A great event of hope: six men ordained transitional deacons

by Joan Kurkowski Gillen

North Texas Catholic

March 23, 2020

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The six deacon candidates lie prostrate down the center aisle of St. Patrick Cathedral during the Litany of the Saints. (NTC/Ben Torres) Photo Gallery


FORT WORTH — Calling the occasion “a great event of hope in the midst of a pandemic,” Bishop Michael Olson ordained six men to the Order of Deacon during a March 19 Mass in St. Patrick Cathedral in the presence of only immediate family members and a few clergy.

Laity across the diocese participated in the Mass via livestream through the diocesan website, fwdioc.org.

Jason Allan, Thomas Jones, Samuel Maul, Brett Metzler, Joseph Moreno, and Linh Nguyen — members of the largest class of transitional deacon candidates in the 50-year history of the diocese — asked the bishop not to postpone their ordination despite a limited guest list and other changes mandated by coronavirus health concerns.

The men’s eagerness to serve the Church in a time of crisis outweighed any thoughts of a large celebration, according to Maul, an Assumption Seminary student. Ordination as a transitional deacon marks the final year of seminary formation for a man as he assumes the clerical state and publicly commits to promises of obedience, celibacy, and prayer.

“As one of my classmates put it, to worry about the celebration as opposed to the ordination itself is missing the point,” he said. “The nature of ordained ministry is to be of service in all times and that’s especially true in diaconate ministry. We’re all excited to move forward and get to work.”

Fellow seminarian Linh Nguyen draws inspiration from Pope Francis’ plea not to forget the most vulnerable.

“The crisis we’re going through right now gives his words even greater emphasis,” said the 25-year-old who grew up in Christ the King Parish in Fort Worth. “There’s such a big need in the diocese to serve and spiritually take care of people in a way that is safe for us and for them. That’s where our hearts are.”

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Bishop Michael Olson prays over Brett Metzler during the Laying on of Hands March 19, 2020. (NTC/Ben Torres)

 

Although attendance at the Mass was limited to 50 people, parishioners across the diocese could view a livestream broadcast of the liturgy. The ordination had been scheduled previously to take place in the 2,000-seat Vietnamese Martyrs Church in Arlington. The venue was changed to comply with public health restrictions banning large gatherings.

Before the Mass, Bishop Olson expressed gratitude to the family members of the seminarians.

“I thank you very much for encouraging your sons and entrusting them to God and His Church,” he said. “And we ask God to continue to bless you for your generosity and love.”

He also thanked the priests, deacons, and others who supported the candidates during their pastoral assignments and formation.

Established by the Apostles in the early Church to serve the needs of Greek-speaking widows and orphans shunned in society, the diaconate is the first of three ranks of ordained ministry in the Church. Deacons proclaim the Gospel, preach, assist at liturgies, and perform acts of charity. They may also baptize, witness the exchange of marriage vows, bring Viaticum to the dying, and officiate at funerals.

“You have prayed and worked hard for this evening,” Bishop Olson said, addressing the seminarians. “And this evening is a beginning, according to God’s Providence, and it engenders in us gratitude and awe at His power and love.”

During his homily, the bishop reminded the seminarians their ordination coincided with the Solemnity of Saint Joseph — a saint they can look up to as an example and intercessor for integrity of life, selfless service, and pure love. Spouse of the Blessed Virgin and guardian of the Messiah, St. Joseph was a righteous man. Faithfulness and knowledge of the Word of God enabled him to understand the angel’s message in a dream to accept his vocation and bring Mary into his home.

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Transitional Deacons Joseph Moreno and Sam Maul distribute Communion during the diaconal ordination of six seminarians March 19, 2020. (NTC/Ben Torres)

 

“Saint Joseph responds to the call of God not with words but with actions,” Bishop Olson continued. “They are courageous actions and they are hopeful.”

The patron saint of a happy death sought only God’s will, not his own. That fidelity led to peace and joy.

“As you leave the cathedral tonight as heralds of the Gospel and as ministers of charity, be sure what you have to offer is good and needed,” the bishop advised. “Be sure that our Heavenly Father will sustain you as He sustained St. Joseph in his vocation.”

To prepare for his ordination to the diaconate, Jason Allan made a five-day retreat with his spiritual director at Theological College in Washington, D.C.

“We spent time praying and reflecting on the rite of ordination itself,” said the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioner who entered the seminary after graduating from high school. “I thought about the promises I’ll make as a deacon and how I’ll be living those out not just as a deacon, but throughout my priestly ministry.”

As the ancient ritual of ordination began, Allan and the other ordinands approached the bishop one at a time, knelt, and promised to respect and obey him and his successors. Signifying humble submission before God, the men then prostrated themselves down the main aisle of the cathedral as a cantor led the assembly in the Litany of Saints.

During the most sacred part of the ordination, Bishop Olson imposed his hands on each man and silently recited the prayer of ordination. After being vested with a stole and dalmatic — an outward sign of the new ministry — the deacons received the Book of Gospels from the bishop with the words, “Believe what you read. Teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”

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The six deacon candidates stand before Bishop Olson during their transitional diaconate ordination Mass at St. Patrick Cathedral. (NTC/Ben Torres)  

 

Social distancing and the frequent use of hand sanitizer were protocols used to prevent the spread of contagion during the liturgy.

Baptized Catholic but not raised in the faith, Joseph Moreno is looking forward to serving as a deacon in one of the parishes near his seminary in San Antonio. After serving at St. Matthew Parish in Arlington as a catechist, lector, and acolyte, the former senior vice president for Citigroup left his lucrative job to study for the priesthood.

“It was a big step of faith, but I allowed God to lead and form me,” Moreno said. “I realized all through my life, God has been there moving the pieces around to prepare me for this time.”

Part of each seminarian’s formation includes a pastoral year spent working in a diocesan parish. Thomas Jones did a little bit of everything at St. Philip the Apostle in Lewisville.

“One of the best parts was visiting the families and getting to know the people of the parish,” said the Air Force veteran. “The people of St. Philip’s gave me an example of loving one another.”

Brett Metzler finds the camaraderie forged between the seminarians during a time of stress and anxiety reassuring.

“We all decided unanimously to go through with the ordination right away and I found that really encouraging,” said the former Denton resident. “Seeing the bishop’s leadership and witness takes away a lot of the panic and fear that is flying around. In him you see somebody who does have Christian hope — not just that this crisis will end, but that Jesus is here with us during this whole thing.”

The six men will serve one full year as transitional deacons before, God willing, they are ordained priests.

deacon candidates lay prostrate

FORT WORTH — Calling the occasion “a great event of hope in the midst of a pandemic,” Bishop Michael Olson ordained six men to the Order of Deacon during a March 19 Mass in St. Patrick Cathedral in the presence of only immediate family members and a few clergy.

Published (until 3/23/2038)