A ministry of charity: 24 men ordained deacons for the Diocese of Fort Worth
KELLER — Diverse. Enthusiastic. Self-giving. Talented.
That’s how formation leaders describe the 2020 class of permanent deacons ordained by Bishop Michael Olson during an August 10 Mass at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church.
The evening liturgy was concelebrated with Tyler Bishop Joseph E. Strickland and several diocesan priests on the Feast of St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr.
Coming from a variety of backgrounds and professions, the 24 men completed five years of intensive pastoral, liturgical, and scriptural training before ordination.
It is the fifth class of candidates raised to the Order of Deacon in the diocese and the first in 11 years.
Following social distancing and mask mandates because of the pandemic, more than 600 clergy and invited guests attended the ordination with many other North Texas Catholics participating in the celebration through livestreaming on the diocesan website, fwdioc.org.
After welcoming the congregation to the much anticipated occasion in the life of the diocese and Church, Bishop Olson praised the soon-to-be deacons for their courage and perseverance in saying “yes” to the Lord.
“I would also like to express my sincere thanks to the wives of these candidates for supporting and accompanying their husbands in the journey of formation,” he continued.
Many encouraged their husband’s faith life, “some even introducing them to Christ and the Catholic Church.”
Linda Asebedo said both she and her husband, Rodney, grew spiritually during the deacon formation process. The couple often spent mornings together in the family’s prayer garden.
“I always knew this is where he was headed,” she said, referring to the diaconate. “He has a servant’s heart.”
Her spouse took care of his ailing mother-in-law, Ernestine, before she passed away — a kindness noticed by the mother of three.
“And when he saw other people in the nursing home struggling, he’d help them,” the proud wife added. “That’s his calling — to serve.”
During the Mass, Bishop Olson explained that deacons, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, assist the bishop and his priests in the ministry of the Word, of the altar, and of charity, “showing themselves to be servants of all.”
“They will preside over public prayer, administer Baptism, assist and bless marriages, bring Viaticum to the dying, and conduct funeral rites,” he said.
Consecrated by the laying on of hands that comes down to us from the Apostles, deacons also perform acts of charity in the name of the bishop or pastor. These duties are performed in a way that recognizes them as disciples of Him “who came not to be served, but to serve.”
As deacons and ministers of Jesus Christ, “do the will of God from the heart,” the prelate urged. “Serve the people with love and joy as you would the Lord.”
The Tolentino family met Dr. Bradley Samuelson, now Deacon Samuelson, first as a medical doctor, then through his charismatic faith.
“You could see his love for the Lord,” said Rosalie Tolentino, a Queen of Peace parishioner whose husband, Davy, is part of the 2022 deacon formation class. “We always felt he had a lot to offer the Church.”
When the Wichita Falls couple participated in a Bible study group with the cardiologist, they became close friends.
“We learned a lot from him. Our family dealt with some difficult issues over the past few years and he’s been a consultant,” she added. “He’s a physician of the soul, as well as the heart.”
The newest cadre of permanent deacons join 80 men currently serving the Diocese of Fort Worth in that role. It is one of the ranks of the sacrament of Holy Orders along with priests and bishops.
Transitional deacons are those men preparing for the priesthood. The permanent diaconate, restored by the Second Vatican Council, can be conferred on married individuals and is a lifelong commitment. Deacons are marked with an imprint which configures them to Christ and cannot be removed.
Two classes of deacon candidates are currently in formation, and there are plans to begin the application process for a third.
Juan Rendon, who developed the diocese’s current program, described the newly ordained deacons as a “very dynamic” group.
“They are enthused for the Lord, on fire to do God’s will, and ready to serve the needs of His people,” he said.
During the formation process, deacon candidates study from a curriculum similar to one designed for seminarians. Every year, the men are given dual assignments to a parish and an outreach charity or agency like a hospital, homeless shelter, or Catholic Charities.
“They are a very talented pool of candidates — not only because of their professions — but because of who they are. All of them have a heart for service,” Rendon observed.
Before beginning the Liturgy of Diaconal Ordination, which includes the Laying on of Hands, Prayer of Ordination, vesting with stole and dalmatic, and Handing on of the Book of Gospels, Bishop Olson cautioned the candidates in his homily that the diaconate is not a ceremonial, outreach, or social action ministry.
“It is a ministry of charity,” he instructed. “Charity is the very life of God into which we are baptized and will enter into fully after we have passed from this world.”
There is a difference between compassion and charity, the bishop cautioned. Compassion is assisting a poor or suffering person and thinking, “there but for the grace of God, go I.”
“Charity is when a Christian encounters a poor or suffering person, experiences empathy, assists the person, and recognizes, “there by God’s grace goes Christ,” the prelate explained. “It is focused on Christ alone in the poor, who are people — not ideas or problems.”
The Wright family gathered to see their father and grandfather, a retired businessman, ordained a deacon. Rick Wright’s faith journey was a blessing for everyone, said son Ryan Wright who traveled from San Antonio for the occasion.
His father’s study of moral theology, dogma, and sacred Scripture prompted some interesting phone conversations.
“We had more talks about religion and our faith than I’ve ever had in the past,” he pointed out. “I could see the Holy Spirit working in him in a different way. It helped my formation.”
Six of Wright’s eight grandchildren watched in awe as Bishop Olson laid hands on their grandfather’s head to invoke the Holy Spirit.
“It’s always good to have a vocation in the family. It sets an example for the rest of us, especially the younger kids,” Ryan Wright said. “Hopefully, one day, they’ll follow in their grandfather’s footsteps.”