Sign up for email alerts from The Monitor | Diocese of Trenton
The Monitor | Diocese of Trenton, NJ  
Advanced Search

home : news : our diocese September 15, 2014

'Men of Great Faith'
New deacons poised for service in liturgy, Word and charity
‘Lord Have Mercy’ – As the congregation prays the Litany of the Saints, the 13 deacon candidates lie prostrate in the center aisle of St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral during their May 11 ordination Mass. Jeff Metzner photos

‘Lord Have Mercy’ – As the congregation prays the Litany of the Saints, the 13 deacon candidates lie prostrate in the center aisle of St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral during their May 11 ordination Mass. Jeff Metzner photos

Heralds of the Word – Surrounding Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., are the 13 men he ordained to the permanent diaconate May 11 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton

Heralds of the Word – Surrounding Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., are the 13 men he ordained to the permanent diaconate May 11 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton

‘Did you Know?’

The ancient order, dating to the earliest days of the Church, was reestablished by Pope Paul VI in 1967 with the publication of the Apostolic Letter, “Diaconatus Ordinem.” Derived from the Greek, “diakonia,” which is translated as minister or servant, the role of deacons is to assist the bishop and his priests.

All of the candidates had successfully completed an intense, four-year formation program which began with an initial period of discernment by the prospective deacon and, if he is married, his wife, and the garnering of this parish priest’s recommendation.

During the first year of study, called the Aspirant Year, they participated in once-weekly pre-formation classes. During the next two years, they attended twice weekly classes in a wide range of subjects including Scripture, canon law, moral theology, Church history, homiletics and counseling.

Practical parish experience and retreats, both individually and with their wives, helped the candidates further discern the role they will undertake in the Church. Each receive the Sacraments of Holy Orders in a ceremony identical to that of transitional deacons, who will go on to the priesthood. Had an unmarried man been among them, he would, like a transitional deacon, have made a promise of celibacy.

Among the many functions they perform in parishes, deacons may officiate at Baptisms, weddings, wake services and committals; assist the priest at Mass; proclaim the Gospel and preach homilies.

There are now more than 253 deacons in active ministry in the Diocese of Trenton – 48 of whom have retired status but still function in their parishes. The men of the diaconate range in age from 36 to 94 and in education from high school to post graduate degrees. They reflect the ethnic diversity of the diocese, including Caucasians, Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and Haitians.

By Mary Stadnyk | News Editor

The 13 men who were ordained as permanent deacons for the diocese May 11 were reminded by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., that their vocation is primarily one of service to the Church through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

To view gallery of photos click HERE.

“This morning we come together, the community of faith that is the Diocese of Trenton, to meet the needs of the Church through the ordination of 13 deacons, men of great faith who in their lives have discerned God’s call in the Church, who have studied and prepared themselves and who now offer themselves to me, as Bishop --- a successor to the Apostles --- for ordination to ministry in the Church in a permanent, enduring way,” said Bishop O’Connell.

Extending his appreciation to the 13 candidates, the bishop told them that they “join the ranks of many men like you who have assumed the very words of the Lord Jesus Christ, “I have come to serve and not to be served (Mark 10:45).”

“For the gift you are and for all the gifts you bring to share, I thank you and the entire diocese thanks you.”

In a liturgy filled with rich symbolism and ancient ritual, the 2013 class of candidates entered St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. Before a capacity congregation of family, friends, and well-wishers, Bishop O’Connell ordained: Robert J. Bednarek, Sacred Heart Parish, Riverton; Richard K. Benner, Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish, Riverside; David Colter, St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton; Louis S. Esposito, St. Veronica Parish, Howell; Michael Lee Foster, St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan; James V. Gallagher, St. Mary Parish, Colts Neck; Bernard J. Kane III, St. Dominic Parish, Brick; Thomas J. Knowles, St. John Neumann Parish, Mount Laurel; Matthew P. Nicosia, St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan; Robert B. Pladek, St. Luke Parish, Toms River; Charles D. Raylman III, St. Ann Parish, Browns Mills; Richard Gerard Roenbeck, St. Gabriel Parish, Marlboro; Ronald Victor Schwoebel, Sts. Francis and Clare Parish, Florence Township.

Sacred Tradition
From the selection of music sung by the Diocesan Festival Choir to the readings proclaimed and the instructions from Bishop O’Connell, the theme of being chosen by God and called to serve resonated throughout the ordination Mass.

During the Rite of Ordination, the men to be ordained were called forward by Msgr. Thomas J. Mullelly, diocesan vicar for clergy personnel and consecrated life, and elected by the bishop, who testified that the men were prepared to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders and assume the responsibilities of the diaconate. Bishop O’Connell, in the name of the entire Church, accepted this testimony. The congregation signaled their approval with a round of applause.

In his homily, the bishop referenced the familiar adage: “Many hands make light work” when he reflected back to the early Church and the daunting responsibilities charged to the 12 newly appointed apostles in ministering to the people throughout the world. The 12 became “quickly overwhelmed” with their responsibility of preaching the Gospel that “other needs were being neglected within the community of faith as it grew, especially the needs that charity put before them,” said the bishop.

