The Diocese of Buffalo welcomed five new deacons this weekend as Bishop Richard J. Malone led an ordination Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Buffalo. Four of these men will continue to the priesthood, while one will remain a member of the Permanent Diaconate.
The Sept. 17 ceremony saw John E. Steiner Jr., Robert Ikpe Agbo, Martin F. Gallagher, Luke P. Uebler II and Cole T. Webster promise to remain obedient to the bishop and uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Bishop Malone welcomed a full house of family and friends of the ordinati, and over 50 priests and deacons during the rainy morning to what he called a "wonderful and blessed moment in the life of our diocese."
"It's always a great moment as we walk up the aisle at any ordination to see so many smiling faces," he said.
During his homily, Bishop Malone mentioned that "Diacona" means service. Then he explained the reason for men to serve as transitional deacons before ordination to priesthood.
"The Church wants all of her priests and bishops to know how to be deacons, to know how to wash feet, to know how to serve, to know how to reach out in charity," he said, adding "You will be, as the deacons here are, icons of Christ the servant, as is St. Teresa of Calcutta, but in a different way, through ordination. The Christian faithful, the world should be able to see Christ the Servant in you the servant. That, of course, is a daunting challenge."
During the middle of the Mass, Bishop Malone asked Deacon Gregory Feary, director of formation for the Diaconate, if the candidates are worthy. Feary testified that, after some investigation, they all have been found to be worthy. Then the bishop called each member to come forward. Individually, the bishop presented each of the five men with the Book of the Gospels and instructed them to "Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, practice what you teach."
Each man was asked to make solemn promises to pray, to be obedient and respectful, and be celibate. Steiner, married with two daughters who will remain a permanent deacon, was allowed to skip the last promise. The candidates resolved to help priests and the Christian people, proclaim the faith in word and deed, and deepen their own prayer lives.
In the final step, Bishop Malone laid hands on each individual's head and said, "May God, who has begun the good work in you, bring it to completion."
Agbo, Gallagher, Uebler and Webster will be ordained to the priesthood this May. Deacon Steiner will begin his ministry immediately at his home parish of St. Christopher's in Tonawanda.
Deacon Steiner credits his wife and children with bringing him into the ministry, as well as the Catholic faith. Baptized Protestant, the 56-year-old North Tonawanda resident grew up not practicing any faith, but married a devout Catholic woman 29 years ago. One day, his daughter asked why he didn't attend church like the other fathers.
"So, John got dressed that day and came with us. From that point on he came every Sunday," explained Sheila Steiner, his wife. John entered the RCIA program and his involvement has only grown.
After an invitation from Deacon Gary Terrana to join the diaconate, the Steiners prayed about it, then John entered the five-year formation process at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, taking classes in theology, trinity and Scripture.
"I think the Scripture classes were really my favorite," he said. "To really be able to learn and be able to dig down deeper into the Gospels and into Scriptures was the most meaningful of all my formation education."
This ordination ceremony marked a rare instance of a permanent deacon being ordained with transitional deacons. A deacon may preach, proclaim the Gospel, witness marriages and funerals, and minister at the altar with a parish priest.
"This is always a joyful occasion for the diocese, for the seminary and for all the people of God here in Buffalo," said Deacon Gallagher. "It's especially blessed that we have not only transitional deacons, but a permanent deacon also being ordained. It's just going to be a wonderful celebration. I'm very happy to be here and very honored and humbled to be one of those to be ordained as a deacon."
The transitional deacons all received their diaconal assignments over the summer and will serve in parishes while finishing classes at Christ the King Seminary.
Deacon Agbo will serve at Immaculate Conception Parish, East Aurora. Deacon Gallagher will serve at Nativity of Our Lord Parish, Orchard Park. Deacon Uebler, II, has assigned to ministry at St. Joseph Cathedral, Buffalo. Deacon Webster has assigned to St. John the Baptist Parish, Alden.
Along with his ministry at St. Christopher Parish, Deacon Steiner will have a ministry of charity at DeGraff Memorial Hospital, North Tonawanda, along with his day job of occupational therapist at the New York State School for the Blind in Batavia.