By Tom Maguire | Associate editor

The future deacons had studied the art of the homily for four years, and this was their last class, but they needed one more thing: a blessing from their instructor, Father James Carey.

Delighted to comply with former Police Chief John Falge’s request May 6 in the basement of Holy Cross Church, Father Carey asked the Lord to bestow on these men qualities including strength, perseverance, joy, wonder, wisdom, and patience.

Father Carey further asked the Lord to give them the gift of humility so that they can take care of the poor, the sick, the broken.

The group bowed their heads and accepted the blessing. In just a few days, they will be able to give blessings of their own when they become permanent deacons of the Diocese of Syracuse.

These seven men already radiate humility, which is one of the qualities that Father Louis Aiello looks for in potential deacons. “They’re just down-to-earth guys,” Father Aiello, diocesan diaconate formation director, said of the seven-member Class of 2016.

“They’ve worked very, very hard,” Father Carey said. “I congratulate them on this wonderful journey.”

Father Aiello views these people as ordinary men doing extraordinary things. He excludes no occupations. Men from many backgrounds, including the trades and all levels of work, step forward and enrich the church profoundly, he said. He excludes no occupations.

This year’s class consists of a Hospice nurse, a tugboat captain, two attorneys, a former schools superintendent, an entrepreneur, and a leadership mentor. They are all successful and well-educated, but Father Aiello said the minimum education requirement is a high school diploma.

One member of the class, Peter Hobaica, was ordained May 7 at St. Louis Gonzaga Church, a Maronite Catholic church in Utica. The other six members of the class will be ordained May 14 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse.

Father Aiello said these deacons will help parishes organize themselves toward works of charity and mercy. That includes preaching, marriage and funeral rites, wake services, graveside interment, and teaching youth ministry.

These seven men “have become a brotherhood,” Father Aiello said.

He added: “They just simply care about each other. … They’re very closely bonded guys.”

Here are profiles of the diaconate Class of 2016:

Philip and Nancy SlominskiPHILIP SLOMINSKI

Age: 62

Family: Wife Nancy (retired early childhood education teacher); 4 sons, ages 23, 26, 29, 31)

Education: B.S., SUNY Cortland

Occupation: Tugboat captain on Erie Canal for State of New York

Church roles: Eucharistic minister, ministry to homebound and nursing homes, adult altar server

Parish: Franciscan Church of the Assumption, Syracuse

Pastor: Friar Richard Riccioli, OFM Conv.

Resides: Liverpool

 As the captain of a tugboat on the Erie Canal, Philip Slominski can push or pull anything: a barge, a scow, a crane.

 Recently, he even performed a rescue, towing a boat that had run into something in the canal. After 31 years in the Navy, he is comfortable out there on the water.

 Navigating the canal from Verona or Sylvan Beach all the way to Rochester, the  Liverpool man observes beavers, eagles, ospreys, hawks, gulls, mute swans, and “five million” Canada geese.

In his new role as an ordained deacon, however, one tally will be foremost on the captain’s list.

 “It’s about how many souls we save,” Slominski said last week as he assisted with a tree-clearing project at Lock 6 on the Oswego River. “That is the key. That is the heavy event. It’s not about us; it’s about our brethren. … How can we bring them to the Church? Better yet, how can we bring them to Christ? … It’s about faith.”

 Slominski is a member of the Third Order of St. Francis. The captain has faith that his new role as a deacon will work out. He noted that Father Aiello has done a phenomenal job working with the group of deacon candidates.

 As a Navy veteran who now commands a state vessel on the Erie Canal, Slominski has a license to captain the largest of boats. There aren’t many people who are qualified to do what he does out there.

 It never goes to his head, though.

 “I owe my allegiance to my bishop, and the church to which I’m assigned,” Slominski said. “If his call is to go somewhere else, so be it.”

Joseph and Amy CasperJOSEPH CASPER

Age: 54

Family: Wife Amy (CEO of Ephesus Lighting, Inc., subsidiary of Eaton Corp.)

Education: B.S., chemical and electrical engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Occupation: Chief technology officer, Ephesus Lighting

Church roles: Eucharistic minister, sacristan, parish council member, homebound ministry, altar server for funerals

Parish: St. Mary’s, Baldwinsville

Pastor: Father Joseph Scardella

Resides: Baldwinsville

St. Paul had his epiphany, and Joseph Casper has seen many a dazzling light of his own.

Casper, of Baldwinsville, actually lit up the Super Bowl last year: His company supplied the solid-state electronic LED lighting for the game at University of Phoenix Stadium. The lighting that Casper supplies for stadiums allows networks to air high-definition broadcasts of the games. His list of clients includes the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins, and baseball’s Texas Rangers.

“The light that St. Paul saw, I saw the same light,” Casper said. The name of his company, Ephesus Lighting, derives from St. Paul’s letters to the Ephesians.

When Casper’s company lights stadiums, the broadcast of the game will never be blurry. Neither is his faith. It sustained him through the tough regimen of starting his company in 2010.