Because the apostles recognized that “more hands” were needed in addressing the Church’s needs, “the 12 summoned the community of faith to develop a response – we might call it a ‘strategic plan’ to meet the needs of the Church,” said the bishop. “And the result of their prayerful deliberations has traveled through time and history to the present moment here in our cathedral.”

Focusing on the ministry of the deacon, Bishop O’Connell instructed that it is more than just “to serve at table.”

“You are ordained and assigned for the Diocese of Trenton to the ministry of God’s Word, to the ministry of the altar, to the ministry of charity working with me, as your bishop, and with the pastors and priests of the parishes to which I have assigned you,” said Bishop O’Connell.

The bishop noted that although each new deacon brings unique personal gifts and identity to their ministry, the ministry itself “is not a personal or individual ministry.”

“Yours is not a ministry confined to the boundaries of your parish assignment alone,” he said. “Yours is a ministry of the Church, in the Church, for the Church in our diocese.”

Following his homily, the candidates them came forward at which time the bishop asked them whether they were willing to accept the responsibilities of the ministry: to live in humble charity, to hold fast to the mystery of the faith, to celebrate the liturgy of the hours with and for the people of God, and to maintain and deepen their prayer lives. To each question, the candidates responded, “I do.”

The candidates then made a promise of obedience by placing their hands inside the bishop’s, who asked, “My brother, do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?”

After each candidate affirmed his intention to serve as deacons and made a promise of obedience to the bishop and his successors, the bishop said, “May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment.”

In perhaps the most moving part of the rite, the 13 men moved to the center aisle of the cathedral, lining up single file, and prostrated themselves, face down, showing their dependence on God. As they lay prostrated, the Diocesan Festival Choir and congregation prayed the Litany of Saints, asking God to bless the candidates.

The ordination to the permanent diaconate was complete after each man again knelt before the bishop who administered the Sacrament of Holy Orders. In silence, the bishop imposed his hands on each man’s head and prayed for an outpouring of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. The bishop then recited the prayer of consecration, explaining the significance of the laying on of hands and the role of the newly ordained deacons in their commitment to service.

The pastors, along with the wives or other family members of each deacon, assisted with the vesting of the deacons in the vestments that are proper to the office – the stole (worn over the left shoulder) and dalmatic (the long, wide-sleeved tunic).

For the third time, each new deacon knelt before Bishop O’Connell and placed his hands on the Book of the Gospels. The bishop instructed 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.”

The rite of ordination concluded with the sign of peace. The newly ordained deacons stood in front of the sanctuary and were greeted with an embrace by Bishop O’Connell and the more than 70 permanent deacons who were present.

The Mass continued with the deacons’ wives participating in the presentation of the gifts and the newly ordained deacons standing at the altar for the first time. Newly ordained Deacon Matthew Nicosia served as Deacon of the Eucharist.

Day of Great Joy
At the conclusion of the Mass, the newly ordained deacons were feted at a reception in the cathedral dining hall where they had the opportunity to greet and bestow their first blessings to family members and friends who attended the ordination.

“Beautiful, powerful and emotional” were the words newly ordained Deacon Esposito of St. Veronica Parish, Howell, used to describe the ordination Mass.

“It was so beautiful to see the community come together to share in the grace of this beautiful sacrament,” he said, then noted that most moving for him was the imposition of Bishop O’Connell’s hands on his head.

“I felt the power of the Holy Spirit being poured out,” said Deacon Esposito. “I look forward to God’s blessing and I hope to bring the Gospel message everywhere I go, through my word and actions and to give witness to Christ. There are so many people searching for truth, but don’t know where to find it. I hope to bring it to them by being a reflection of Jesus.”

Deacon Benner echoed similar sentiments when he said that the ordination Mass marked the “culmination of four years of study and the Lord calling me and preparing me to go and serve in his vineyard.”

Deacon Benner, who is assigned to Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish, Riverside, said it was very humbling for him to lay prostrate during the chanting of the Litany of Saints.

“I had a peace and stillness come over my entire body like the Holy Spirit was calling me,” Deacon Benner said, and it was as if the Holy Spirit was saying, “‘Be still for I am with you always to the end. Go forth and work in my vineyard now.’”

“I look forward to serving in the vineyard of Christ and putting into practice what I have been taught over these last four years,” said Deacon Benner. “I know I will be led by the Holy Spirit and I will look to more experienced deacons and priests to guide me along the way as I continue to learn to serve the faithful.”

As she stood by in the cathedral dining hall watching her husband greet and impart his first blessing on well-wishers, Donna Benner smiled as she spoke of the “tremendous change” she has seen in him during the past four years of his diaconate formation.

“The love that he has for the Word of God and all that he does is pure joy for him,” said Donna Benner. “All of his hard work has been very rewarding and I am extremely proud of him. God has bestowed all the blessings upon him.”

Related Stories:
• Many roads lead 13 men to the diaconate

Subscription Login

Pope Francis

The Monitor, 701 Lawrenceville Road, P.O. Box 5147, Trenton, NJ 08638-0147 | PHONE: 609-406-7404 | FAX: 609-406-7423 |

Copyright © 2011 | | All Rights Reserved.
Any use of materials on this website, including reproduction, modification or distribution without the prior written consent of the Diocese of Trenton is strictly prohibited.

Software © 1998-2014 1up! Software, All Rights Reserved