By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published December 22, 2022
ATLANTA—Pete Coppola began his service as a transitional deacon where he first considered life as a priest. Days after his ordination on Dec. 8, he returned to St. Thomas the Apostle Church.
During Gaudete Sunday Mass at the Smyrna parish, Deacon Coppola assisted at the altar and preached as believers sat where he once had prayed.
“A good number of people recognize me because I’ve been going there all my life,” he said, a week after his ordination.
Coppola’s vocation was fostered at the parish. He said it was a quiet, steady realization to see himself serving in the church as a priest. The 30-year-old said once he felt the desire was true, it became important to him “to become more completely the person God created me to be.”
Anchoring life in prayer
Coppola reached a milestone on his road to the priesthood on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
By the laying on of his hands, Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III ordained Coppola as transitional deacon for the Archdiocese of Atlanta at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta.
During the procession, Coppola walked the center aisle alone, arriving at the pew occupied by his parents. His vestments were folded on the altar railing, waiting for the appropriate moment in the ceremony when he’d put on the robes and the stole of the deacon for the first time.
Concelebrants for the Mass were Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, along with Father Rey Pineda, director of vocations, with several Atlanta priests and deacons. Helping the new deacon vest in his robes was Father Avery Daniel. Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., was in attendance.
During his homily, Bishop Shlesinger drew attention to the holy day. Like Mary, the role of a deacon is not to be caught up in dreams to impress God, but to see what God is doing already and calling the deacon to service, he said.
The goal of the deacon is to “anchor himself in prayer,” said the bishop.
The Virgin Mary said yes to God’s invitation which opened up her life to grace, he said, adding that the ordination to the diaconate is also a definitive answer to God’s invitation. He encouraged the new clergyman to return to this moment often in his mind to be reminded about “what God is doing in your life.” A deacon must seek out people, those pushed to the margins, encounter them and love them, he said.
“May you live the Good News and preach it not simply by your words, but by your life. The church needs your witness and your commitment, but first needs your commitment to be a man of prayer.”
There are four men serving in the Archdiocese of Atlanta as transitional deacons. They are Deacons Evan Glowzinski, Matthew Howard, Nicholas Le and Coppola.
Passion for the sacraments
Susan Roberts, 56, a teacher of religious education at St. Thomas Church, met Deacon Coppola when he first taught religion at the parish more than a decade ago. A ruckus in the classroom made Roberts fear students were overwhelming the young man so she took him under her wing. She was one of two lectors at the ordination.
Roberts said he carries himself in a way that puts people at ease.
“You could tell he had the Holy Spirit in him,” she said. “I think he’s going to be a wonderful servant.”
He is a very good listener, so people talking with him will feel their concerns are being heard, she said.
For Luis Roman, 22, the new deacon is a great role model. Roman works in the insurance business while he is applying for seminary. He worships at Our Lady of Americas Mission, Lilburn. Deacon Coppola invited Roman to read at his ordination.
During a summer working at the mission, the new deacon dove into the life of the Hispanic community and was embraced by families and young people.
“He tried to speak Spanish. We admired his courage,” said Roman. “I learned so much from him. He was an inspiration for me.”
Roman said he witnessed how Deacon Coppola had a “passion for the sacraments.”
The new deacon also encouraged young people to take on responsibility in the church and to see themselves as leaders now.