Prepared to serve - Ten men are ordained permanent deacons for the Diocese of Fort Worth
KELLER — Rosalie Tolentino clutched two framed photographs as she waited inside St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church on August 10 to witness Bishop Michael Olson ordain 10 men to the Sacred Order of the Diaconate. Her husband, Davy Tolentino, was one of them.
During seven years of formation and two prior attempts to complete diaconal training, the Tolentinos lost two young adult children — Franklin and Brittny — to congenital heart disease. Bringing their images to the celebration was important.
“It’s God’s timing and still a joyful occasion because we’re here today,” said Rosalie Tolentino who came to the evening liturgy with the couple’s surviving child, Michel.
She remembered how her husband would complete theology assignments from their daughter’s hospital room. Brittny, a heart transplant patient, was adamant her father continue his studies.
“As a deacon I think he’ll bring a good listening ear to those who are hurting and experiencing the same struggles in life,” explained Rosalie Tolentino, a parishioner at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Wichita Falls. “He might serve as an example to future deacons who consider juggling family life, a job, and the diaconate program impossible.”
Ordained along with Davy Paul Tolentino were Dennis Brent Catlin, David Michael Kinch, Francisco Javier Leal de la Fuente, Alfred Matthew Mosco, Mark David Pierson, David Robinett, Francisco Joel Rodriguez, Jesus Valadez Morales, and Sergio Vera Orozco. The sixth class of men ordained to the permanent diaconate in the diocese, they join 95 active deacons currently working in parishes.
An order that dates back to the early Church, deacons share in the sacramental grace and character of Holy Orders but are ordained to ministry, not to the priesthood. The word deacon is derived from the Greek “diakonia” meaning “service” and underscores the diaconal call to serve others like Christ. Permanent deacons, who are married or unmarried, differ from transitional deacons who are preparing for the priesthood.
In a homily that described the selfless actions and martyrdom of St. Lawrence, the bishop explained the threefold ministry of a deacon: to proclaim the Gospel, assist at the altar, and perform acts of charity.
“Depending on the circumstance, one or another of these may receive particular emphasis in an individual deacon’s work but these three ministries are inseparably joined together as one in the service of God’s redemptive plan,” he said, quoting Pope St. John Paul II who spoke to U.S. permanent deacons in 1987.
Proclaiming the Word of God inevitably leads to Eucharistic worship at the altar, which, in turn, develops a new way of living that expresses love of God and neighbor through charitable acts.
Through diaconal ministry the poor and previously underserved “receive the rich gift of belonging to the family of God,” the bishop added.
The permanent diaconate was restored by Pope St. Paul VI after the Second Vatican Council. Bishop Olson said the late pontiff called the ministry “a driving force” that serves the Church in a fallen world where the poor have no place to belong, and human beings are valued only for their productivity.
“Since the call of the first deacons recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, this has been the vocation of deacons, to remind the Church, through intentional service, that the poor have first place of belonging even when they do not fit in.”
Watching how the late Deacon Emilio “Popo” Gonzalez served his fellow people in Denton inspired Francisco de la Fuente to apply for the ministry.
“He was an example to me of how to be a deacon in the life of a community,” he said, noting that a local preschool, Gonzalez School for Young Children, was named to honor his advocacy for others.
“Popo visited the jails, hospitals, nursing homes and sometimes became involved in political issues,” de la Fuente added.
The new deacon is looking forward to serving at the altar, spreading the message of Jesus, and becoming a link between the priest and the people.
“I want to visit the sick, the imprisoned, and show Jesus’ love to the community,” he explained. “I’m excited to start this new journey — the next step in my life. Popo told me not to worry about what people say but to trust in Jesus and listen to your heart.”
During the ancient Rite of Ordination, each candidate promised to fulfill the responsibilities that come with ministry and pledged obedience to the bishop and his successors. They then prostrated themselves before the altar — symbolizing their submission to the will of God — as the congregation prayed the intercessory Litany of Saints.
The moment of ordination took place with the Laying on of Hands — a gesture used by the apostles when they elected the first deacons. After placing his hands on the head of each candidate to invoke the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Bishop Olson concluded the rite with the Prayer of Consecration.
The new deacons were then dressed in a stole and dalmatic by other clergy. Recently purchased to match the bishop’s blue and white chasuble and mitre, the dalmatics will be used for future liturgical celebrations.
Wearing diaconal vestments for the first time, the new deacons knelt before the bishop to receive the Book of the Gospel with the words, “Believe what you read; teach what you believe; and practice what you teach.”
Along with assisting at Mass and preaching the homily, a deacon may baptize, witness and bless marriages, and preside at funeral liturgies.
Juan Rendon, director of diaconal formation, said the newest group of permanent deacons began their theological, pastoral, and spiritual training in 2017 and are “faithful to the mission of the Church and faithful to the proclamation of the Good News.”
Hailing from diverse parishes, the new deacons are expected to assume a larger role in ministry especially in the areas of hospital chaplaincy, hospice work, and sacramental preparation. Fifty percent of them are bilingual.
“Some priests have asked for bilingual deacons to help with Baptisms, marriage preparation, and hospital visits,” Rendon continued. “They are talented, gifted men. It’s been a blessing and an honor to walk with them from day one.”
Formation for the next class of men aspiring to become permanent deacons began August 13.
For David Robinett, the journey to become a permanent deacon began nine-and-a-half years ago in Austin. The Catholic convert was 18 months shy of ordination with the class of 2019 in the Austin Diocese when his employer transferred him to the DFW Metroplex. A year later, the Diocese of Fort Worth accepted him into its diaconate program and four years of candidacy began anew.
The Air Force veteran didn’t consider starting the formation process again a setback.
“My desire is to surrender to the Holy Spirit so there was definitely something I could continue to learn and grow from,” he reasoned. “I’m exactly where I need to be. God has put me with some amazing men that have taught me greater lessons in humility and service, and I’m proud to call them my brothers.”
Robinett is looking forward to ministry as a deacon with “joyful excitement.” Willing to serve wherever needed, the former military police officer has a special interest in helping veterans.
“The harsh reality is [approximately] 22 service members are committing suicide each day because they don’t know how to handle PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and adjust to civilian life,” he said. “God willing, I can be the image of God’s love and hope and grace to these men so they can see there is a tomorrow. There is something worth continuing to live for.”
Held on the Feast of St. Lawrence, a martyred deacon, the Ordination Mass was concelebrated by Bishop Michael Olson with Father Jonathan Wallis, vicar general; Monsignor E. James Hart, chancellor and moderator of the Curia; Father James Flynn, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton; and priests from the local Church and other dioceses. More than 1,100 guests and clergy attended the celebration which was livestreamed on the diocesan website.