Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo by Jackie Holcombe
Atlanta's newest transitional deacons, ordained May 29, joined the bishops for a photo outside the Cathedral of Christ the King. Pictured, from left to right, are Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM; Deacon Juan Carlos Villota Viteri; Deacon Ben Thomsen; Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., Deacon Joe Wagner and Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III.


Three transitional deacons ordained

By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published June 6, 2021

ATLANTA–On Saturday, May 29, three men reached milestones on their journeys to the priesthood. 

Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., ordained Benjamin “Ben” Thomsen, Juan Carlos Villota Viteri and Joseph “Joe” Wagner as transitional deacons for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. 

During the procession, the seminarians walked down the aisle with their parents, who carried their vestments. 

The livestreamed Mass reached more than 4,400 views. Concelebrants for the Mass were Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, and Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III, along with Father Tri John-Bosco Nguyen, director of vocations and Father Rey Pineda, associate director of seminarians. Among the attendees was Father Martin Zielinski, associate professor in the department of church history at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois, where all three transitional deacons received education and preparation. 

The three transitional diaconate candidates kneel before the altar during the May 29 rite of ordination to the diaconate. Photo by Jackie Holcombe

During his homily, Archbishop Hartmayer explained to the new transitional deacons that as servants of Jesus, they are to go “out to the poor, the lowly, the rejected and those in the shadow of death.”

“Christ uses diaconal ministry to save us from abandoning people because they are misunderstood by us as problems that are just too difficult for us to resolve,” said Archbishop Hartmayer. “Your diaconal ministry in the months ahead must be a means by which Christ calls you back from such complacency.”

This transitional ministry will be a guide against the subtlety of entitlement and “strengthen you in the command of our Lord to serve and not be served,” said Archbishop Hartmayer. 

The archbishop explained that prayer is not optional for transitional deacons.

“In prayer, you will take on the mind and the heart of Jesus,” said Archbishop Hartmayer. “If throughout your life you want to be a minister who radiates the message of the Gospel, then never stop praying. Never cease to stare at the beauty and the wonder of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.”

Vocation belongs to God

Amelia Seid, director of religious education at St. Michael Church, has known Villota since he came to the Gainesville parish nearly two years ago.

Juan Carlos Villota Viteri, kneeling, pledges respect and obedience to Archbishop Gregory Hartmayer, OFM Conv., and his successors during the rite of ordination to the diaconate. Photo by Jackie Holcombe

Seid said Villota has a way of connecting with people.

He went everywhere he could to be involved with the people and to be at their service if needed,” she said. 

This included helping at Masses, going on sick visits and making videos for religious education students to spread joy and a bit of laughter

A native of Colombia, Villota, 32, grew up in a Catholic family. He started considering the priesthood at 15, when he first received the Eucharist. He believes his vocation not only belongs to him, but also the people of God.

Preparing for the priesthood has “renewed my faith in a living, faithful, joyful God,” said Villota, who is assigned to Misión de Cristo Rey in Atlanta. 

“[Juan] is positive, non judgemental and just a very caring person who reflects the love of God,” said Seid. “We are truly blessed that he answered the call.”

‘A very precious gift’

In his closing remarks, Archbishop Hartmayer expressed appreciation for the parents of the newly ordained, giving encouraging words.

“Continue to pray for them, continue to be the support you have been to them in their vocation and in their studies, and eventually in their ministry as priests,” the archbishop said. “You have given us a very precious gift.”

Ed Wagner feels that his son, Joe, has brought the entire family even closer to God during studies at the seminary for the past six years.

“[I’m] humbled and blessed that God has chosen Joe to shepherd the faithful and that he said ‘yes’ to God’s calling,” said Wagner.

Born in Kennesaw, Joe Wagner, 34, grew up going to Mass every Sunday. For most of his childhood, the family attended St. Michael the Archangel Church in Woodstock. 

At 23, Wagner heard the call to priesthood. While hesitant due to dreams of having his own family, he eventually started the journey. His excitement for the priesthood vocation has grown during his seminary studies, and he looks forward to being in a parish with people. He is assigned to St. Bernadette Church in Cedartown.

“Joe is an excellent listener and communicator,” said his father. “He has a knack of connecting with teens, which is much needed in the church today.”

“There’s no other place that I would rather be,” said the new deacon. “This is the deepest desire in my heart, to do the will of God which is to be his priest and to serve his people.”

A new plan

The Thomsen family is excited for Ben as he begins ministry as a transitional deacon. 

Neitcha Thomsen said her son is intelligent and will be able to speak to others so they can understand. 

“He’s very comfortable connecting with other people,” said Neitcha. “He’s really good at helping people think through problems or think through their views on life.”

While Thomsen, 34, was born in Decatur and spent most of his childhood in Georgia, time was also spent in Japan and Australia. He grew up Episcopalian, but entered the Catholic Church in college, when he heard God’s call to the priesthood. 

After having a law career, Thomsen chose to study for the priesthood.

It was a surprise for me to go from a very secular outlook, to a Catholic, embracing a legal career, and then ending up in seminary,” said Thomsen. “Where I am now is not where I had ever planned to be, and I have been greatly blessed in life.”

Thomsen looks forward to preaching and teaching as a transitional deacon, and giving the sacrament of reconciliation and celebrating Mass as a priest. He will spend the summer at St. Lawrence Church in Lawrenceville.