They Heard the Call

May 11-17, 2006
VOL 125 NO. 18
They Heard the Call
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Six Permanent Deacons are Ordained for the Diocese of Syracuse

“They presented these men to the apostles, who first prayed over them and then imposed hands on them.”
— Acts 6:6 They had just finished one long journey and were about ready to start another. On May 6, Thomas Picciano, Gregory Cross, Christopher Engle, Joseph During, Gilbert Nadeau and Adolph Uryniak were ordained in front of family and friends as permanent deacons for the Diocese of Syracuse at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The men come from different backgrounds and differ in the manner in which they were led to their vocations but they all said they felt a strong call to serve.

The message of serving others was prevalent throughout the ordination, which was celebrated by Bishop James Moynihan. In his homily, Bishop Moynihan defined the deacon as a man who is called to a ministry of service. A deacon’s ministry is threefold: A ministry of the Word, a ministry of the altar and a ministry of practical charity. The Scripture readings at the Mass referred to those aspects of the ministry. Bishop Moynihan said, “One of the deacon’s tasks is that of preaching the Word of God, and Hebrew prophets, from Isaiah to Malachy, should be patterns for the deacon’s own prophetic speech. In our first reading today, what is said of Isaiah could also be said of yourselves: ‘You are being sent to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and to comfort all who mourn.’ Indeed, you are being sent to announce the good news of Jesus Christ to all who cross your path. You will do it in the classroom, in the catechetical program, in the adult education classes, and above all, in your homilies at Holy Mass. The people of God want you to reach them, inform them and inspire them.”

Deacon Joseph During, of St. Mary’s Church in Cortland, plans to do just that. “As a deacon, I see myself focused on the service of God’s people through specific works and through the privilege of proclaiming the Gospel,” Deacon During said. “I want to be able to reach out to people who may be alienated or disconnected with the church for various reasons and attempt to call them back to some kind of reinvolvement. I plan to do that through various projects I have in mind to involve fellow parishioners at St. Mary’s in reaching out to people who may need some assistance in such things as home maintenance and repair and through our parish TV ministry, which impacts the homebound, hospitalized and nursing home residents of the Cortland community.”

Deacon During said that being ordained was the most exhilarating and yet humbling thing that had ever happened to him. “On the one hand, there is the excitement of achieving a goal that has taken a lot of effort and time to reach, and on the other hand, there is the awesome responsibility and commitment of the permanent deaconate,” he said. The permanent deaconate program requires two years of Formation for Ministry course work, a year of direct service in the parish, and then four more years of instruction. The first year of the program is a period of aspirancy. The aspirant is called to discern his vocation for one year before full acceptance into the final three years of the program. There are three dimensions to the permanent deaconate program: academic, ministerial and spiritual. Concepts of theology, the Scriptures and Christology are addressed during the academic component of the program.

Deacon During said his wife of 37 years, Joyce, has been a tremendous help to him throughout the course of the deaconate program. “Joyce has been very supportive and even attended most of the classes we took,” he said. “She was instrumental in keeping me focused, following up on my homework assignments and acquiring research materials whenever I needed them.” His wife plans to continue her support as he serves as deacon. “I’ll continue to help when he needs it,” she said. “I think he’s well-suited for the vocation of deacon. It’s a perfect match.”

Deacon Adolph Uryniak, of St. Agatha’s Church in Canastota, felt overwhelmed after the ordination ceremony. He has also benefited from his wife Susan’s enthusiastic support. Married 35 years, the decision to seek the vocation of deacon was a mutual one. “All along the way, your wife is consulted about her support of your discernment process, and her consent is required for you to be ordained,” said Deacon Uryniak. “I’m pleased and proud of him,” she said. “I’m very happy for him because it is something that he has always wanted to do.”

Deacon Uryniak said that his decision to apply for admission to the deaconate program was made after a long process of discernment for God’s calling. “The decision to actively seek to better know, love and serve God was made when I was in the Formation for Ministry program,” said Deacon Uryniak.

Deacon Gilbert Nadeau, of Annunciation Church in Clark Mills, had a similar experience when he felt the call to serve. It happened when he was studying in the Formation for Ministry program. “From there, it all blossomed,” said Deacon Nadeau. “I felt a certain sense of unworthiness. I thought, ‘Why is God calling me?’ This is a humbling experience. It’s letting yourself go to the will of God — it’s going with his agenda. I want to follow God’s call as far as how and what he wants me to accomplish.”

