By Linda Reeves
Left: Deacon William Ferguson is vested with his stole by an attending priest and deacon during his ordination Sept. 6. The retired software engineer is a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Boca Raton. Photo by Jason Collins
The number of permanent deacons serving Catholics in the Diocese of Palm Beach continues to grow. What does this mean for the future of the local church?
“The more deacons we have the better,” said Ana Daza-Jaller, coordinator of the Permanent Diaconate Formation Office, who pointed out that permanent deacons have a vital role helping parish priests, who have extremely busy jobs and large flocks that continue to increase here.
Eight men joined the ranks of the clergy as deacons Sept. 6 at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola during an ordination Mass with Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito presiding. The cathedral was packed.
WHO ARE THE NEW CLERGY?
In the south end of the diocese in Boca Raton, Deacon William Ferguson serves at St. John the Evangelist and Deacon Lon Phillips is at Ascension.
Out west in Wellington, Deacon William Jacobs is at St. Thérèse de Lisieux and Deacon Joseph O’Connell assists at St. Rita.
The central diocese has Deacon Richard Lyles at St. Francis of Assisi in Riviera Beach, Deacon Miguel Munoz is at St. Ignatius Loyola, Deacon Stephen Scienzo serves at St. Peter in Jupiter and Deacon Martin Serraes is at Holy Name of Jesus in West Palm Beach.
“Each of the eight men has exhibited the necessary qualities we seek in men serving in the diaconate and has demonstrated continued growth in all of the areas concerned,” said Deacon Dennis Demes, program director. “In addition to their duties in their respective parishes, each new deacon indicates an area of service to (take on in) the Diocese of Palm Beach as well, since a deacon is ordained primarily as a minister of the greater church.”
A deacon is to be “a servant in a servant-church,” according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In 1967, the Catholic Church restored the diaconate as a permanent order of ministry, returning to the practice of the early church. Prior to the directive from Pope Paul VI, the diaconate was only a transitional stage as men prepared to be priests.
The clergy member has specific duties including proclaiming Scripture, preaching and performing charity for others. Deacons also assist at marriages, preside at funerals and burial rites, and lead Communion and prayer services.
There are more than 14,000 permanent deacons in the United States, according to the bishops’ conference.
Here the diocesan formation program, in its seventh year, has graduated 25 permanent deacons, bringing the population of “active deacons serving locally” to 86, according to Daza-Jaller.
The four-year diaconate program has attracted faithful men from all walks of life and professional careers. Deacon Demes pointed to projections that if the brotherhood continues to grow, deacons might outnumber priests one day.
At this point, the priesthood is strong in the diocese. According to the chancellor’s office, 110 priests have official assignments in the diocese with 53 parishes and missions. This figure includes diocesan, religious and extern priests. Another 65 active and retired priests have faculties in the diocese and help in parishes and ministries.
At the present time, the diocesan formation program has 22 participants.
“We have five in the first year, eight in the second year, five in the third year and four in the fourth year,” said Daza-Jaller.
Deacon Lee Levenson of St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in Delray Beach completed the diocesan program and studies required at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. He was ordained with 11 other men September 2006 during ceremonies at St. Patrick in Palm Beach Gardens.
“I recall quite vividly that all of us were very excited,” he said. “I personally felt very happy, but not at all sure that I was worthy of this wonderful sacrament. I expressed my concerns to a priest I was visiting in North Carolina just weeks before my ordination and he replied, ‘Lee, none of us are worthy to receive the sacrament of holy orders, but that being said, we must simply open our hearts to the Holy Spirit and let the Triune God fill us and guide us.’”