Meet the deacons: Class of 2018

Bishop Robert J. Cunningham with the newly ordained deacons after Rite of Ordination of Deacons held at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. (Sun photo | Chuck Haupt)

By Katherine Long |  Editor

and Tom Maguire |  Associate Editor

Twelve men make up the diocese’s 2018 class of permanent deacons. They spoke with the Catholic Sun in the days leading up to their ordinations. Meet the new deacons:

 

Mark Berube

Wife: April

Home parish: Divine Mercy, Central Square

   Already a man of wide experience, Deacon Berube humbly calls himself “a work in progress” who looks forward to “growing with the Church as a deacon.”

   Originally from Maine, he was a criminal investigator in the Army for 23 years, including six years as an instructor in investigative, leadership, and management techniques. He retired as a chief warrant officer 17 years ago and switched to a job with the National Background Investigations Bureau.

Based in Syracuse, he is the special agent in charge of 22 agents in New York State. His office conducts background investigations for security clearances for anyone involved with the U.S. government, such as federal employees, the military, and contractors. The resulting reports go to an adjudicator who decides on the person’s reliability.

   Deacon Berube is looking forward to retiring in a few years and devoting even more time to the diaconate. His time as an instructor in the military, he said, will flow naturally into his new role. And having seen the suffering of crime victims, he understands the need for compassion. As a criminal investigator he saw the rougher side of human nature, so he has spent a lot of time on his knees in prayer, and in his first year of deacon formation he went through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. “It helped me to look for and see God in other people,” he said. “Not just people but in daily activities and events.”

   At Divine Mercy Parish in Central Square, the veteran already is in charge of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and baptism-preparation programs, and he is a member of the church’s strategic-planning committee. “We’re a growing church,” he said.

   He thanks God for calling the deacons to their vocation; his pastor, Father Christopher Celentano; his family; “and anybody who prayed and will continue to pray for me.”

   Of his diaconate classmates he said: “I believe those relationships will be lifelong.”

   He appreciates “that indelible seal of the Holy Spirit” that appeared on ordination day.

 

Guillermo Castro

Wife: Silvia

Home parish: St. James, Johnson City

   Deacon Castro, whose mother died two years ago after a long illness, has tremendous empathy for the sick and he hopes to do a lot of ministering to them now that he is a deacon.

   He wants to “befriend all the people out there” in his various duties as a deacon. That includes visiting people who can’t make it to Mass, the sick, those in bed at home, and those in a nursing home or a hospice. “I’ll be happy doing that,” he said. He feels that one can do a lot in somebody’s life just by showing up and talking to him or her.

   Deacon Castro said he is the only member of his diaconate class who is originally from Mexico, but the warm welcome of his classmates made his decision to proceed a lot easier. He said, “We all love each other like good brothers. Really good band of brothers.”

He also credits his wife, Silvia — “wouldn’t have made it this far without her support.” Ordination means “the beginning of a whole new chapter in our married life and it’s just a great feeling,” he said.

   He has also lived in California, Arizona, and Apalachin, in Tioga County. He currently does some traveling but he generally works from home as the director of front-end engineering in this country for SOMACIS, an Italy-based company that manufactures printed circuit boards for communications, medical, military, and commercial purposes.

   Castro started formation for the diaconate in Tucson and then joined Father Louis F. Aiello’s program for the Diocese of Syracuse. After years of classes, assignments, tasks, and things that needed to be done, he said, suddenly, ordination was nigh: “For me it’s just an incredible experience just to think about it.” He takes great joy and hope from Luke 1:37: “Nothing will be impossible for God.”

   Asked about the classes he has taken, Deacon Castro cited Father Saba Shofany, pastor of St. Basil Greek Melkite Catholic Church in Utica and instructor for classes about the Psalms and the prophets of the Bible. He called Father Shofany “probably one of the more spiritual beings I’ve ever encountered.” He added: “He does it with his heart.”

   Studying homiletics has been great too, he said. He described the overall formation program as “such a wealth of spirituality and knowledge and everything all put together there.” “They’re so kind,” he said of the instructors.

   He was excited and eager about ordination.

“It’s a great feeling,” he said.

