Published February 14, 2013
ATLANTA—Twelve men have been ordained as deacons by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory to serve the church as “servant ministers,” charged with serving the poor, helping the skeptical with their faith, and assisting at the celebration of Mass.
With its incense and ancient prayers, the ordination Mass was celebrated Saturday, Feb. 2, as friends and family crowded Christ the King Cathedral.
The new deacons of the Atlanta Archdiocese are Dan Buckley, Joseph Crowley, Eugene Dickerson, Mark F. Friedlein, Carlos Garcia, James C. Harkins, Jerome M. Hayward, Francis D. Head Jr., Paul Krarup, Ricardo D. Medina, Joseph Hoa Van Pham and Thomas J. Sandusky.
A small convoy of parishioners drove the 40 miles from Winder’s St. Matthew Church to the Buckhead cathedral to see one of their own, Deacon Buckley, be ordained.
“We’re ecstatic over him. He is the most spiritual person,” said Ann Needham, who knows the deacon through his role training lectors in the parish.
Parishioner Rod Nord said he and the new deacon talk and share ideas often.
“He’s very calming. He’s a very peaceful kind of guy,” he said.
Deacon Buckley’s new role fits his character, Nord said.
For the deacon himself, the liturgy was filled with memories he’ll treasure.
“I distinctly remember lying prostrate before the altar while the Litany of the Saints was being sung. Besides the moment when the archbishop laid his hands on me, I was ecstatic when all the deacons came up to greet us after we had been ordained,” he said.
As for his wife, Terri, the day was a highlight of their marriage.
“Saturday was one of the happiest days of my life. I had as much joy as I’ve ever felt, including the birth of my children and my wedding,” she said.
These twelve married men add to the growing number of permanent deacons who minister in the archdiocese. There are 153 deacons in the Atlanta Archdiocese who serve many roles in parishes, preaching, teaching, presiding at weddings, baptizing the young and leading mourners in funerals, and assisting during Mass. Deacons also serve in a range of special ministries.
Deacon Head was paralyzed after a motorcycle crash when he was 20. Now he views his disability and wheelchair as a gift.
“When I started formation, I did not want to be the ‘wheelchair deacon,’ but I have learned through much prayer that I am uniquely gifted by God to minister to many people who feel they have no one who understands them,” he said. “There is dignity through Christ whether you roll through life or walk through it.”
He is a member of the Disabilities Ministry’s advisory board for the archdiocese. His parish of St. Gabriel Church, Fayetteville, has found “simple solutions to any problem” when he is assisting at Mass. His son, Will, held the Book of the Gospels at his first Mass while he read. As a teacher at St. John the Evangelist School, Hapeville, he has led school assemblies.
“Now, I not only get to be a deacon at my parish, but also fulfill that role at the school. I am doubly blessed,” he said.
His wife, Stacey, said the years of commitment and training were worth it.
“I was amazed that this part of the journey was coming to fruition. All of that hard work was worth the effort. It was an extremely joyful moment for our whole family,” she said.
Nun Sparks Deacon’s Vocation
The permanent diaconate was not something that Deacon Friedlein ever considered until a nun approached him after he gave a parish stewardship talk.
“She was almost standing on my toes, and she was pointing her finger into the middle of my chest saying, ‘Young man, you should be a deacon,’” he recalled. “Up until that point, the thought had never even crossed my mind.”
When he moved to Georgia a number of years later, he joined the diaconate formation program.
The program is challenging for people in different ways, he said. With frequent work-related travel, he said he often felt the pressure of completing assignments and other formation requirements.
“There was one time when I had my letter of resignation ready because it was becoming too much,” he said.
But as the ordination day approached, he felt peaceful and secure in his vocation. He will serve at Holy Trinity Church, Peachtree City.
“I had a sense of relief,” he said. “It was a day that was going to kick off something I feel I was called to do. … It was two and a half hours that felt like 15 minutes.”
For Deacon Sandusky, the call to the diaconate came after pursuing a closer relationship with God. About 10 years ago, he felt an urge to begin a weekly hour of Eucharistic adoration after someone spoke about its benefits at his parish.
“It was just one of those moments that overpowered me,” he said. “That was the beginning of it all.”
Every Wednesday at midnight, he spent an hour before the Eucharist. It was a special time to be alone with God, he said. One evening, he felt God say to him, “Go to daily Mass and tell others.”
“The first part was easy to understand, but I wasn’t quite sure what ‘tell others’ meant,” he said. Now looking back, he understands where God was leading him.
He began attending daily Mass at St. Brigid Church in Johns Creek before work, joined a men’s prayer group there and met Deacon Dennis Dorner, who, after about a year, approached him about the diaconate.
Deacon Sandusky said taking each day at a time during the years of formation allowed him to recognize God’s role in the process.
“There were lots of obstacles, but they kept getting pushed aside,” he said.
During the ordination Mass a calming peace came over him, though he had worried he would be nervous in front of his family, his wife of 38 years, Susan, and visiting relatives.
“It was just serene,’ he said. “I felt like I was in the moment the whole time. … It was a very joyful and peaceful day.”
Ceremony And Prayers
At the Mass, the wives of the deacon candidates led the procession of dozens of deacons and priests into the cathedral. Bishop-designate David Talley and Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama joined Archbishop Gregory in celebrating the liturgy.
The rite of ordination began during the Liturgy of the Word. Following the reading of the Gospel, Deacon Dorner and Deacon Steve Swope, leaders of the diaconate program, called the men forward for the rite.
Each man promised respect and obedience to the archbishop and his successors, and then as a group they lay prostrate in the sanctuary while the congregation prayed for them in the Litany of the Saints.
The archbishop then laid his hands on each man and silently prayed the prayer of consecration, which completed their ordination.
The new deacons received the Book of the Gospels from the archbishop with instructions to “believe what you read, teach what you believe, practice what you teach.”
The kiss of peace was given by the archbishop, followed by the welcome from fellow deacons and concelebrating priests and bishops to the new deacons.
Each man received from his wife the stole and dalmatic, the deacon’s vestments, which they then donned, assisted by their wives and a chosen priest or deacon.
In his homily, the archbishop said that families have special and often humorous names for each other, known only to fellow family members. And at ordination, the men take on a new title, servant, he said.
“While they will always be honey, daddy, gramps, to their family, from this day forward the church will bestow upon them a title that adds to their identity and represents a new commitment of service to the church.”
Archbishop Gregory said deacons, dating to the time of the apostles, were men who were seen as possessing three criteria: respectable, filled with the Spirit, and filled with wisdom.
Deacons will be servants to people in need of charity who have grown skeptical of authority, perhaps because of past disappointments, he said.
“Deacons are those who seek to assure and to guarantee that the poor are not forgotten and indeed are valuable members of the church,” he said.
These men have already been shown to have a deep spiritual faith but now will be asked to “transform that spirit of prayer into a mighty force that energizes your ministry and service as a deacon,” said the archbishop.
The third trait the church required of deacons is wisdom, he said. And that demands a deacon who understands life and judges its complexities with a sense of justice.
“The wise man knows how to teach the faith not with rote answers to sincere and genuine questions but with a persuasive dialogue that both convinces and inspires others to believe in the church’s teachings and heritage,” he said.
To the new deacons, he said the title of deacon is a “vitally important title within the family of the church—servant minister—one who is reputable, filled with the Spirit and wisdom. May you bear both the old titles and this new one with joy and integrity all the days of your lives.”