Transitional deacons one step closer to priesthood

By Eileen Jevis
Staff writer

On Saturday, May 20, close to 40 priests and deacons and several hundred congregants joined Bishop Douglas J. Lucia to celebrate the ordination to the Sacred Order of Deacon at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on Syracuse’s westside. Transitional deacons Benjamin Joseph Schrantz and Pawel Lukasz Zmija were instructed by Bishop Lucia on the Office of Deacon and its responsibilities.

The ordinands are called forth from the congregation to receive Holy Orders.

In his homily, Bishop Lucia told the deacons that their main task is the proclamation of the Gospel at all levels and forms. “It especially comes alive in your service at the altar of humanity where like Christ, you set the table for the feast and wash the feet of those who approach the Church, our Mother, to be fed.” The Bishop referred to the reflections of Pope Benedict XVI on the Order of Deacons. “In his notes, Pope Benedict XVI said, ‘The diaconate is and remains a dimension of every clerical ministry because the Lord who sustains all these ministries became himself our deacon and remains such in the Holy Eucharist until the end of all days,’” said Bishop Lucia.

Accepting his call

Deacon Pawel Zmija’s first thoughts of becoming a priest began in kindergarten and stayed with him throughout school. His interest in the history of the Catholic Church and how the history of Catholicism developed in the United States, influenced his decision to enter the seminary in 2014. While discerning his vocation to the priesthood in Poland, Deacon Pawel received inspiration and advice from the pastor of his home parish, Father Stanislaw Res. “He offered support and good advice and I have chosen the path I want to follow for the rest of my life,” said Deacon Pawel.

From left, Fr. John Kurgan, Dc. Pawel, Bishop Emeritus Robert J. Cunningham, Bishop Lucia, Dc. Benjamin, Fr. Andrew Baranski.

Deacon Pawel arrived in the United States three years ago and has overcome much of the language and cultural differences. As a deacon, he feels his openness and ability to talk to others are one of the most important things in religious life. “I want to use these skills in my ministry. I would also like to focus more on my pastoral formation to better prepare for my priestly ordination. I will continue my intellectual formation at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore,” said Deacon Pawel.

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Syracuse is his home parish. Deacon Pawel said pastor Father Andrew Baranski is just one of the priests in the Diocese whom he could rely on to set an excellent example on his journey to the priesthood. “I will continue to ask for guidance through conversations with God,” he said, “and I hope that Father Baranski will accompany me on my priestly path. I ask that your readers please pray for an increase in vocations to religious life, for all who serve and those already ordained. Prayer is essential because I will know that I’m not alone.”

Choosing a life of service

The ordinand deacons arrive at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Syracuse for their ordination liturgy.

While completing his undergraduate degree at SUNY Fredonia, Deacon Ben Schrantz credits the Newman Center’s sense of family and community for his growth as a young Catholic. “I met a great bunch of college students who were serious about their own faith,” he said. “The community quickly became my second family.” Deacon Ben planned to earn a master’s degree in library science but his experience at the Newman Center placed a “kernel” in his heart that perhaps God was calling him to travel another path.

Instead of applying to graduate school, Deacon Ben took a gap year and worked full time at his home parish of St. Paul’s in Whitesboro. That experience led him to apply for the seminary at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. “Of the courses I’ve studied, I’ve enjoyed the Scripture courses because it allows us the opportunity to take a ‘deep dive’ into the Bible in ways I have not been able to do before,” said Deacon Ben. “I have also enjoyed the morality courses such as Catholic social teaching and biomedical ethics. We were able to focus on many of the hot-button issues.”

Deacon Pawel’s mother made the trip from Poland to attend the ordination. The Mass was livestreamed to Pawel’s family in his native country.

Deacon Ben will work at St. Peter’s in Rome, Oneida County, for the remainder of the summer. In August he will return to the Theological College in Washington to complete his final year of seminarian studies.

Deacon Ben said the promises he made as a transitional deacon — a life of service to the Church and her people — are the building blocks for his future ordination to the priesthood. “In every walk of life, no matter what path we find ourselves on, there are people who can help and guide us,” said Deacon Ben. “Over the past six years as a seminarian I met people who have helped me along the way. I think it is those people who I will seek out for guidance in the future.”

“God speaks to us in the silence of our hearts,” said Deacon Ben. “To find where God is calling us, we need to enter into that silence and follow the peace that comes from it. When you allow him to work in your heart, he will fill your life with an abundance of grace and peace.”

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