By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published February 16, 2022
ATLANTA—When he returned to his home parish for the Saturday Vigil Mass on Feb. 5, James Martin was greeted with applause as the newest deacon of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.
Earlier that morning, Martin was one of eight men ordained to the permanent diaconate by Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta.
Beginning his first homily as deacon, Martin said, “I remember walking into this building in 2009 for the dedication Mass and I never thought I would be standing here talking to you and proclaiming the Gospel to my friends and family.”
The archbishop was joined at the ordination Mass by concelebrants Bishops Joel M. Konzen, SM, and Bernard E. Shlesinger III and Msgr. Francis McNamee, rector of the cathedral. Deacon Dennis Dorner, director of the permanent diaconate, along with more than 30 deacons and several priests, attended in person to welcome the newly ordained. The Mass was livestreamed.
This ordination Mass is a celebration of the deacons’ role of service in the church, said Archbishop Hartmayer during the homily.
“The service that you are called to render as deacons of the church is a sacramental service,” said the archbishop. “It is a ministry of work, a ministry of service at the altar and a ministry of charity.”
Success as deacons requires prayer, including the prayer of praise, adoration and intercession, said Archbishop Hartmayer. “Your fidelity to the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist will fortify you to persevere in generous service and to live your sacred commitment joyfully to the end.”
Husbands, fathers and a grandfather, the new deacons share in the desire to serve the church. Their backgrounds include work in finance, technology, law, engineering and aeronautics. They are inspired by saints, such as St. John Paul II, and those who have helped them on their spiritual journey.
The newly ordained are Deacon Rodney Arion, to serve at Holy Trinity Church, Peachtree City; Deacon Kenneth Dawson, to serve at Our Lady of the Mountains Church, Jasper; Deacon Geza Gereben, to minister at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Alpharetta; Deacon Joseph Hrovat, to serve at St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, Douglasville; Deacon James Martin, to minister at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Atlanta; Deacon David Patterson, to serve at St. Andrew Church, Roswell; Deacon Stan Stewart, to minister at St. Jude the Apostle Church, Atlanta and Deacon Kelly Stinson, to serve at St. Michael the Archangel Church, Woodstock.
Conversion leads to vocation
In 2001, Deacon Kenneth Dawson had a conversion experience that brought him back to his Catholic faith. He was agnostic at the time, even though he was baptized in the church.
It was Sept. 15, just after midnight and on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. Deacon Dawson woke from his sleep and felt someone’s presence with him.
“I just felt that I was being asked to pray,” he said. “And I didn’t know how, but I ended up on my knees next to the bed until morning.”
He doesn’t remember what he said in prayer, but recalls being given a mission to seek the truth. That experience brought Deacon Dawson and his wife, Christine, back to the Catholic Church.
When we returned to the church, “my constant prayer every day was, that I had felt had been put on my heart, was to ask how can I serve,” said Deacon Dawson. Now, nearly 21 years after his conversion experience, he has answered God’s call to serve the church as a deacon.
In his new role, Deacon Dawson looks forward to being of service. “I just want to serve. I don’t really care when, how or who, just to have that opportunity.”
Christine’s favorite part of the ordination Mass was watching her husband being vested by his spiritual director, Father Zachary of the Mother of God, SOTL, and Deacon Luis Lorza from St. Brendan the Navigator Church in Cumming, who was helpful during the formation process.
“What I think will make him a good deacon is his love of service and his deep commitment to prayer and to the Blessed Mother and just overall humility,” said Christine of her husband of 32 years.
Atlanta native grows up in faith
Deacon Martin is a cradle Catholic who grew up in Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. He has been involved in various ministries of the church, including St. Vincent de Paul Society, RCIA and the men’s group.
But it was a conversation with a dear friend that led to a new ministry.
In 2015, Deacon Erik Wilkinson, who also serves at the Atlanta parish, asked Martin if he ever considered becoming a deacon.
“It was like a light turned on,” said Deacon Martin. “That’s what started the process from seven years ago.”
In his new vocation, Deacon Martin looks forward to serving his community.
“I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to broaden the ministries that I participate in and try to do good for as many people as I can,” he said.
His ability to listen, humbleness, compassion and generosity will make him a great deacon, said his wife, Mary Pat Martin. The couple has been married 30 years.
“His commitment to his calling has been very, very impressive,” said Mary Pat. “I’m very proud of him.”
Editor’s Note: Watch Archbishop Hartmayer’s homily from the Mass at vimeo.com/675650493.