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.
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“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.
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.”