Diocesan seminarian Nate Brooks ordained to transitional diaconate

Diocesan seminarian Nate Brooks was ordained to the transitional diaconate April 21 in a rite celebrated by Bishop Robert J. Cunningham in the chapel of St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Md. The ordination brings him a step further on his journey toward ordination as a priest, anticipated to take place next June. (Photo by Larry Canner Photography | Courtesy St. Mary’s Seminary and University)

By Katherine Long | Editor
and Brendan Foley | Special correspondent

BALTIMORE, Md. — Diocesan seminarian Nate Brooks was ordained to the transitional diaconate April 21 in a rite celebrated in the chapel of St. Mary’s Seminary and University. The ordination brings him a step further on his journey to ordination as a priest, anticipated to take place next June.

“I felt very encouraged by Bishop Cunningham’s homily…and I can’t help but think about how blessed I am,” Brooks said after the Mass. “It was an incredibly humbling experience. I’m still trying to take it all in.”

Read more: Seminarian excited to begin ministry as deacon

Many seminarians choose to celebrate the diaconate ordination rite in their home dioceses, however Brooks said he first thought about how amazing it would be to do it at St. Mary’s when he started studying at the seminary six years ago.

“I just saw this great joy in my own heart thinking about how awesome it would be to be ordained here at the school where I spent five years of my life preparing for ministry,” he said in a phone interview with the Sun four days before his ordination.

Celebrating the rite at St. Mary’s would also afford him another meaningful opportunity: to “have the guys that I was classmates with — it’ll be our last year being together — welcome me into the diaconate that they’re already a part of,” Brooks explained.

Of the group of men who began formation at St. Mary’s together six years ago, Brooks is the last to be ordained a deacon. Like many dioceses, Syracuse requires its seminarians to do a pastoral year of service after four years of formation studies. Brooks did his pastoral year a year ago, serving at Our Lady of Lourdes in Utica and Our Lady of the Rosary in New Hartford. But it just so happened that none of Brooks’ classmates had to take such a year — so they are all deacons already, on the cusp of being ordained priests in the coming months.

“I am grateful to have had this opportunity to share this important moment of my formation for priesthood with my friends and community here at St. Mary’s, where I have spent many years studying. I was fortunate to have the incredible support of many priests from our diocese along with my friends and family travel to be here. It means so much to me they could make it,” Brooks said after the Mass.

Bishop of Syracuse Robert J. Cunningham traveled to Maryland to celebrate the rite. Principal concelebrants were Father Phillip J. Brown, P.S.S., President-Rector of St. Mary’s Seminary and University; Father Chris Celentano, pastor of Brooks’s home parish, Divine Mercy in Central Square; Father John Manno, diocesan director of seminarian formation; and friend and former classmate Father Jason Hage of St. Mary’s Church in Hamilton and St. Joan of Arc Mission in Morrisville.

Also making the trip to Maryland were diocesan priests Father Joe O’Connor, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Baldwinsville and director the Office of Vocation Promotion; Father Chris Ballard, pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Syracuse; Father Ken Kirkman of St. Anthony and St. Mary Parishes in Cortland; Father Christopher Seibt, currently studying canon law at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.; many of Brooks’ family and friends; and a busload of parishioners from Divine Mercy.

After electing Brooks for ordination to the diaconate, Bishop Cunningham preached a homily specifically for him.

“The readings we have just heard speak to us about God’s choice and the commission to proclaim His word. In a very special way, they speak to Nathan,” Bishop Cunningham said. “The commission to announce God’s word cannot be taken lightly. It is an awesome and humbling responsibility.”

The bishop reflected on the importance of a deacon’s main ministries — proclaiming the Gospel; assisting in liturgies, celebrating baptisms, blessing marriages, bringing Viaticum to the dying, and conducting funeral rites; and serving those in need. 

“Nathan, remember you did not choose Christ. It is Christ who has mysteriously chosen you,” Bishop Cunningham said.

“Bishop Cunningham was speaking directly to me, teaching about what it means to be a deacon and also challenging me to go out and do it, and do it well,” Brooks said. “It was all very encouraging. Especially his words about the reading from prophet Jeremiah and his call to ministry. It is comforting to be reassured that God will provide me with his words and that he will always lead me. 

Before the bishop, Brooks declared his intention to serve in the office of deacon and promised his obedience and respect to the bishop and his successors. He then prostrated himself as the assembly sang the Litany of Supplication. With Brooks kneeling before him, Bishop Cunningham placed his hands on Brooks’ head and offered the Prayer of Ordination.

“Having Bishop Cunningham firmly grasp my hands asking obedience, and also having him lay his hands on me in prayer were very powerful parts of the liturgy,” Brooks said. “Again, so many humbling moments.”

Classmate Deacon John Streifel of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, who will be ordained a priest June 23, vested Brooks as a deacon during the Mass. 
 
“Seeing Nate prostrate himself on the ground before God and before our community during the Litany of the Saints was a very special moment,” Deacon Streifel said. “Seeing that gesture of total surrender in which it is clear to all of us Nate’s intention to give his life to the Lord reminds all of us in seminary formation of why we are all here studying. It is a powerful moment for all of us whether it is our first year in seminary or our last.”

The Sun extends special thanks to Brendan Foley, seminarian of the Diocese of Syracuse, for providing on-site reporting from the celebration, and to Larry Canner Photography and St. Mary’s Seminary and University for providing photos. See more photos at facebook.com/SyrCatholicSun.