July 4, 2008

Making history: 25 men ordained permanent deacons

Deacon candidates lay prostrate during their ordination Mass on June 28 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Deacon candidates lay prostrate during their ordination Mass on June 28 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

History was made on June 28 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

That day, Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein ordained the first class of 25 permanent deacons in the history of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. (Read more about the history of the diaconate)

“That two-hour service was part of the history of the archdiocese,” Deacon John Thompson of St. Augustine Parish in Jeffersonville said after the liturgy. “And it was a huge part, as far as I’m concerned. I was a part of it. Wow.” (See photos from the Mass: Gallery One | Gallery Two)

The new permanent deacons will be ministering in parishes and in the broader community in such places as jails, prisons, hospitals and nursing homes.

They will be baptize, witness marriages and preside over funeral services. At Mass, they will be able to proclaim the Gospel and preach, but will not serve as celebrant or consecrate the Eucharist.

In the ministry of the word, the deacons will teach the faith and provide pastoral guidance.

The deacons’ ministry, however, will be focused on charity.

This ministry will flow from their ordination, which was marked by solemn rituals and heartfelt love shown by the friends and relatives of the new deacons that packed the cathedral.

“You felt love and the Spirit all the way through,” said Cindy Stratman, the wife of Deacon Michael Stratman. “I felt that I completely gave him to Jesus today.”

Deacon Stratman, who will minister at St. Patrick and St. Margaret Mary parishes and at Union Hospital in Terre Haute, had a large contingent of relatives in attendance.

He is the oldest of 13 siblings, and has four children and 12 grandchildren.

“I’m very proud that they’re here,” Deacon Stratman, 53, said after the liturgy. “I’m very humbled that they allowed me to give part of my life to the Lord in a different way through the Church.

“I was thinking of each one of them and praying for them [during the liturgy]. I hope that I can minister to them as much as to the people of the Church.”

Deacon Stratman’s youngest sister, Amy Stratman, 31, attended the ordination. She delayed her wedding until the fall so her brother could officiate at it.

“I was so proud and so amazed that my brother could do something like that,” said Stratman, who lives in Lincoln, Neb. “He’s going to be an awesome deacon.”

Whether they are ministering to their families or the broader Church, the new deacons, as ordained members of the clergy, will be special sacramental signs of Christ for all the faithful.

“Dear sons and brothers, you are to be raised to the order of the diaconate,” Archbishop Buechlein said in his homily. “The Lord has set an example that just as he himself has done, you also should do.

“As deacons, that is, as ministers of Jesus Christ, who came among his disciples as one who served, do the will of God from the heart: Serve the people in love and joy as you would the Lord.”

Joy was on the mind of Father Clement Davis, pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus, as he talked about Deacon William Jones, who will be ministering at the Seymour Deanery parish.

“Bill is a man of joy,” said Father Davis. “I would just hope that he would continue as a deacon to bring that joy to all the people that he serves. He is a real light and an uplifting factor in the lives of the people he knows and works with now.”

Sharing that joy will be important at the start of Deacon Jones’ ministry because it will be focused on comforting the dozens of members of St. Bartholomew Parish whose homes were severely damaged by flooding last month.

Deacon Jones injured his left arm while helping his employer, Mariah Foods, recover from the flooding.

“The last four weeks have been an incredible experience for me,” he said. “It showed how God really does work in my life. To see everything build up and have everything culminate with today’s ordination, it’s amazing how God works in our lives and how we have to trust in him.”

The ordination was a culmination of five years of intense ministry for Benedictine Father Bede Cisco, who—as director of the archdiocesan office of deacon formation—led the 25 men through their discernment and formation.

“I’m delighted with the movement of the Spirit among them,” he said. “And the Spirit will continue to work through them for the service of many people. I hope that they’ll remember that they’re always servants and bring that image of Christ the servant to every situation that they’re in.”

Becoming a sacramental image of Christ was on the mind of Deacon Donald Dearman, who will minister at St. Rita Parish and at Marion County Jail #1, both in Indianapolis.

It was also at the heart of the ordination liturgy when Archbishop Buechlein laid his hands on Deacon Dearman’s head.

Deacon Dearman said it was like God himself touching him.

“That’s what I felt,” he said. “And, in a sense, that’s what it was. He was calling down the Holy Spirit on me. I’ve been going through all this for years. But at the touch of that hand, there was a transformation. That was Jesus entering into me.” †

(Click here for more stories about the deacon formation program)

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