He would get up at 4:15 or 4:30 a.m., run seven miles, and then say the rosary. “I get my free time with God while everybody’s sleeping,” he said.

Even while he was constantly traveling to establish his lighting company, he did his diaconate homework on airplanes: studying canon law and theology books, and writing homilies for his homiletics class.

Casper is amazed that the Holy Spirit gave him the energy for all that. “So many times,” he said, “I said I can’t do it.”

But the Holy Spirit kept telling him, “Keep going, keep going, keep going.”

“I can’t believe I’m going to be ordained [this] week,” Casper said. “No way.”

Yes, it’s true. And his parents will be there to see it.

When he was a kid, Casper attended first grade with Amy, his future wife, at St. Mary’s in Baldwinsville. They even got married there.

And now, he will receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. “Another sacrament for me,” he said. “I’m coming right back home.”

Michael and Sharon ColabufoMICHAEL COLABUFO

Age: 68

Family: Wife  Sharon (retired teacher); 2 sons, 38 and 42

Education: M.S. and certificate of advanced studies, SUNY Cortland

Occupation: Superintendent of Catholic Schools for Diocese of Syracuse, retired

Church roles: Eucharistic minister, parish council member, confirmation catechist, spiritual care ministry at St. Joseph’s Hospital

Parish: Blessed Sacrament, Syracuse

Pastor: Father Peter Reddick

Resides: Syracuse

Sometimes God whispers to a man, and adds an aside to the man’s wife.

When Father Aiello announced he would have an inquiry meeting to see if men were interested in being a deacon, it was Michael Colabufo’s wife, Sharon, who suggested they go to it.

 As a result, Colabufo will be ordained a deacon in the Class of 2016.

God “does have a plan,” the retired educator said. “We need to quiet ourselves down to be open to God’s will and to listen to that whisper that God provides to us.”

Colabufo has always been a faith-driven person, and he has always been drawn to service. A lifelong educator, he was the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Syracuse from 2006 to 2009.

 Among his volunteer roles is spiritual care ministry at St. Joseph’s Hospital. As a deacon, he hopes to assist In My Father’s Kitchen as well. In My Father’s Kitchen offers help to homeless people.

Colabufo looks to strengthen his role at the hospital, and to keep working in parish outreach, the food pantry, and visitations to James Square nursing home and Francis House.

The Colabufos read Scripture daily and they also pray, “just being able to feel God’s presence always with us,” Colabufo said.

He lives by this verse from the Old Testament: “You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God” [Micah 6:8].

Asked about that quotation from the Bible, Colabufo said, “Yes, that will be in my mind on ordination day.”

Maureen and John FalgeJOHN FALGE

Age: 64

Family: Wife Maureen (homemaker);

5 children (3 daughters, 2 sons; ages 27-44)

Education: Juris doctor, Syracuse University

Occupation: Attorney

Church roles: Trustee, Eucharistic minister, parish council member, confirmation catechist, pastoral care to homebound

Parish: St. Francis Xavier, Marcellus Pastor: Father Daniel Muscalino

Resides: Marcellus

John Falge’s diaconate classmates say his title should be “Reverend Mister Doctor Chief.”

It all fits, because he is a member of the Third Order of Saint Francis, a private citizen, a doctor of laws, and a former police chief in Syracuse.

Falge’s family has always gravitated toward the Franciscans, he said, and his great-great-grandfather was one of the founders of Assumption Church on N. Salina Street in Syracuse. “We spent our whole lives within that Franciscan community,” Falge said.

Contrary to the public’s usual perception, police officers spend about 95 percent of their time in what is basically a Franciscan role, Falge said.

If you could look at one day’s dispatch records in the police department, he said, you would see calls like this: Mom or Dad is having trouble; someone is struggling with homelessness; they lost the money or the checks and they have no food; it’s
4 a.m. and the child hasn’t come home yet; someone is ill or had a heart attack.

“It’s like a 24-hour-a-day Social Services with crime intermingled,” the former chief said.

“I guess there’s something about going home … knowing that you helped someone,” he said.

 Falge has only one request for those whom the clergy assists: Please write a little card expressing your gratitude. It could simply say this: We appreciate your help in getting us through this difficult time.

Recently, Falge received “the most beautiful card from a family” saying thank you for his assistance.

Such a note “really makes it worthwhile,” he said.

And if anybody is worried about dealing with a former police chief in the diaconate, Falge offered this promise:

“Believe me, I’m not intimidating.”

Tamara and Nathan GunnNATHAN GUNN

Age: 41

Family: Wife, Tamara (confirmation coordinator; middle school and faith-formation youth ministry leader); 2 sons, 15 and 12

Education: Masters of theology, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, Calif.; B.A., English literature, University at Buffalo; completing master’s in biblical theology, St. John Paul the Great Catholic University, San Diego

Occupations: Associate regional director of Young Life in CNY; mentor for Scripture and leadership at Holy Cross, DeWitt

Church roles: Bible study, adult education, RCIA team, men’s prayer group, youth and young adult ministry, religion in formation program

Parish: Holy Cross, DeWitt

Pastor: Msgr. J. Robert Yeazel

Resides: DeWitt

The date of his ordination has been fixed in Nathan Gunn’s mind for four years.

