May 17 a brand new class of men from the Syracuse Diocese will be ordained as permanent deacons at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Syracuse.
This particular class contains representatives from three of the diocese’s four regions.
Father Louis Aiello is formation director for the Office of the Permanent Diaconate and he interacts closely with each candidate during his process of becoming deacons.
“I would say this is an exceptional group of men, deeply committed to serving the Lord and the church. That service is a reflection of their ongoing faith life and their love for God,” Father Aiello said.
Father Aiello added that he was impressed with each candidate’s resolve during the formation process.
“I had the privilege and honor of directing their vocation for four years. They worked very hard during these years to develop their background and skills as ministers. Their effort and commitment made it a joy to work with them,” he said.
Like many men who have gone through the extensive diaconate program, Stephen Blabac did so at the suggestion of his pastor. In 2002, Father Brian Lang, who was the pastor of Blabac’s home parish, St. Catherine of Siena in Binghamton, said that perhaps he should consider becoming a deacon.
“I have to credit Father Lang with it,” Blabac said.
Blabac is a lifelong resident of the Southern Tier who attended Broome Community College and graduated from Clarkson University. At Clarkson, Blabac majored in civil engineering. Blabac worked for the New York State Electric and Gas Corporation for 32 years before retiring in 2003. Blabac is currently self-employed as an energy and engineering consultant. Blabac and his wife, Edith, have been married for 32 years and they have four children: Sarah, Ede, Stephen III and Kristen.
Blabac has taught religious education at St. Catherine and is also an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist and a lector. He has also served on the Broome County Catholic Schools Board and is a member of the Knights of Columbus Council No. 11403.
Blabac is a member of the Binghamton-Johnson City Nocturnal Adoration Society and is a professed Secular Franciscan of St. Francis Fraternity in Binghamton.
Blabac said that he is greeting the upcoming ordination with a mixture of emotions.
“I’m excited. I’m humbled by the confidence the church is showing in me and I’m wondering what it will be like,” Blabac said. “I’m feeling a mixture of joy and trepidation, although I would highlight the joy.”
A long-time member of the Syracuse Fire Department, Tim Downes needed just a few months to determine that he would become a deacon following the suggestion of his pastor, Father Aiello.
“I like service and that’s what a deacon does,” Downes said. “I like work and I love my faith.”
A native of the Valley area in Syracuse, Downes was the fourth of nine children. Growing up, he attended St. James Elementary and graduated from Christian Brothers Academy. He received his associate’s degree in fire science from Monroe Community College in Rochester and worked as an industrial firefighter at Kodak before returning to the Syracuse area. Downes and his wife, Patty, have a son, Emmett, and a daughter, Michaela.
Downes retired after 21 years as a Syracuse firefighter but the department still retains him as a consultant in the training division.
Downes met his wife while still living in Rochester where they were married in 1985. Later, they built a home in Otisco and became parishioners at St. Patrick’s.
Downes said he is eagerly anticipating his ordination.
“I’m very enthusiastic and looking forward to it more and more,” he said.
A native of New Britain, Conn., and a former Air Force radio technician, Gudaitis had a journey to diaconal candidacy quite distinct from those of his classmates. Gudaitis said that the Eucharist combined with the rosary instilled his initial inspiration and hardened his resolve to become a deacon.
“Those two together cemented my desire to heed God’s call,” said Gudaitis, who is a parishioner at Transfiguration Church in Rome.
Gudaitis’ family moved to Meriden, Conn., in 1963 and he grew up attending Catholic schools.
He began his career in the Air Force in 1977 and received his bachelor’s degree from North Carolina State University and two master’s degrees, one from UMass-Lowell and one from the Air Force Institute of Technology.
Gudaitis and his wife, Jean, have two children, Edward and Catherine. After the Air Force, Gudatis returned with his family to Rome.
Gudaitis has served in the church for some time, teaching confirmation and adult education bible study. He is also active in youth ministry at St. John the Baptist Church in Rome, which is set to merge with Transfiguration in the future.
Gudaitis said that while he enjoyed serving in those capacities, he sought to minister through a position with more responsibility.
“I felt called to serve God in a formal way as a minister of the church, not just to volunteer in my leisure time,” he said.
At the age of 18, Garrett Kearney parted ways with the Catholic Church. When he is ordained a permanent deacon May 17, it will represent the culmination of his return to the church.
Since he began attending St. Vincent de Paul Church in his late 30s, the Syracuse native has taken on more and more responsibilities in his service to the church. Kearney currently helps at a Mass for shut-ins and also works for Catholic TV in Syracuse.
“I had gone through Formation for Ministry just before I retired and I wanted to do something of service for the church and its people,” Kearney said.
Kearney is a Syracuse native. After high school, he served as a medic with the Marine Corps for six years and then attended colleges in both New York and Massachusetts. After teaching English in Massachusetts for three years, he returned to his hometown and taught at Henninger High School for 32 years before retiring in 2001.