 

Jeffrey Dean

Wife: Theresa

Home parish: St. Stephen, Phoenix

   A convert to Catholicism, Deacon Dean went through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program in 1996. “I’ve always been drawn to the religious life,” he said. His late grandfather was a role model for him in that regard.

   He is grateful for the support of his wife (“Couldn’t have done it without her”) and his diaconate classmates (“We all get along great”).

   Born in Butler, Pa., Deacon Dean, a nuclear engineer by education, grew up in Falconer in Western New York. He got his initial occupational training as a nuclear-plant operator in the Navy. For 30 years, he has worked at the Nine Mile Point and James A. Fitzpatrick nuclear-power plants in Oswego County. His job title now is senior site assessor.

   Asked for some highlights of his diaconate training, he cited the “fabulous depth of knowledge” of Sister Donald Corcoran, OSB Cam., who taught a class in spirituality. Also aiding his spiritual development was Father Shofany’s instruction on the prophets of the Bible. He acquired an understanding of the practicalities of canon law from Chorbishop John D. Faris. And four years of homiletics training “really gave me the confidence I’m going to need to get up there” and deliver homilies, Deacon Dean said.

   He expects to serve in his parish, St. Stephen in Phoenix, probably in an administrative role, depending on the pastor’s needs. He will also help with baptisms, marriages, and funerals.

   Dean is not worried about this new phase in his life. He called it an exciting journey and said, “We’ve been well-trained for the position.”

 

Tom Grigson

Wife: Barbara

Home parish: St. Joseph, Camillus

   In about his third year of formation, Grigson felt a call to prison ministry. So last year he participated in the Office of Jail Ministry’s Christmas Party in the Onondaga County Justice Center.

   “Just having someone outside the legal system that’s showing care for them would help to lift their spirits,” he said. He loved bringing the inmates Christmas joy and happiness by talking to them for a while.

   He just completed training in jail ministry, and he hopes to have many more such experiences, such as assisting at Masses at the justice center.

   Deacon Grigson has “just a huge heart for people,” said Keith Cieplicki, coordinator of the diocesan Ministry to the Incarcerated. The Christmas party involves 50 volunteers; each year, they stuff about 650 bags with apples, cookies, and stamped envelopes for the inmates. “They’re so grateful,” Cieplicki said.

   He sees the deacon as “a real big asset to us. He’ll be a great lesson to the inmates. … Very humble, very caring.”

   Deacon Grigson’s regular job involves charity too: program manager for a federal grant in a nonprofit that helps homeless veterans find employment. “I’m very blessed to have that job,” he said.

   Working for him are a case manager, an outreach person, and a job developer. Their agency helps vets find housing, get medical services, renew professional licenses, find transportation, refine resumes and interview skills, and pursue career opportunities. A veteran himself, Deacon Grigson works with employers who are looking for good employees.

He served as a petty officer in cryptology in the Navy and also as a sergeant in the Army National Guard. His military service taught him “teamwork, caring for one another. … It just always felt natural to me.”

   He never had a brother or a sister, so he cherishes the brotherhood of deacons. “We never broke down into cliques,” he said. “I would do anything for them. The wives feel like sisters to me. … To be numbered in [the group of deacons] is very humbling.”

   Deacon Tom’s wife, Barbara, a superb singer, is a member of the St. Joseph choir and she also plays guitar. Barbara’s support was crucial to his ordination, he said. He also praised his instructors: “They just want us to fulfill God’s will.”

   Deacon Grigson appreciates the care shown by Father Aiello and the expertise shown by instructors including Chorbishop Faris (canon law) and Father Shofany (the Psalms).

   Of the Psalms classes, he said: “Taking such ancient prayers and writing and helping us understand them was deeply spiritual, just wonderful.”

 

Scott Harris

Wife: Carol

Home parish: Holy Family, Syracuse

   The month of May saw two graduations and an ordination for the Harris family — “three great blessings,” Deacon Harris said.

   First, son Greg graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. He is going to be a pilot. Next, Greg’s twin sister, Allison, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Niagara University. “Very proud of them,” Scott said. “I owe a lot to my wife,” he added.

   The couple runs the monthly Catholic couples night at Holy Family Church, and they get great feedback. The couples “get away from the grind and buzz of the world” by spending time in the presence of the Lord. People from other parishes attend too. “Always trying to get the word out,” he said. “Slow and steady wins the race.”