Deacon Nadeau said he feels blessed. He enjoys working with Father Richard Dellos, of St. Joseph’s and St. Patrick’s Church in Utica. “The Holy Spirit works through him,” said Deacon Nadeau. He has plans to serve the needy in the area by serving in the local food pantry.
Deacon Nadeau also feels thankful for his wife Mary’s presence. “The sacrament of marriage is my first vocation, then comes my job, and after that, my vocation to the deaconate,” said Deacon Nadeau. “My wife prays for me constantly. She’s a great gift — she’s my sounding board and my spiritual force. If she wasn’t there, I wouldn’t be able to do this.” Mary said she is thrilled with her husband’s new ministry. “I’m happy and proud of him,” said Mary.

The deaconate is a permanent vocation and is not a step in preparation for the priesthood. Like priests, deacons receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders and are members of the clergy. The ordained men can now minister in a wide range of areas. They can preach at Sunday Mass on a regular basis, administer the Sacrament of Baptism and preside at weddings. They can also officiate at funerals and other forms of liturgy. They cannot celebrate Mass or administer the sacraments of Penance, Confirmation or the Anointing of the Sick.

In his homily, Bishop Moynihan addressed the six men, saying, “Not only will you be a minister of God’s Word, but you will also be a minister at God’s Altar. To be a worthy minister at God’s Altar, the deacon must not only know about God, the deacon must speak about his conversations with God. In other words, the deacon must be a man of prayer.”

Continuous prayer figured strongly in Christopher Engle’s decision to become a deacon. “My ongoing relationship with God through prayer, along with Formation for Ministry and service within my parish relationship were all factors in the decision,” he explained. “Over the years, I have begun to have a more intimate, deeper love for our God. If one should ask what compels me to serve as deacon, my reply is to be a permanent minister of the church, and to share my loving faith, not only with words, but through action.” Deacon Engle will be serving the parishes of St. Anne and St. Paul’s in Whitesboro.

Prayer also played an important part in Thomas Picciano’s calling to become a deacon. After being laid off from his job in 1996, he found a job within one month, but he wasn’t happy with it. “I started praying that I could find another job that would allow me to be respectful of other people,” Deacon Picciano, a parishioner of Christ the King in Endwell, said. In 1999, he secured a job working in maintenance at his parish, in addition to volunteering as Director of Religious Education.

Within a few months, his pastor, Father Thomas Hobbes, encouraged him to join the Formation for Ministry program. After completing that program, Deacon Picciano attended a deaconate informational meeting in 2001. After taking an application home, he did a lot of praying. “I also spoke to family and close friends about the idea,” Deacon Picciano said. “I found that they were there to support my decision, something I felt was essential for the future. I continued with the process and was one of four men chosen for the class, which began in 2002.”
Deacon Picciano plans to share his faith by example in his job at WNBF Radio in Binghamton. “I hope to be of service where needed and when needed,” he said.
“I think it will be quite a challenge to serve the changing church in the coming years,” Deacon Picciano commented. Right before his ordination that day, Deacon Picciano said he was a little nervous. “When I got through with the ordination, it was just such a positive feeling,” he said. “Now the fun stuff begins.”

Bishop Moynihan mentioned in his homily that the third ministry – that of practical charity — is the one that defines the deacon’s life. Bishop Moynihan said that the story that had just been read from the Gospel of Mark illustrated practical charity. “What Jesus asks us to do is to help in simple things,” said Bishop Moynihan. “Helping out in a soup kitchen, spending time with someone needing a visit in a hospital or in a nursing home, being a friend to someone who feels that they don’t have a friend in the world — these are things which anyone can do, but they are things which a deacon has been commissioned to do.”

Gregory Cross, of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Syracuse, was looking forward to working in parish ministry so he could become more conscious and sensitive to the pastoral needs of the people he will be interacting with. After years of working in a business environment, he feels that he understands what ordinary working people deal with every day. “There’s a lot going on in our society to pull us in so many directions,” Cross said. “It’s very easy to get distracted from God’s will and God’s plan. There are moments every day in routine conversation for exercising ministry — and I don’t mean ‘preaching’ — just trying to keep a perspective.”

Cross applied for the deaconate 10 years ago, after several years of pondering and praying over the call. “After some serious reflection time, and looking back over my life, I found that the call was always there; this was merely my time to answer it fully,” he said. Cross feels fortunate to have had a strong faithful Catholic upbringing. “I had many people supporting and affirming my Catholicism and my call to ministry,” said Cross. “I also want to have something meaningful to do for the rest of my life.”

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