A native of Albany, David Kirsch has lived in Massachusetts, Vermont and throughout Upstate New York before settling in Norwich.
Kirsch graduated from SUNY Fredonia and has been a music instructor since 1975. He began his teaching career in Waterville before moving to Norwich where he has taught at Perry Browne Intermediate School for 21 years.
Kirsch also brings his music instruction skills to both St. Paul Church and St. Bartholomew Church in Norwich where he serves as the music director for adult choirs. He recently instituted a mutual bell choir. At St. Paul, Kirsch has served as a catechist for young people and as a member of the choir, the parish council and the parish’s annual Norwich Christmas Food Basket Drive. Kirsch has volunteered at Roots and Wings, a charitable organization affiliated with Chenango County Catholic Charities. He is also an instructor for RCIA, a parish council member, a ministry team member and an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. “It’s exciting to have a chance to step forward and help people through the ministry in the church,” Kirsch said. “It’s a very powerful experience. There’s awe. I’m looking forward to it greatly.”
Kirsch and his wife, Marianne, have two daughters, Emily and Nicole, and one son-in-law, Jeremy.
Like each of the diaconate candidates in his class, McNerney has been very active in his parish. A native of Johnson City who has resided in Guilford since 1976, McNerney serves as a lector, an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist and RCIA instructor at St. Bartholomew and St. Paul, which are linked parishes in Norwich. He has attended St. Paul for over 20 years. He also volunteers at a weekly soup kitchen at the Broad Street Methodist Church in Norwich. With his wife, Linda, McNerney has co-taught confirmation at St. Bartholomew.
“As I grew in my involvement with St. Bartholomew the Apostle Church in Norwich, through Formation for Ministry, I realized that as an ordained minister of the church I could meet people of all ages in their journey of faith and walk with them, even if for a few steps, to answer their questions and help them to find meaning in their lives. This has been my call. Most importantly, my wife Linda has been by my side through our journey,” McNerney said.
McNerney received his bachelor’s degree in English education from Syracuse University and his master’s degree from the State University at Albany.
McNerney is the technology coordinator for two Southern Tier school districts and has infused his ministry with his interest in technology. McNerney maintains a blog entitled Gospel Hill Posts (www.tmcnerney.wordpress.com). In the future, he plans to launch a Web site entitled Deacons USA (www.deacons.us), which he hopes will be a collaborative space for all permanent deacons.
McNerney envisions his role as a deacon as that of a liaison between the pastor and the parish community.
“I know that as a deacon I will bridge the gap between the pulpit and the pews, the clergy and the laity,” McNerney said. “This is at once a great responsibility, as well as an incredible opportunity: to bring the perspective of a family man to our communities. Through these years of preparation and formation, I feel I’m ready to meet that challenge.”
When Father Abraham Esper first approached Paparella with the prospect of becoming a permanent deacon, he told the St. Paul’s Church in Whitesboro parishioner that he’s “a diamond in the rough.”
According to Paparella, “He saw something in me that I didn’t know was there.” But the metaphor could also be applied to Paparella’s professional life. A committed Catholic who has served an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist and as the coordinator for St. Paul’s Rosary Guild, Paparella has been a New York State correctional officer ever since he graduated from Notre Dame Junior/Senior High School in Utica.
Paparella believes that his position gives him a unique ministry opportunity.
“God put me there for a purpose,” he said. “God has placed me there to lead by example.”
Paparella has also answered God’s call to serve in other areas of society. In addition to his ministerial duties, Paparella visits parishioners in hospitals and nursing homes and he visits the homebound.
When he is ordained as a deacon May 17, Paparella’s ministerial duties will be expanded and he’s excited about the new possibilities.
“I’m nervous and I’m excited,” he said. “I’m excited about the doorways that will be open: ministries such as baptism, marriage and even funerals.”
Paparella and his wife, Lauren will celebrate their 25th anniversary this September. They have two children, Ryan, 17, and Sarah, 20.
On the threshold of his upcoming deacon ordination, Robert Talomie, a parishioner at St. Mary’s Church in Baldwinsville, said he is excited by the looming responsibility.
“The enormity of what I’m doing is just starting to hit me now,” Talomie said. “What the call is is to serve the people of the parish and to become more involved in their spiritual life than I already am now, it’s kind of an awesome responsibility.”
A native of Geneva, N.Y., Talomie graduated from the State University at Albany with a bachelor’s degree in history. Talomie has worked as an insurance adjuster, a purchasing agent and as a shipping manager. He is currently employed as a software programmer at Dumac Business Systems in East Syracuse.
He has been married to his wife Penny for 35 years.
Talomie said that although he recognizes becoming a deacon will mean expanded responsibility, he has “always been active” in parish affairs. Talomie has served as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist ºand has also trained other Eucharistic ministers. He also taught in the RCIA program and has served on the parish council.
Eight years ago, St. Mary’s pastor Msgr. Richard Kopp noted that he believed Talomie had the potential to be a fine deacon.
“He said he thought I had a lot of gifts to share with the parish,” Talomie said.