   A vice president/relationship manager at Key Private Bank, a wealth-management division of KeyBank, Deacon Harris said his diaconate classmates checked their egos at the door. “They’re just great human beings who really are focused on serving the people of their parish and the people of the diocese,” he said.

   During formation he really loved his class on pneumatology, the study of the Holy Spirit. The instructor, Father Shofany, helped him clarify the gift and fruits of the Holy Spirit, “given to all of us freely.”

   Another impressive class was homiletics — four years of it. “I’m really looking forward to preaching the Gospel,” he said. He marvels at the immense amount of prayer and preparation that goes into a homily, and he now has a greater appreciation of the priests and deacons who present homilies every weekend. “It’s humbling,” he said.

   Deacon Harris views the diaconate as a lifelong opportunity to deepen his learning, his faith, and his relationship with Christ. He looks forward to serving the people of Holy Family in whatever way he can, whether it involves sharing their joy or helping them with their sadness or grief.

   As his ordination approached, he said: “It’s an exciting time for me, it’s an exciting time for my family.”

 

Brian Lauri 2007.

Brian Lauri

Wife: Christine

Home parish: Sacred Heart, Cicero

   The deacon  happily starts his fourth job now that he is ordained.

   He already is a town judge in Clay, a lawyer with a practice in North Syracuse, and a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard. Interviewed recently, he had started the day with the Guard at 6:30 a.m. and in the afternoon he still had another five hours to go. His commander is very supportive of his calling; when diaconate classes overlapped with drill weekends, the commander allowed him to come in a couple of days early to make up the time and get work done.

   Regarding his various roles, Deacon Lauri cited a “very simple process: I trusted God to balance everything for me, and he has.” Two years ago, the deacon said that before he entered diaconate training, God “kept hitting me in the back of the head saying, ‘Hey, I’m talking to you.’” Reminded of that comment recently, he said: “Not so much hitting me anymore. I’ve learned to listen a little better, so he doesn’t have to hit me as hard.”

   His judgeship generally involves work on Tuesdays, plus times when he is called in. But that job is going well because of his great staff of court clerks.

Of his diaconate classes he said: “My eyes have never been so opened on any subject in my life as they’ve been opened over the last few years about the Holy Spirit.” He also cited a 13-week class on the Holy Spirit that is going on at his parish, Sacred Heart.

   He ponders the Bible story of the shepherd who leaves his flock of ninety-nine sheep in order to find the one that is lost. “What about the one that got away?” Deacon Lauri asked. “That’s what my focus is on. The one that strayed. We all have to rely on a forgiving God.” He said his teachers emphasized: “If you do great, God gets the credit.”

   The deacon praised Father for doing a great job. There have been no personality conflicts: “We’re all very, very close. That’s been awesome.”

   He also admires the family of his classmate Terrence O’Loughlin. Terrence was ordained a permanent deacon, and Terrence’s son, Patrick, was ordained a transitional deacon in the same ceremony. Deacon Lauri said: “You talk about a positive story of faith. … That’s just incredible. They’re humble people but, boy, are they faithful.”

 

Anthony Miller

Wife: Sue Ellen

Home parish: St. Vincent de Paul Blessed Sacrament, Vestal

   Deacon Miller can pinpoint the moment he started discerning his vocation to the permanent diaconate.

   “About 10 years ago, I received my call during holy hour for vocations,” he said. His then-pastor, Father Don Bourgeois, had instituted the regular holy hour at the parish about four months before. “I was praying for vocations and I very distinctly heard a voice say, ‘Well?’ I looked around and everybody else was praying and nobody appeared to be looking at me or had said anything. So I figured I was sitting there praying for vocations for other people — how could I do that without considering one for myself?”

   With the support of his wife, Sue, Deacon Miller pursued the diaconate. An early step was the diocese’s Formation for Ministry program where, on direction from then-pastor Father James Tormey, Miller’s studies focused on the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

Initially, Miller wasn’t sure if he’d be any good at RCIA. “I hadn’t done teaching, none of that. I’m a computer programmer. I’m a technical guy. I sit in a cubicle all day and type on a computer!” he said with a laugh. (Deacon Miller is a database developer for the New York State Insurance Fund.)

