By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published June 6, 2013
ATLANTA—A diverse group of men were ordained May 25 as transitional deacons, charged to preach the Gospel and to champion the poor, the forgotten and the neglected.
Among the five men are natives of Haiti, Puerto Rico and Mexico, along with an African-American and a deacon with Korean and American heritage. They range from 34 to 24 years old.
Rev. Mr. Luis Alvarez, born in Puerto Rico, is bilingual in English and Spanish.
“I am grateful to be able to reach out and minister to a vast number of people in the local church in Atlanta,” he said in an email.
The new deacons will serve this summer in metro Atlanta parishes and then return to seminary for their last year of theology. They are expected to be ordained priests next spring.
The clergy serving in the Atlanta Archdiocese increasingly reflect the variety of languages and ethnicities in the Catholic community.
“The Atlanta (priests and deacons) will, hopefully, always reflect the changing ethnic and cultural makeup of the people that we serve. This happens partly because we desire it and plan for it, and partly through grassroots relationships by which priests are introduced to Atlanta by cultural groups that need their ministry,” said Father Tim Hepburn, the vocations director.
Seven men who are to be ordained priests for the Atlanta Archdiocese on June 8 come from four different countries, he said.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory called the day a “moment of profound joy” for Georgia Catholics.
In his homily, the archbishop reminded the men their service as deacons is to share a message of Jesus Christ in a way “that transforms, that consumes, and that defines you from this day forward.”
Crowds of believers on the sun-kissed spring morning of Saturday, May 25, filled the Cathedral of Christ the King. Family and loved ones sat toward the front, with tissues at the ready.
Carmen Alvarez Velazquez, who traveled from her home in Puerto Rico, had her eyes well with tears as she spoke about her 29-year-old son.
“I’m very proud of him. It’s a blessing from God to have a son like him.” She said her son started to talk about serving the church and attending seminary as young as 8 years old.
“I knew he was taking it seriously,” she said.
The family of Rev. Mr. Brian Baker was proud of him, as well. His Korean mother, Claire, wore a colorful traditional Korean dress, called a hanbok. His father, Nicholas, was in his Air Force uniform.
“He is pure joy. That’s who he is. He is exactly what they need. He always looks for the good in people. He is a really terrific young man,” said his aunt, Ruthie Strother, who flew from Darien, Conn., to attend the ceremony.
The five deacon candidates started the rite sitting with their families. They stood and announced themselves as their names were read aloud. During the rite, the men promised to live a life of celibacy, obedience to Archbishop Gregory and his successors, and individually received the laying on of hands, the ancient ritual by the bishop to bless each man and invoke the Holy Spirit to empower him to serve the church. They then put on the liturgical vestments of a deacon, the stole and dalmatic. They took their new seats among the clergy.
Each deacon will gain experience in ministry during the summer before heading back to seminary.
Rev. Mr. Alvarez said he is looking forward to being in “the ministry of service to the people of God in an even more intimate and sacramental way, particularly in ministering to the sick.”
He’ll spend this summer at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Carrollton, and then return to St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pa., for his fourth year of theology studies.
Rev. Mr. Baker, a Virginia native, was on a premed track before entering seminary. He speaks Italian and “rusty” Spanish. The son of an Air Force veteran, he will study at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Italy, for his fourth year of theology and will begin study for a graduate degree in sacred theology. He’ll serve at St. Brigid Church, Johns Creek, for the summer.
A biblical verse he has turned to for inspiration comes from St. Matthew’s Gospel: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
Rev. Mr. Junot Nelvy, born in Haiti, had plans to become a civil engineer, but followed his vocation to serve in the priesthood. Speaking Haitian Creole, French and English, Rev. Mr. Nelvy said he simply looks forward to serving people where there is a need. Very close to his brother, who lives here, Rev. Mr. Nelvy applied to be a priest of the archdiocese at his suggestion.
He’ll be at Transfiguration Church, Marietta, through the summer and then return to Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, in the fall.
Rev. Mr. Rey Pineda will serve at the Cathedral of Christ the King this summer. A native of Mexico, he was a member of the class of 2010 of Southern Catholic College, the last class of the former Dawsonville college.
“Mine was the last graduating class of an outstanding Catholic institution. I was blessed to have been a part of that community and will forever cherish those years in my heart and mind,” he said in an email.
The oldest of four children of a chef father, Rev. Mr. Pineda had a lawn care business for a time when he was in high school. Now, he is excited to work with youth and Hispanic ministries.
“I am excited to be able to preach the word of God. There is power in God’s word, and I want to be an instrument that communicates God’s word of hope to all whom I encounter,” he said.
Rev. Mr. Desmond Drummer joined the Catholic Church while attending Morehouse College, Atlanta. He studied economics and public health and is a self-described political junkie. He became a seminarian in 2007 and began studying at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago in 2008.
In the summer of 2012, he spent time at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital in part to follow in the footsteps of one of his heroes of the Christian faith, a woman Pentecostal preacher from his hometown of San Antonio, Texas. Hospital ministry continues to attract him.
“I’m especially interested in providing support to health care workers who confront life and death every day. From an early age I’ve always wanted to combine health care and religion in some way. Over the past few years, I’ve learned more about what this might look like,” he wrote in an email.
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory cautioned the deacons against “clericalism,” where clergy have an “exaggerated opinion of our own importance.” Instead, the mission of deacons is to be a “humble servant of charity and worship. A deacon is always on the lookout for those who are poor, forgotten and neglected,” he said.
As preachers, deacons “must become men who cry out the truth of the Good News,” said the archbishop. He said the task is to “proclaim and explain it to those who long to hear Good News.”
Archbishop Gregory said prayer is the “bedrock” to live as a deacon. He said they must be attentive “in those quiet moments when you must lay bare your heart before the Lord and then listen intently to the whisper of his presence within your own soul.”
“May what we begin today in faith enrich this local church and all of us in ways equally as wondrous and important,” he said.