Deacons called as ‘ministers of charity’

There were so many men to be ordained as permanent deacons Dec. 1 at St. Louis Cathedral – 20 in all – that the carpeted sanctuary was not big enough to accommodate them for the centuries-old liturgical ritual of lying prostrate in front of the altar for the Litany of Supplication.

Instead, the men prostrated themselves in a single line on the marble floor in front of the sanctuary – a sign of their submission to God’s will – as God and the saints were invoked.

“This is a glorious day in our local church of the Archdiocese of New Orleans as we come together to recognize that God has called 20 men from among us to be deacons of the church and to serve in the name of Christ,” Archbishop Gregory Aymond said at the beginning of the two-hour Mass of Ordination.

The archbishop used the theme of an entire village raising a child as an analogy for the numerous influences  on the deacons – wives, families, friends, priests, religious and lay persons – who led them to discern a vocation to the permanent diaconate.

“These men come before us today because of many, many other people,” Archbishop Aymond said. “It is the love care and influence of many individuals who made this day possible. It may not take an entire village to raise a deacon, but it takes the ministry of love and care of so many.

“We say a very profound thank you, especially to the wives of these men … whose support and consent are necessary to make this day possible.”

After the Litany of Supplication, each ordinand walked into the sanctuary and knelt before the archbishop, who laid hands on him to invoke the power of the Holy Spirit, “exactly the same gesture” that the apostles of the early Church used when they ordained first deacons to help them with their ministry of charity, Archbishop Aymond said.

Ancient ties to early church

“The ministry of a deacon is rooted in the very beginnings of the church,” Archbishop Aymond said. “Shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the apostles came to realize very quickly the incredible responsibility and ministry that they held in order to carry out the mission and ministry of Christ. Recognizing that awesome responsibility, they gathered in the Upper Room and said, ‘We need help. We cannot do this alone. We need others so we do not neglect charity.’”

The archbishop explained the three “orders” of ordained ministry in the church: bishops, priests and deacons. Deacons are ordained to assist the other two orders – bishops and priests – and to serve as “ministers of charity.”

“One could easily say, ‘All Christians are called to be people of charity,’ and that’s true,” Archbishop Aymond said. “But the deacon in the church is called in a very particular and unique way to make present the charity of the church and to make present Jesus, who was servant. (The deacon has) a radical responsibility to be our conscience and to make sure the poor and the needy are never left unattended.”

Deacons also are called to proclaim and preach the Word of God and to be ministers of prayer, the archbishop said.

Pray, prepare, preach

Recalling the lament of the prophet Jeremiah, who told God he was too young to be able to proclaim the Word of God, Archbishop Aymond told the new deacons: “God will place the words in your mouth and he will touch your lips so that you are certain that what you preach is never your message or any kind of political agenda. We always pray that we never get in the way of God’s Word.

“I beg you today, that always when you prepare to preach, not only read the Scriptures but study the Scriptures and pray the Scriptures. The people of God in the Catholic Church are hungry to hear God’s word. I beg you never to preach without preparation and make sure you break open the Scriptures in such a way that people are able to see and hear the Word of God touching their lives and directing their hearts and giving focus to their lives of discipleship – giving them fresh food for their hearts.”

The new deacons will be assigned to parishes and other archdiocesan ministries. They are Richard S. Abbondante, Steven R. Cohan, Richard

B. Eason, Abner J. Guillory, Carlo Maniglia, Peter J. Miranda, Quinsiniano Ortega, Christopher M. Schneider Sr., Troy A. Smith, Lieu (Leo) D. Tran, Warren L. Berault, Kevin J. Darrah Sr., W. Gerard Gautrau, Timothy R. Jackson, Brian M. McKnight Sr., Daniel P. Musso, Andrew P. Raspino Sr., James H. Simmons, Charles R. Swift and L. Roberto Zambrano.

Following the spirit

After the ordination, the new deacons gathered in Blessed John Paul II Plaza and greeted family and friends, exchanging hugs and offering them their first blessings.

“It was really awesome,” said Deacon Maniglia. “When the archbishop laid his hands on me, I knew the grace would be there. It’s a powerful feeling. It really is.”

Deacon McKnight, an assistant fire chief in the Kenner Fire Department, was overcome with emotion when dozens of deacons came up to embrace the new class of deacons immediately after the ordination ritual.

“I was having a hard time holding back all the emotions,” Deacon McKnight said. “It was pretty overwhelming to see the support and love that was there.”

Deacon Raspino said the “community of deacons” gave him a strong sense of “belonging, brotherhood and community. … I hope to use that community for strength in ministry.”

Deacon Gautrau said he hopes to continue serving people, particularly the elderly at an assisted living center in Luling. “I want to be Christ’s presence to the people,” he said. “The charity is what I’m looking forward to.”

The ordination Mass left Deacon Cohan feeling “humbled, very humbled. I just ask God to continue to lead me where he wants me to be.”

While he has some plans for ministry, Deacon Smith said he wants to “leave what I do going forward to the Holy Spirit. I have a desire to work with at-risk youth in the parish and outside the parish, but I want to be led by the Holy Spirit and where the spirit takes me.”

Deacon Ortega echoed those thoughts.

“The Holy Spirit came and we just opened our hearts to it,” Deacon Ortega said. “I have a lot of plans, but the only thing is, I don’t know what God has in store for me. So I’m going to follow his plans and I ask his blessings. I ask for prayers so he can guide me in whatever he wants me to take.”

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at

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