By Tom Maguire
Time has gone by quickly for the eight deacons who are celebrating jubilees this year. They are enjoying their ministry, and they have many stories to tell.
Two key qualities that emerge from interviews with the group are humility and flexibility. One of the deacons grew up in the mountains and thought he would be serving at a bucolic parish. It didn’t turn out that way, but he has no regrets. Another one thought he would do a preponderance of his service at soup kitchens, but instead he derives great joy from visiting and comforting the sick.
Here are the stories of the deacons from the Classes of 1991 and 2006:
Class of 1991
Deacon Thomas M. Harley, wife Judy, Endicott
Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, Endicott
Deacon Harley said in an email that he was ordained in a small parish in Sanitaria Springs, St. Joseph, that had about 100 families. The move to Our Lady of Good Counsel, with 1,500-plus families, 20 years ago was made easy because of the people of the parish, he said: “They are warm, compassionate, and caring disciples of Christ!”
He continued: “I am amazed by the continuing generosity of the parishioners at OLGC. We are not a rich parish (solidly middle class) but there always seems enough to share with those in need at both the local and global levels.
“Right now our Women’s Empowerment group is the lead ministry on efforts to support girls education in a village in Uganda. They are also very involved in developing a Safe Harbor (http://ocfs.ny.gov/main/Safe%20Harbour%20Project/default.asp) location in Endicott for girls that have been sex-trafficked. It is a terrible situation that is much under-reported.
“My favorite thing about being a deacon is helping families in crises. Being readily available is a good way to live ‘mercy’ as called to by Pope Francis.”
Deacon Stephen D. Manzene, wife Anne, Liverpool
St. Joseph the Worker/Immaculate Heart of Mary, Liverpool
Deacon Manzene said that he received a wonderful response to his 25-year anniversary from the people of both parishes.
“They were so gracious with cards and personal notes,” he said.
Deacon Manzene retains his awe from his altar boy days; he loves being on the altar frequently at both parishes, “so close to the central … event of the Eucharist. … It overpowers everything else that’s there.”
He derives great joy from visiting the sick and the grieving: “The joy that people have when you come and represent the presence of God to them. There’s just something special that I feel from the people.”
Deacon Manzene usually preaches once a month, and he appreciates the retreats that he attends because they help him as a homilist. He cited a “need to continue to educate yourself, to stay up [with] the times.”
Class of 2006
Deacon Gregory T. Cross, wife Bunny, Syracuse
St. Michael – St. Peter Parish, Syracuse
Director of Pontifical Mission Societies
Director of Deacon Personnel
One lesson that Deacon Cross has learned in his 10 years is that “certainly, daily humility is a good lesson to remember. I have to realize my limitations as a human being. Even though I am an ordained deacon I don’t have all the answers for God’s people.
“I try to remember that I am guided by the Holy Spirit … and it is my responsibility to pay attention.” Sometimes, he said, the best he can do is “offer hope and the message of God’s infinite mercy.”
Deacon Cross has great compassion for people who are “struggling with loss, either personal health loss or loss of a loved one either through illness or death, or circumstances that they can’t control.”
He is impressed that sometimes what seems like a casual encounter with a person “can ultimately be of great importance … to that person’s life situation.” Also, he said, sometimes just a phone call to a struggling parishioner “can turn out to be of profound importance to the recipient.”
Deacon Cross is amazed at how fast the 10 years went, but “it was among the most satisfying 10-year periods of my lifetime, and that’s both in a ministerial sense and also in a personal and family context.”
Deacon Joseph H. During, wife Joyce, Cortland
St. Mary/St. Anthony of Padua, Cortland
Deacon During calls himself “a walking testament to the power of prayer, no doubt about it.”
He never even thought that he would reach his 10th anniversary, he said, because in 2014 he collapsed in a parking lot. He credits doctors and nurses for working hard to save him, and the countless prayers that were offered on his behalf.
“So I’ve got to give back,” he said. “I’ve got to pray for all of them now. I have a responsibility out of gratitude and faith.”
This is his perspective on prayer: “As I’ve said in homilies, we should not pray for ourselves, we should pray for each other. And pray for those who have no one to pray for them. But as a result of doing that, we don’t have to pray for ourselves, because others are praying for us.”
Deacon During serves as the administrator for both parishes, where Deacon Stephen J. Smith and his wife, Catherine, also serve. Deacon During also serves as chaplain of the Mattydale and Cortlandville fire departments.
“I think to be a good servant you have to have humility as a first virtue,” he said. Everyone comes to the weekend liturgies with their own set of needs, he said, and addressing that broad base of needs is very humbling and also a very high privilege.
Deacon During originally was concerned about giving homilies. But he said that Father John Fenlon told him that giving homilies is opening Scripture for the people, not telling them how to lead their lives. Now he derives great satisfaction from preaching, and he is amazed by the comments that he gets from people.
