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In his native Puerto Rico, deacon candidate Emilio Ferrer-Soto grew up worshipping at a church named after St. Patrick that had been built by his grandfather.
After entering the U.S. Army in 1971, he went far away from his Caribbean home, serving for periods in Europe, Central America and South America.
After retiring from the military, Emilio’s travels eventually brought him to New York in 1999 where he began working for the Social Security Administration.
Near the end of that year, he was asked to work in Indianapolis as a bilingual claims representative.
Emilio had never set foot in the city before, and didn’t know where to go for Mass celebrated in Spanish, his native language.
“I called a taxi and told the taxi driver to take me to a Spanish-speaking church,” he said.
Where did he end up? At a church named after St. Patrick, a reminder of the one he worshipped at as a boy back in Puerto Rico.
When he got there, he asked the taxi driver to wait for him.
Franciscan Father Tom Fox celebrated the Mass and, at the end of the liturgy, asked if there were any newcomers.
Emilio introduced himself and, afterward, chatted with some of St. Patrick’s parishioners.
“I remember going back to the taxi and the bill was $84,” Emilio said with a laugh.
It wasn’t long before he got involved at his new parish.
“I remember telling Father Tom, ‘I want a job,’ ” Emilio said.
He eventually became a member of the parish council and served as a lector.
A few years later, Emilio told his wife, Maria Torres-Gonzalez, that, if he were back in Puerto Rico, he would seek to become a permanent deacon.
Just a few weeks later, Father Tom approached Emilio and told him that the archdiocese was going to begin its first deacon formation program and that he would be a good candidate for it.
“I couldn’t speak,” Emilio said. “And Maria was looking at me. I told him that I needed to speak to Maria. Maria told him, ‘Father, two weeks ago, he told me that he wanted to be a deacon.’ ”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Ferrer-Soto applied to the deacon formation program and was accepted.
If all goes according to plan, he and 24 other men will be ordained to the diaconate on June 28 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. They will be the first group of men ordained as permanent deacons in the history of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
Emilio’s journey to that historic day began under the patronage of St. Patrick long ago and far away in Puerto Rico. It has continued under that same saint’s care in Indianapolis.
“I saw that connection as [a sign of] my calling,” Ferrer-Soto said.
Another confirmation of his calling to the diaconate has come over the four years of his formation in his ability to successfully balance a growing number of commitments.
Emilio and Maria are involved in the St. Vincent de Paul Society and assist in marriage preparation at St. Patrick Parish. He has ministered in the parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, made hospital visits and Communion calls, and helped lead people through the Church annulment process.
The deacon formation program requires several hours a week. But, in addition to that, Emilio is also pursuing an online master’s degree in religious education through Felician College in New Jersey.
He and his wife are also involved in the Third Order Franciscans.
To top it off, Ferrer-Soto is striving to be a good husband, father and Social Security employee.
Franciscan Father Arturo Ocampo, pastor of St. Patrick Parish, is amazed by Emilio’s balancing act.
“Emilio is really disciplined and dedicated,” Father Arturo said. “He has a great love for ministry and for the Church.”
Emilio credited Maria’s presence in his life as making a big difference through the years of his formation.
“She’s been with me along every step of the path,” said Emilio. “I don’t know if I would have been able to do it without Maria. She is the power behind me.”
Maria, however, looks even deeper for the strength that has helped her and Emilio along the path to ordination.
“I think that the balance of all my involvement in Emilio’s formation is centered in Jesus as the center of our lives,” she said, “and that has helped us balance all these activities in a way that he can remain a good husband and father.”
Once he is ordained, Emilio hopes to have a positive impact on Hispanic Catholics in the archdiocese. He is already doing that through work when Hispanics come to the Social Security office for assistance.
“I’m always asking them if they go to church,” he said. “I try to guide them to St. Patrick, and there I offer the services of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. A lot of these people are in need.”
As men who work in the marketplace and who are, in a sense, embedded among the laity, permanent deacons are in a unique position. By virtue of their ordination, they are a special sign of Christ and can have a positive influence in ways that aren’t ordinarily available to priests and bishops.
For Emilio, that opportunity is a call to show Christ to others through humility.
“You have to humble yourself every day. You have to pick up your cross and carry it every day,” he said. “That’s the way that I see portraying Jesus.
“It’s going to be in your job, in your family, through the parishioners. You have to humble yourself.” †