Six men from varied backgrounds promised Bishop Richard J. Malone they would discharge the office of deacon with humble charity in order to assist the priestly order and to benefit the Christian people. Finding them worthy, Bishop Malone accepted them and ordained these men as deacons of the Catholic Church. Four men continue their formation to the priesthood, while two - Edward Birmingham and Kenneth Monaco - will remain members of the Permanent Diaconate.
During the Sept. 16 ordination Mass, Bishop Malone welcomed a packed house to St. Joseph Cathedral and thanked everyone who has been a part the journey of the deacon candidates, from clergy to educators to family.
Diakona, he explained means service. "The freely offered service of any Christian is the way of life, characteristic of a disciple of Jesus," the bishop explained. "It's the exercise of baptismal responsibility, and, really, expected of all of us who are baptized. We see that kind of baptismal service generously offered day after day in the many homes and families of our diocese, in our parishes and schools, in our health and social service ministries, and other apostolates across Western New York."
As he handed each man the Book of the Gospels, Bishop Malone told them to, "Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach."
Fellow clergy helped each newly ordained deacon to vest in his stole, a sign of the deacon's office of service, and dalmatic, an outer garb worn at liturgy.
Although transitional deacons and permanent deacons both have the same faculties - they can preach at Mass, witness marriages and administer the sacrament of baptism - since the men plan on having different end points, their preparation is different. Future priests study for a master's in divinity degree, with about twice the credit hours of the permanent deacon's master's in pastoral ministry.
Deacons have a threefold ministry involving the Ministry of the Word. "That's when you're proclaiming the Word of God. At Mass, the deacon proclaims the Gospel. Sometimes they'll preach," explained Deacon Timothy Chriswell, newly-named director of the Permanent Diaconate Program for the Diocese of Buffalo. In the Ministry of the Liturgy, the deacon participates in the liturgy, dispensing the Eucharist, blessing marriages, bringing Viaticum to the dying. Lastly, there is the Ministry of Charity, in which the deacon spends time helping the needy, imprisoned, sick or elderly.
"What I always felt was the most important part is the ministry of charity, because the deacon becomes the link between everyday secular society and the Church," Deacon Chriswell said. "What they do is go out and they participate in the world. Their charity may be working with prisoners, on college campuses, hospitals, nursing homes. That's where they spend their time ministering to other people. They kind of become the connection, because most of the deacons, if they're not retired, are still working out in the secular world."
Each permanent deacon is assigned to a parish where they carry out the ministry of the Word and liturgy, and to a charity or institution to carry out their ministry of charity.
The formation for permanent deacons takes five years. One year is spent in inquiry, where the candidate is invited to learn more about the diaconate, his call as a baptized Catholic, and his gifts and talents compared to those of ordained ministry. He is encouraged to question and to listen to God so he may understand and acknowledge the direction to which God is calling him. After an introductory class comes the aspirancy period. Following the bishop's approval to continue, the man will move to a one-year period of time to "test the waters" of the formation process. During this time, he continues his parish ministries, reflecting on it in light of what he has learned thus far. He begins formal theological studies in the master degree or the Certificate in Pastoral Studies programs locally through Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora. He attends a prayer/study weekend each month from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon at the Seminary where his wife joins him for part of the weekend.
Upon approval of the bishop, the man enters into candidacy for three years of honing his skills for ministry and deepening his understanding of the call to ordained ministry. He continues his theological studies, is present for the monthly prayer/study weekends, engages in pastoral field ministry and is present for a spiritual retreat. He celebrates the rites of candidacy, reader and acolyte as he moves through to the celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
Deacon Birmingham grew up in Pueblo, Colo., and came to New York after 18 years serving in the Army. He now works for the Department of Homeland Security's immigration division. He first became interested in the diaconate as a teenager. He and his father were both active in their Colorado parish, which had a deacon serving at the time.
"My father used to ask me, 'Are you going to be a priest?'" He recalled. "As I was in my mid teens, I'd say, 'No, I don't think so, Dad. But I'd like to get his job.' So, the seed was sort of planted then."
Off and on he thought about it, but his military career and his family took priority. After retiring and seeing his daughters grow up, he felt something was missing.
"It was just me and my wife. There has to be something more. Something is missing in my life," he thought.
Formation took a big commitment, one he was hesitant to make. Reflecting afterwards he said, "As I went through my transition in the diaconate program, it was more evident to me this is exactly where I'm supposed to be, because I want to serve God's people and take care of them, and lead them to Him."
Deacon Monaco, 61, credits his place of birth with instilling his vocation.
"I was born and raised in the shadows of Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna," he said. "We always attended Mass at OLV and I developed a profound love of our Blessed Mother. How could you not, living in the shadows of OLV?"
Now retired from the Department of Labor, Deacon Monaco is taking part in a one-year position as chaplain for Catholic Health at Sisters of Charity Hospital, part of his clinical pastoral chaplaincy training.
Deacon Monaco has been appointed to St. Amelia Parish, Tonawanda, as well as to a Ministry of Charity at Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph Campus in Buffalo. Deacon Birmingham will serve as at SS. Joachim & Anne Parish, Attica, as well as to a Ministry of Charity at Cloister Nursing Home, Warsaw.
Also ordained as transitional deacons were Peter Nsa Bassey, from Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria; Paul Cygan from the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, Olean; Peter Santandreu, from SS. Peter & Paul Parish, Hamburg, and Gerard Skrzynski, from Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish, Orchard Park. They are expected to be ordained to the priesthood this June.