July 1, 2022

Challenges in formation cannot dampen joy of 15 new permanent deacons

Fifteen newly ordained permanent deacons pose on June 25 in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis moments after the Mass in which they were ordained for service in the archdiocese. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Fifteen newly ordained permanent deacons pose on June 25 in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis moments after the Mass in which they were ordained for service in the archdiocese. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

The 15 men whom Archbishop Charles C. Thompson ordained on June 25 as permanent deacons for service in the archdiocese have faced many challenges during the past four years of their formation for ordained ministry.

These hardships include the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the men to take formation classes online and limited their ability to do pastoral ministry in hospitals, nursing homes, jails and other settings.

Yet none of these hardships could keep joy from filling SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis during the ordination liturgy. (Related: See a photo gallery from the ordination Mass)

“It’s impossible to put into words,” said Deacon Mark Schmidl of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County after the ordination Mass. “It’s relief. It is joy. It’s beyond words.”

His wife Leah Schmidl agreed.

“It was joyful,” she said. “It was so moving. It was tearful.”

Although happiness ruled the day, COVID-19 still affected the liturgy. Archbishop Thompson, who had tested positive for the virus about a week earlier, had cleared quarantine two days before the liturgy. But he was still advised to wear a face mask when close to other people. So he, the men he ordained, altar servers and others all wore masks at times during the Mass.

The liturgy also happened the day after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in which it struck down the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that had legalized abortion across the country.

“Yesterday it was said that the ruling from the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade was no coincidence, happening on [the feast] of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” said Archbishop Thompson in opening remarks at the Mass. “Perhaps we can say likewise that it’s no coincidence that we ordain these men today on [the feast of] the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

“So, we entrust these men to Mary’s care to draw them ever closer to her son, our Savior Jesus Christ, as they serve in his name in his mission.”

Although the 15 men from across central and southern Indiana faced challenges in their formation that couldn’t have been imagined in the three previous groups of men ordained as permanent deacons for the archdiocese, one of them said after the Mass that those hardships brought them closer together. (Learn more about each of our new deacons here)

“It really helped us to build fraternity,” said Deacon Jorge Leanos of Holy Trinity Parish in Edinburgh. “It’s absolutely stronger than we would have expected. The circumstances actually made it better and stronger.”

The limits placed on Deacon Leanos and the others ordained with him on pastoral ministry during their four years of formation make him even more excited to begin to serve others in the broader community.

“That was a setback in our formation,” Deacon Leanos said. “However, it puts me in the position of looking even more forward to go and take the word of God to our friends who cannot come to church.”

Thoughts of COVID and other challenges were far from his mind during the liturgy itself, especially when Archbishop Thompson ritually laid hands on his head, a ritual used in ordinations from the earliest days of the Church.

“I could feel that I was transported into a different dimension,” Deacon Leanos recalled. “I could feel the Holy Spirit. That will be a memorable moment for the rest of my life.”

Deacon James O’Connell of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King Parish in Paoli and Archbishop Thompson shared a moment more than 40 years in the making during the ordination.

In the early 1980s, Deacon O’Connell was a seminarian for the Diocese of Evansville, Ind., at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad. Archbishop Thompson was a seminarian at the time a year behind Deacon O’Connell.

The archbishop laughed about the two coming back together face to face during the ordination when Deacon O’Connell placed his hands in the archbishop’s while promising to be obedient to him and his successors.

“God works in mysterious ways,” Archbishop Thompson humorously said. “For him to say ‘yes’ to obedience to me, knowing me that well—that’s a great act of obedience and faith.”

“That was so powerful for me, knowing that we went all the way back to 1981,” said Deacon O’Connell after the Mass. “It was just holy. I felt his support. The way he touched my hands and looked me in the eye—there was a really connectedness.”

Louise O’Connell has for decades seen her husband Deacon O’Connell give his life in service to others as a school counselor and, more recently, as a hospital chaplain.

“This is what he was born to do,” she said. “He’s been in ministry for a long time. He loves being a servant.”

Archbishop Thompson paid tribute in his homily to the close connection between the new deacons, their wives and families.

“No one gets to this point without the support and assistance of others,” he said. “In a special way, we thank your wives, children and parents for the great gift you are to the Church because of their support and nurturing. Most importantly, of course, we rely upon the grace of God.”

In the Church’s worship, it is believed that certain sacraments—baptism, confirmation and holy orders—make a permanent change in the person who receives them.

Archbishop Thompson reflected on that belief in his homily, noting that the change the deacon candidates were to experience will expand beyond themselves.

“They will be transformed and, in a certain way, their families will be transformed,” he said. “The transforming grace of holy orders effects a new creation. You will not leave here the same as you came in.

“Embracing this grace, those to be ordained deacon are sent to preach the word of God, serve at the altar, baptize, distribute holy Communion, visit the sick and serve the poor.”

The 15 new deacons join those ordained in 2008, 2012 and 2017, as well as deacons ordained elsewhere who have moved to the archdiocese. There are now 70 permanent deacons ministering across central and southern Indiana.

Deacon Kerry Blandford, who was ordained in 2008, has served as archdiocesan director of deacon formation since 2011.

“It doesn’t get old,” he said. “Each group is different. You sit through the formation. This was my fourth time through. I’ve jokingly said that the archbishop keeps sending me back for remedial work.”

Deacon Blandford is especially proud of the group ordained on June 25 because of the many challenges they faced during their formation.

“It speaks to their perseverance and their answering of a true call,” he said. †


(See additional photos from our special print edition layout here)

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