He wasn’t born a Catholic and didn’t read a page of a Gospel until he was 14, but his zeal easily makes up for it.

With his ordination just days away, the DeWitt man was asked about the main blessing that he will receive.

“I think it’s love,” he said. “I think that’s what it is.”

Gunn expressed his love of Catholicism when he converted to the faith with his wife, Tamara, in 2006. They went to high school together at Amherst Central High School in Buffalo.

In high school, Nathan was also introduced to Young Life, an international ministry to teenagers.

“It was great outreach,” he said. “I received great outreach and development.”

After Gunn graduated from college, he joined Young Life’s staff. He is now the associate regional director in Central New York. He has two occupations. The other is mentor for Scripture and leadership at Holy Cross Church in DeWitt.

Gunn sees two keys to the diaconate:

“No. 1 is to always listen. Always be listening especially to Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the Word. . … And then I think a second part of this role in terms of service is to have a real eye on those who are marginalized, or downtrodden, or in despair, or have been forgotten. To bring the Good News to bear in their life.”

Peter and Judy HobaicaPETER HOBAICA

Age: 68

Family: Wife Judy (registered nurse, retired); 2 children (1 daughter, 42; 1 son, 40)

Education: Juris doctor, Syracuse University

Occupation: Attorney

Church roles: Deacon, 2016 (previously subdeacon, 2012); trustee; lector; Holy Name Society and St. Joseph Society

Parish: St. Louis Gonzaga Church, Utica

Pastor: Chorbishop John D. Faris

Resides: New Hartford

As a lawyer, Peter Hobaica derives his success from his ability to listen to each client.

That is precisely the ability that the New Hartford man will bring to his new role as deacon. In fact, he already was using his talents as a subdeacon in the Maronite Catholic Church.

Deacon Hobaica was ordained May 7 as a deacon at St. Louis Gonzaga Church in Utica. Officiating at the ordination was Bishop Gregory John Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn.

As a lawyer, Deacon Hobaica must provide services for his clients. As a deacon, though, he believes that people often do not necessarily need a service. If someone comes to him with a particular problem, “by listening, you can figure out if they want counsel or advice or service. … If you provide a service, great.”

Sometimes, parishioners just want to talk about their problems. “You lend an ear, you show you care, you promise a prayer; those little things are very helpful to people sometimes,” he said.

Explaining what led him into this ministry, Deacon Hobaica cited his mother as an example. He said she was “one of the most spirit-filled people I ever knew. My mother truly had the Messiah’s peace.” She was content in her faith, he said, and “it was a beautiful thing to watch.”

One day, Deacon Hobaica heard a comment that stuck with him. Chorbishop John D. Faris casually asked him if he would ever consider a ministry in the church. It helped, also, that Deacon Hobaica always concluded his prayers by asking the Lord what he wanted him to do.

Now he is carrying on his mother’s tradition, while also using his skills as a great listener.

“I realize how blessed I’ve been,” he said, “and because I’ve been so blessed, I want to serve the Lord.”

John and Sandra Addante 2JOHN ADDANTE

Age: 65

Family: Wife Sandra (Le Moyne College adjunct professor; retired special education teacher); 3 children (1 son, 30; 2 daughters, 29 and 35)

Education: M.S. in education, Nazareth College; associate’s degree of science, St. Elizabeth College of Nursing, Utica

Occupation: RN, Hospice of Central New York

Church roles: Eucharistic minister, pastoral care to the homebound

Parish: St. James, Cazenovia

Pastor: Father Kevin Corcoran

Resides: Cazenovia

John Addante exudes a sense of delight over the phone. In person, the immediate smile confirms it: This is a man who draws his own strength from hearing another’s story.

As a registered nurse with Hospice of Central New York, Addante listens to the stories of the dying. He said it enhances his own life by participating in their life journeys. He does not celebrate their death; he celebrates “the joy and happiness of their life.”

Addante’s huge smile seems easy and natural. As he listens to anyone speak, he glows with empathy and humility.

“Dealing with the terminally ill has profoundly impacted my own spiritual life, and I am humbled by doing that,” the  resident of Cazenovia said.

“And there’s a true spirit that each person has in their moment of death,” Addante said. “The spirit of the individual themselves.”

He was always drawn to serve Christ, even at a very young age, and he has always been an active participant in his church. He taught in Catholic schools, and he was a religion teacher at one point.

Addante’s wife, Sandra, also is drawn to teaching. She supervises student-teachers at Le Moyne College as an adjunct professor. She is also the sacramental coordinator for baptisms, reconciliation, and first communion at St. James Parish in Cazenovia.

The terminally ill have “a story to tell that is unique for them, and it brings out who they are as a human being,” Addante said, “and what they believe in their heart.”

“Everybody has a story to tell,” he said. “And they’re great stories.” He was assisting an elderly woman recently, “and she was telling me stories. … and to be with that person is just amazing, just amazing.”

Find coverage of the deacons’ ordination in next week’s issue of the Sun.

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