Another benefit of the diaconate is that Deacon During’s wife, Joyce, participated in the formation classes with him, and now both their faith and their relationship are stronger.
Deacon Christopher J. Engle, Sr.,
wife Linda, Oriskany
St. Paul Church, Whitesboro
Deacon Engle said in an email that over his 10 years as a cleric, the key lesson he has learned is to be attentive and ready when the need arrives.
“There are so many in need who are looking for someone to listen to them and not be judgmental,” he said. “We are faced with many challenges and after ten years we continue to be surprised and challenged but with the grace of God and prayer I feel these challenges, whatever they may be, will be met.”
His favorite duties including assisting his pastor and serving the parish community through charity and attention to the needy. In general, he said, he strives to assist all members of the church and to serve the people of God.
One of his favorite ministries is performing baptisms, which enables him to witness an infant becoming an “adopted child of God.”
Deacon Gilbert R. Nadeau, wife Mary J., Clark Mills
Annunciation Church, Clark Mills
Deacon Nadeau grew up in Old Forge, in the mountains, but he found himself serving for a time in an inner-city parish in Utica. People kept coming to the door asking for food, so Deacon Nadeau helped start a soup kitchen.
He learned that the journey would be what God called him to do, “not necessarily what I thought I would be doing.” Deacon Nadeau also credits his wife, Mary, who has a master’s degree in theology. “So we have some good conversations,” he said.
Another thing he never expected to do was start a homeless shelter for men ages 16 to 21. But he, Mary, and a group of other deacons and deacons’ wives formed a nonprofit board several years ago. “God just gives you an awakening,” he said.
The shelter, called John Bosco House, in downtown Utica, has a staff that runs it full time. It serves six men at any given time, and Deacon Nadeau figures that it has served up to 100 young men since it began five years ago. The shelter makes sure that the men leave the program with tools for life, such as a high school diploma or enrollment in a college or trade school.
Bosco House partners with 40 agencies in the Utica area, Deacon Nadeau said. “There’s all kinds of help out there,” he said. “Sometimes people don’t know how to get help. … For almost anything, there’s help. You’ve just got to know how to make that connection. … If God wants something, he’s going to make it happen; you just have to be available to go along for the ride.”
Deacon Thomas N. Picciano, Endwell
St. Vincent de Paul Blessed Sacrament, Vestal
“Has it been 10 years already?” Deacon Picciano wrote in an email. “Hard to believe.”
He has learned to be ready for anything.
“As an example,” he said, “my first assignment was at my home parish of Christ the King in Endwell. Less than two months after ordination, the Flood of 2006 hit the Southern Tier. I was asked to head cleanup and rebuilding of the parish hall. Although the parish suffered a major loss we provided for neighbors whose homes were destroyed. The church became a clearinghouse for food and supplies. We also arranged for work parties and mental health support for the people in the area. It took a lot of prayer to accomplish all we did. We were following Jesus’ call to love our neighbors.”
Deacon Picciano also assisted others with another flood in 2011. “All this helped as I came to my current assignment at St. Vincent de Paul Blessed Sacrament in Vestal three years ago,” he said, “not long after it became a merged parish due to the second flood.”
A decade ago, it seemed that helping people through food pantries and soup kitchens would be his assignment outside the doors of the church. He still assists at a soup kitchen, but for the last several years his main focus has been to visit homebound people and those in hospitals and nursing homes.
“I think there’s no surprise as a deacon,” he said. “Instead, we must be ready to take up whatever needs to be done.”
He added that baptisms bring him great joy.
“I remember one mother started crying immediately after her child’s baptism,” he said. “I had to stop for a moment. I think I handed the mom the same towel just used to dry her infant’s forehead as she wiped away her own tears. The loving presence of God was there that day.”
Deacon Adolph J. Uryniak, wife Susan F., Canastota
St. Agatha Church, Canastota
St. Mary of the Lake Mission,
“Ten years flew right by,” Deacon Uryniak said.
Serving as a deacon, he said, “gives you the sense that you’ve made a difference.”
Deacon Uryniak said the preparation for the diaconate was thorough, and the most rewarding aspect of his ministry is meeting with grieving families. “You have a chance to help them on a personal level,” he said. For example, he helps them plan funeral services.
The people he encounters on a regular basis are at St. Agatha. He sees the makeup of the parish as quite stable. “You’ll see the same people regularly, usually sitting in the same seats,” he said.
At the Mission, it is more of a liturgical function for him. It’s seasonal; during the summer there are larger crowds. “In the offseason everybody knows everybody, and during summer season you’re seeing new faces all the time,” he said.
Deacon Uryniak is a retired systems analyst for Carrier Corp. “I’d like to continue to serve for as long as my health holds up, as long as I can,” he said.
Two deacons from the Class of 1991 died this year: Deacon Robert Riggalls Sr., of Waterville, and Deacon Willis Homick, of Auburn.