   But he determined that if the church needed someone in this ministry, he would give it a shot. Sure enough, Deacon Miller found he loved working with the candidates and catechumens preparing to enter the Church.

   His formation as a deacon also included time in external ministry. He  started volunteering at St. Ambrose’s soup kitchen, helping with dinner service, and visiting with guests. A little awkward at first, “I didn’t take too long to get settled in, because I think that the most important part of a deacon’s ministry is serving God’s people,” Deacon Miller said.

   He’s looking forward to performing baptisms as a deacon, but what else his ministry might entail is yet to be seen.

“This is a blank check that I’m writing to God. I’m signing my name to it and I’m leaving the amount open,” he said.

 

Terrence O’Loughlin

Wife: Geralyn

Home parish: St. Anne, Mother of Mary, Mexico

   Long active in his faith and his parish, Deacon O’Loughlin says he “was always trying to discern what more God might be asking of me.”

With experience as a lector, a faith formation instructor, and a member of the Charismatic Renewal, Deacon O’Loughlin began exploring a vocation to the diaconate. After completing Formation for Ministry, he began studying to be a deacon in 2012.

He was asked to consider focusing on chaplaincy, which he agreed to. “I found out it was a great fit,” he said.

   He spent two-and-a-half years as a volunteer at Iroquois Nursing Home, mentored by Deacons Tom Cuskey and John Woloszyn. He ministered to residents and families, getting to know them, being available for prayer, and distributing Holy Communion.

   Deacon O’Loughlin also completed a six-month course in Clinical Pastoral Education at SUNY Upstate Medical University, where he was assigned to the intensive-care unit. A “pretty intense” assignment, Deacon O’Loughlin said he had the experience of being bedside at the death of a patient some 40 times. “That was a growing experience,” he said.

   Chaplaincy will continue to be the heart of his ministry after ordination, Deacon O’Loughlin said. He’s been hired as a chaplain at Iroquois, and he also hopes to maintain a shift at the hospital. On the parish level, he hopes to get involved in home visitation and looks forward to preaching.

   The focus of the diaconate is “on service,” Deacon O’Loughlin said. “I feel that is an extension of my growth.”

 

Michael Ruf

Wife: Patricia

Home parish: Christ the King, Liverpool

   Ten years ago, Deacon Ruf was at the IGNITE Catholic Men’s Conference. At the end of the conference, master of ceremonies Father Joe O’Connor asked anyone discerning a call to the priesthood or the diaconate to stand.

“I thought, ‘Hm. That’s kind of interesting. But nah, I’m not the guy,’” Deacon Ruf recalled.

   For a couple of years after that, he “kept feeling this call, this tug, and I kept saying ‘no no no, leave me alone.’ People ask me why I did this, and I say, ‘I got in a fight with God and he won.’”

   His formation as a deacon has built on his parish-level experience with marriage prep, the choir, and faith formation, as well as his studies in the Formation for Ministry program in the 1990s. After ordination, he hopes to focus on ministering to young people in his parish and on taking care of the parish’s day-to-day needs.

   He also hopes to maintain the incredibly strong bond formed among the men in his ordination class. “I grew up with one sister,” Ruf said. “Now I have 11 brothers.”

   “They are so knowledgeable and successful — they just amaze me how faith-filled they are and dedicated to what they’re doing. … To be included in this group is really something special,” he said.

   Deacon Ruf’s watchword throughout his formation was trust. “It was a word I gravitated to right at the beginning,” he said. “My prayer was, ‘God, I have no idea where you’re going to send me on this journey but I trust you.’ And that was really reinforced though the formation process. … It’s much more than [classes]; it’s a life-changing experience.”

 

David Schiltz

Home parish: St. Matthew, East Syracuse

   Sometimes God’s call comes as a quiet whisper or a gentle nudge. Sometimes, though, it’s spoken loud and clear.

   A few years ago, Deacon Schiltz was enrolled in Father Charles Vavonese’s Spirituality of Leadership course in the Formation for Ministry program. He and classmate Brain Lauri would carpool with their teacher to and from the class site in Utica. One night on the drive home, Father Vavonese turned to face  future Deacon Schiltz in the back seat.

   “‘David, you know God’s calling you,’” Deacon Schiltz recalls Father Vavonese saying.

