Present! 18 permanent deacons are ordained into Archdiocese

January 24, 2017

Photo by Rebecca Torrellas/Herald

HOUSTON — From all walks of life, 18 men share a common bond in faith and willingness to serve the Archdiocese. On Jan. 14, they exclaimed “Present” as their names were called and were ordained as permanent deacons at a ceremony presided by Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, along with Auxiliary Bishop George A. Sheltz and Bishop Brendan Cahill of the Diocese of Victoria. 

For each, it marked the end of six years of rigorous study and pastoral formation — and the beginning of life in the Permanent Diaconate at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, which was filled to capacity by families and supporters of each candidate.

There are now more than 420 permanent deacons serving in the Archdiocese — some working in parishes and schools, serving as liturgists, homilists, catechists, ministers and administrators, while others commit to social ministries such as corrections services, special youth, hospital ministry, port chaplaincy and much more. They assist bishops and priests at the celebration of the Eucharist, assist and bless marriages, preside over Baptisms, funerals and other special blessings. They balance their ordination with their “ordinary” lives, some as husbands, dads and breadwinners.

“Today, the Church seals what is ultimately a call from Christ,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “On one level this is a culmination day from years of formation, study, field service, spiritual direction and a host of other activities that each and all of you have celebrated, in some cases even endured.”

Training and preparation of deacons is carried out through efforts led by Deacon Phillip Jackson, the Archdiocesan director for the Permanent Diaconate, and the University of St. Thomas Graduate School of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary. Then, prior to ordination, Cardinal DiNardo interviews each candidate and his wife.

One Saturday a month for the past six years, the wives were required to attend all-day pastoral and spiritual classes with their husbands. Every Wednesday evening, diaconate candidates attended classes toward a bachelor’s or master’s degree in theology.

Typically, a candidate and his wife are already active in the Church before he receives the call to the diaconate. After prerequisite courses — which usually include basic theology and Formation Toward Christian Ministry — and more soul-searching, the candidate joins the program as an aspirant. 

The sponsoring parish and the Archdiocese split the aspirant’s education costs. Should his wife decide to follow the academic tracks, the parish and Archdiocese pay her costs as well. 

“Ordination to Holy Orders is perhaps the most important day in a man’s life second only to his marriage, if married. It is a life changing event that occurs only once,” Deacon Jackson said. “We have seen these men who have been called by the Holy Spirit, formed by years of study and prayer and who are now sent by the bishop, as he hands each of them the Book of Gospels with these words, ‘Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.’”

Recently ordained Deacon Ly Nguyen of Our Lady of Lourdes in Houston said becoming a deacon wasn’t something he aspired to while growing up.

“I was very happy being in my own world, working with youth and young adults ministry over the years. Yet, God’s call through the voices of community kept on getting louder and more persistent,” he said. “He is truly the ‘Hound of Heaven.’ He won’t leave you alone. So, my journey of discernment began as a struggle to simply open my heart to God’s calling, and has ended in the peaceful acceptance and embrace of God’s will for me and my family.”

With three pre-teen children, Nguyen’s path to the permanent diaconate had it’s challenges.

“The challenge was not so much in juggling the demands and responsibilities of work, family and formation classes, but in making sure that our children somehow understand and feel that they are still our number one priority, and that we love them even more than ourselves,” he said. “Besides, our own children are gifts from God, so we cannot withhold them from Him. We simply resolve to focus on our first vocation, which is our marriage and family, and hope to serve and grow in God together as a family.”

Deacon Henry Vinklarek Jr. of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Spring considers his ordination “truly a blessing and a dream come true.”
“My family, friends and (St. Ignatius) parishioners have been very supportive of me on this journey,” he said. “They continuously prayed for me and encouraged me to stay the course.”