By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published February 8, 2018 | En Español
ATLANTA—As he ordained the ten as permanent deacons of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory encouraged the men to share “stories about life as it should be.”
Archbishop Gregory celebrated the Mass of ordination to the permanent diaconate Saturday, Feb. 3, at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta.
The ceremony marked the completion of five years of formation to serve the church as deacons. This group of deacons represents several nations, with men from Colombia and Cuba among the members. They range in age from 51 to 67. They’ve worked as truck drivers, business executives, teachers, military officers and in the airline industry.
As deacons, they will baptize youngsters and bury the dead. They will witness marriages and serve at the altar. They will read and preach at Mass. They will live their vocation, mirroring Christ who came to serve.
Ordained that day were Deacons Jaime Agudelo, William Boyd, Edward Buckley, Manuel Echevarria, David Fragale, Richard Hogan, Peter Ranft, Richard Schmidt, David Schreckenberger and James Wolf.
Felipe Gabuardi, who worships at St. Matthew Church, Winder, waited for the arrival of his friend, Deacon Agudelo, after the ceremony. Gabuardi wrote one of the necessary letters of recommendation for the program.
“I am 100 percent sure he is going to be a great, great deacon. The Catholic Church needs people like him,” said Gabuardi. He recalled attending a retreat with the new deacon years ago and seeing how drawn he was to the church.
“He’s a person who is very, very spiritual. He did it, by the grace of the Lord,” he said.
Patricia Welsh, who attends Holy Trinity Church, Peachtree City, watched Deacon Schmidt during his ordination. The two were both parents of students at Our Lady of Mercy High School in Fayetteville several years ago.
Asked to describe her friend, Welsh said “humbly serving” is part of his character. “He’s so quietly compassionate. He’s such a good guy.”
‘Tell the story of faith’
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory reminded the class of deacons how the culture is plugged in with technology that allows access to unimaginable information, but oftentimes people are still left feeling isolated.
“In spite of our quest for information, we sometimes fail to hear that news which the heart most desperately needs to hear. We, no less than other people, need to hear the Gospel proclaimed in all of its power and force,” said the archbishop.
“We need to be assured that God’s Good News is more enduring than the incessant news stories that capture headlines but rarely capture hearts.”
He encouraged them to go to places that seem like “mission lands” to tell the story of faith and Christ.
“We want to hear stories about life as it should be and life as it is destined to become,” he said to the standing-room-only crowd of believers at the cathedral. “Every heart” desires to hear “good news that gives direction and hope to the human spirit,” he added.
The Gospel connects deep into a person’s heart.
“Unlike the evening news, the Gospel does not simply reveal the day’s events, but the Gospel places those events in their proper perspective. The Gospel offers the whole human family a new way, a hopeful way of seeing our destiny,” he said.
All cultures in unique ways are looking to be reminded of the dignity of human life, he said. “While societies and cultures can vary greatly one from another, the human heart is certainly far more similar than unique in its need to find God’s rest,” said Archbishop Gregory.
Following the investiture, the archbishop and concelebrants, including Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III, offered the kiss of peace to the new deacons, a gesture repeated by the scores of deacons and nearly 20 priests at the Mass.
Following Mass, Deacon Dennis Dorner, director of the permanent diaconate, expressed gratitude to the families of the new deacons and the formation staff.
Three new deacons, one parish
Three of the men ordained came from one parish, St. Lawrence Church, Lawrenceville.
Father John Howren, pastor of the Gwinnett County church, said the parish community sees them “possessing authentic hearts” for ministry. Father Howren said the “parish is abuzz with excitement” about the three men.
The parish has 4,000 registered households with seven Masses a weekend. In the pews are women, men and children from Latin America, the Caribbean islands and Asia, as well as people hailing from 19 African countries.
Deacons Hogan, Ranft and Schreckenberger have been members of the parish for years. They have been assisting at parent and godparent preparation for baptism, aiding people through the annulment processes, taking communion to homebound residents and hospital patients and assisting priests and current deacons with liturgies at funeral homes and gravesides.
“It’s a parish that focuses heavily on service, both in the parish and in the community,” said Deacon Ranft. One of his efforts has been leading outreach to the families in need with the St. Vincent de Paul ministry. Deacon Ranft, who is 55 and the father of two grown sons, admires Pope Francis and takes encouragement from St. Teresa of Calcutta, who said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed just one.”
Deacon Hogan, 59, operates his own woodworking business in Tucker. When he isn’t at his business or spending time on his hobby rebuilding cars, he can be found at the church in one of his many roles. He said at the time he joined in 1986, the parish members put on car bumper stickers reading, “We are family.” The parish has grown larger and more diverse, but the same spirit remains, he said.
Deacon Schreckenberger has worked as director of operations for the past dozen years at Prince of Peace Church, Flowery Branch. A native of upstate New York, the 54-year-old is looking to encourage people in the faith.
The training and formation may seem long, but parishioners are always there to boost the spirits.
“Everyone is excited and happy for us,” he said.