   This compounded what Deacon Schiltz said he heard frequently from the Sisters of St. Francis during his maintenance work at their convent on Grant Street: “You missed your calling, David.”

   Born and raised in Syracuse, Deacon Schiltz served in U.S. Air Force for 20 years, specializing in logistics. His service took him across the country — Texas, Colorado, Missouri, Alaska, Florida, New York — and the world — Iceland and tours in the Middle East. He retired in Missouri in 1999, but returned to Syracuse and his family in 2000. He became active in his parish, St. Matthew’s, and his then-pastor, Father Joseph Clemente, encouraged him to join the Formation for Ministry program, saying he saw “a seed of faith” in Schiltz. That program led to his fateful conversation with Father Vavonese, and his eventual discernment of his call to serve as a deacon.

   Formation has been “a daily walk with Christ,” Deacon Schiltz said.

   “I don’t have words to give you to describe it,” he said. “It’s so moving — deep-down moving — to your soul, to your heart, to your bones. … It’s been very grace-filled. It just renders you to the point where you go to you knees.”

   He looks forward to living the ministry of a deacon, dedicated to service with “one foot always in the community and one foot always in the church.” That will mean being pastoral, attentive, present, and above all “a disciple of Christ … [to] take the word of the Gospel to the community.”

 

William Wilson

Wife: Patricia

Home parish: St. Rose of Lima, North Syracuse

   Deacon Wilson had been involved in the RCIA program at his parish for some time when he saw a blurb in the bulletin about the Formation for Ministry program. Noting that the program offered a concentration in RCIA, he spoke to his pastor, Msgr. James Kennedy, about joining. Msgr. Kennedy immediately said the parish would support him.

   Wilson took some extra classes, so all told he spent three years in the Formation for Ministry program. Each year, a representative would come and speak to students about the diaconate.

“When I sat down the first time and listened to it, I thought, ‘There’s no way. I don’t have that type of time to commit to something like that.’ I went through the gamut of reasons why not,” Deacon Wilson recalled. “But there was that voice in the back of my head that just kept saying, ‘Not only can you, you need to.’ Over the three years, I came to realize: that was the Holy Spirit talking to me and you can’t deny this call.”

   As a young man, Deacon Wilson spent several years in discernment with a religious community; God ultimately called him in a different direction. He came home to help care for his father, who was ill, and began working at Loretto in food service. He would go on to become a registered dietician and hold numerous positions at Loretto and James Square; he would ultimately spend 30 years working in long-term care. Today, he is the executive director of Brookdale Bellevue, an assisted-living community in Syracuse. The common thread that runs through his occupation and his vocation is working with people. “I love interacting with people and doing what I can to make people happy,” Deacon Wilson said.

   The years of formation for the diaconate have reinforced his prayer life and strengthened his spiritual life; having a spiritual director — he worked with two at Syracuse’s Spiritual Renewal Center — has been a particularly wonderful experience, he said.

   Deacon Wilson is looking forward to “fulfilling God’s call,” he said. “I firmly believe this is what God’s calling me to do and I’m open to whatever direction he takes me in. I think maybe that’s what I’m looking forward to most: finding out where he wants to take me.

The Class of 2018 also includes a deacon ordained for the Maronite Catholic Church:

Wife: Patricia

Home parish: St. Ann’s Maronite, Watervliet

   Deacon Thornton is grateful to the Diocese of Syracuse and its bishop, who “accepted me with open arms,” he said. For four years, Deacon Thornton traveled from his home in the Albany area to Syracuse for classes and retreats with the deacon- formation class. 

   His journey to ordination came to its conclusion just a bit earlier than those of his classmates: Deacon Thornton was ordained May 6 in his parish by Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn and Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of the Diocese of Albany. Deacon Thornton’s brothers in formation rented a bus to get to the celebration and be part of the ceremony, he said. 

   He still hasn’t come down from the emotional high of ordination, he said. Proclaiming the Gospel and preaching his first homily was an experience, he said, that felt a little like the day his father gave him the keys to the car for the first time.

   Deacon Thornton eagerly anticipated joining his brothers for their ordinations — and the feeling was mutual: they chose Deacon Thornton to proclaim the Gospel at the celebration.