded the Church that when choosing candidates for sacred ministry, we must chose only those who have demonstrated their capacity to run their own households well before daring to ask them to care for the Household of the Church. Your love for your wives and children must continue to intensify and to increase so that the entire Church is fully aware of your ability to be husbands and fathers of fidelity and integrity and therefore are also capable of tending God’s people in the Church.”