SIX NEW SERVANTS OF THE GOSPEL
Saturday morning at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle, six new men were added to the rolls of permanent deacons of the Diocese of St. Petersburg. Joined by their wives, children, grandchildren, family and friends, these new deacons completed their four years of preparation and presented themselves to the assembly for ordination. Promising “obedience and respect to me and my successors” the candidates lay prostrate on the floor of the sanctuary as the assembly prayed to all the saints to be with these Gospel servants during their new ministry. After the laying on of hands by the bishop only, the men were vested in the robes of their office by their wives and priests and/or deacons of their choosing. The penultimate moment of the rite of ordination takes place when the new ordinand is presented with the Book of the Gospels and told, “believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.” The rite concludes with a greeting of peace given by myself to each of the new deacons followed by the same from the about sixty deacons present for the ordination. Once seated the Eucharist proceeds and two of the new deacons assist at the altar and the other four assist with the distribution of Holy Communion.
The six men ordained on Saturday were Carlos Celaya of St. Paul parish, Tampa; Scott Conway of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini parish, Spring Hill; Edward Dodenhoff of St. Stephen parish, Valrico; Paul Haber of Christ the King parish, Tampa; Matthew Shirina of Nativity parish, Brandon; and, Edward Smith of St. Stephen parish, Valrico. Joining me this morning for the ordination ceremony was Bishop Robert Guglielmone, Bishop of Charleston, South Carolina, who was present at Deacon Scott Conway’s birth and his pastor at a parish on Long Island for Scott’s younger years.
The office of deacon’s beginning is well documented in Sacred Scripture [Acts 6:1-7b] when the apostles’ work load just became so great as they travelled around, celebrating Eucharist, preaching, and baptizing that they were unable to attend to the needs of some in the Church who traditionally were cared for well in the Jewish practice of religion, especially widows and orphans. In time, their ministry also was extended to administration but seems largely to have passed out of existence in the 6th or 7th century. The second Vatican Council restored the diaconate in the mid-sixties, seeing to it that it became available once again to married men. Throughout the centuries, diaconate as the final order prior to ordination as a priest was maintained and today the difference is manifest by calling those preparing for ordination as “transitional deacons” and those being ordained to serve as deacons for the rest of their lives as “permanent deacons.” Permanent deacons do not have to promise to live the celibate life obviously but they are not allowed to remarry should their wives precede them in death.
There was great joy in our Cathedral on Saturday morning and few moments bring the joy and satisfaction to a bishop like that of ordinations to the diaconate and priesthood. The six men have received their first assignments from the Clergy Personnel Board after meeting with them. The last two classes have been ordained for the service of the whole diocese and not just the parish from which they come, though some indeed have been assigned to their home parishes. Again I offer my congratulations to the newly ordained and my gratitude to their spouses who have supported them in their decision to pursue ordination and are willing to share their husbands with the Church.