By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published June 12, 2014
ATLANTA—An accountant; a public school teacher; a once business-minded college student; and a young man who discovered his religious vocation in high school.
From differing backgrounds, these four men knelt in front of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory as he placed his hands on their heads in an ancient ritual to bless them and ordain them as deacons. They will serve the Catholic Church as “servant ministers” while they prepare for the priesthood.
Friends and family, along with eight deacons, more than two dozen priests, and three bishops, attended the Mass for the ordination to the diaconate of Brian Bufford, Branson Hipp, Timothy Nadolski and Mark Thomas. It was held at the Cathedral of Christ the King, on Saturday, May 31.
“You kind of tear up a bit,” said Bob Nadolski, as he watched his son be ordained during the solemn liturgy.
He joked his son now belonged “90 percent” to the archbishop.
“He was our kid. Now he will be working for the bishop. He has another year to go, and then he’ll be his completely,” said Nadolski, a camera in hand to capture snapshots of his son with family members. The family later would attend a barbeque at St. Jude the Apostle Church, in Sandy Springs, where the deacon was baptized and grew up.
Rev. Mr. Nadolski, 26, entered college seminary after a year of study at Berry College in Rome. A one-time team leader at Chick-fil-A and Braves fan, he is the youngest son in his family; his father is an engineer and his mother an educator.
“I’m excited to preach, work with people to bring them more closely to the Lord, and to celebrate baptisms. I have a particular desire to serve the Spanish-speaking faithful of the archdiocese,” he said.
After the summer, he will return to the Pontifical College Josephinum, in Columbus, Ohio, for his final year of theology studies.
Archbishop Gregory, in his homily, charged the men to seek out people who live in the shadows of society and the church.
“You are to become heralds of the good news because those who live on the periphery of society need to hear good news more regularly. … It reminds them that their human dignity comes from God and cannot be neglected or compromised as they so often witness,” he said.
The apostles anointed the first deacons to help care for the needs of widows and the poor.
“Like those first deacons, you must consider the ministry of charity as your first responsibility. It is from the ministry of charity that your other duties originate,” Archbishop Gregory said.
A friend quickly asked Rev. Mr. Bufford for his blessing after the ordination Mass.
“He’s a very good man, a very good friend. He has a gentleness about him that presents the Gospel in a good way,” said Benjamin Hack, 32, who drove from Wisconsin to witness the ordination.
Rev. Mr. Bufford worked as a staff accountant at an Athens firm before entering seminary. He earned a business administration degree from Augusta State University in May 2008 and entered seminary in the fall of 2009.
The 27-year-old is the eldest son of Webb and Sue Bufford and grew up in Washington, Georgia. He said his goal as a deacon is to help others “foster a personal, loving relationship with our Lord.”
Rev. Mr. Thomas recommitted to the Catholic faith in the mid-1990s after he had left the church of his childhood.
One of his spiritual mentors reminded him: “I may have been away from the church all those years; in reality, the church was always there, waiting patiently for me to return.”
His grandmother was another influence, with her statue of St. Christopher on the dashboard of her 1967 Chevy Nova as she faithfully attended Mass, he said.
He taught in public schools in Louisiana, Georgia, and North Carolina for close to 20 years before he entered Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans in 2009.
“Being a deacon is all about being a servant of the Lord and of God’s people. I look forward to serving in whatever capacities are asked of me,” said Rev. Mr. Thomas, 52, who will be running with tens of thousands of others in the Peachtree Road Race on July 4.
Rev. Mr. Hipp, 25, graduated from high school and chose to attend a seminary college. In 2011, he earned his philosophy degree from St. Joseph Seminary College, in Covington, La. He has finished his third year at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.
Born in Indiana, he grew up in Fayetteville, where his dad, Mark, is an engineer and his mother, Jan, owns a jewelry store. He has two older brothers and a sister. The family attends Holy Trinity Church, in Peachtree City.
Serving as a deacon, he said, “is a tremendous gift.” A deacon preaches, baptizes, officiates at weddings, so he is “present with the Lord’s people at some of the most important moments of their lives,” he said.
Archbishop Gregory spoke to those in the pews and to the four candidates about the role of the deacon toward others, the meaning of their promises of celibacy and obedience, and prayer. The archbishop said preaching is meant to inspire others.
“Preaching is not lecturing, it is not entertainment, it is not diatribe, but the motivating witness of Christ in your own life that seeks to inspire others to believe and to accept the demands of the Gospel,” he said.
He said as members of the archdiocesan clergy, the deacons serve the entire church “always helping (Catholics) to discover the way that leads to Christ and will bring each one of us that joy that he has promised to all those who love him.”
The men will serve at local parishes for the summer to learn to minister as deacons. Then they return to seminary. They are expected to be ordained priests in 2015.
Six priests will be ordained on Saturday, June 28, at the Cathedral of Christ the King for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. The candidates are: Rev. Mr. Luis Álvarez, Rev. Mr. Brian Baker, Rev. Mr. Matthew C. Dalrymple, Rev. Mr. Desmond Drummer, Rev. Mr. Junot Nelvy and Rev. Mr. Rey Pineda.