The three men ordained May 24 as transitional deacons – the final step before ordination to the priesthood – took different paths to the altar, but Archbishop Gregory Aymond said they will spend the next 12 months of ordained ministry serving as examples of Christian charity for others.
“How will you know if you have effectively lived out the diaconate over the next year?” Archbishop Aymond asked the new deacons at their ordination Mass at St. Louis Cathedral. “If you can say within your own heart, ‘I have come not to be served, but to serve.’ That’s your examination of conscience every day.”
Archbishop Aymond ordained two transitional deacons to serve in the Archdiocese of New Orleans – Deacon Paul A. Clark and Deacon Christopher P. Zavackis – and one man for the Archdiocese of Tororo in his native Uganda – Deacon Mark O. Odoi.
Parish internships coming
After five months of parish internship and then several more months completing their theological studies at Notre Dame Seminary, the transitional deacons are scheduled to be ordained as priests next year. Deacons Clark and Zavackis will serve in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and Deacon Odoi will return to Uganda for his priestly ministry in 2015.
“In looking at a map, it becomes rather evident that to get to a final destination, there are usually several different paths that one can take to arrive at the same destination,” Archbishop Aymond said before the ordination rite. “That is certainly true of these three men. All three have been called by the Lord God to serve in holy orders, to lead and to serve his people as deacons and, ultimately, we believe, as priests.”
Archbishop Aymond mentioned that Deacon Zavackis had entered St. Joseph Seminary College as a young man and spent one year at Notre Dame Seminary before deciding to pursue a career as a social worker.
“In working with those who had disabilities and through the urging of a priest friend, he heard God more loudly and clearly saying, ‘Chris, come follow me. I need you,’” Archbishop Aymond said.
Katrina left an impression
Deacon Clark came from Ohio to New Orleans after Katrina to work for Habitat for Humanity and then stayed to work rebuilding homes in St. Bernard Parish.
“The people of St. Bernard stole his heart and entered his life, never to leave,” Archbishop Aymond said. “That experience, as well as his involvement in Blessed Seelos Parish, led him to clearly understand and to hear in his own heart, ‘Paul, come follow me. I need you.’”
Deacon Odoi had completed several years of seminary studies in Uganda before an illness caused him to leave and then find work as a high school teacher.
“But the call of priestly ministry kept tugging at his heart,” the archbishop said. “So he returned to the seminary, and he returned because he heard more loudly and clearly, ‘Mark, come follow me. I need you.’”
Heard – and heeded – the call
Summing up their varied backgrounds and paths to ordained ministry, Archbishop Aymond offered his gratitude to God for the men “hearing God’s call amidst the other sounds and noises of our world. There were other calls you could have answered, but you heard God’s call. You said yes to God, and we are here today because you have said a radical yes – and we’re grateful to you.”
In the rite of ordination, the men promised to offer their lives in service to the church and promised obedience to the bishop. They also promised to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, to live a celibate life, preach the Gospel in “word and deed” and be a spiritual leader among God’s people.
They then prostrated themselves before the altar as a sign of submission to God’s will as the choir chanted the Litany of the Saints. The archbishop then called each man to his chair, and he laid hands on him in silence, invoking the Holy Spirit. Then the archbishop offered a prayer of ordination.
Dalmatic: Symbol of service
The rite concluded with the deacons being vested with a stole – a symbol of the clerical state – and a dalmatic – a vestment symboling the service to which the deacon is being called. The deacon was then presented by Archbishop Aymond with the Book of the Gospels, which he will now proclaim and preach.
“What was strongest for me was when I was prostrate on the floor,” Deacon Zavackis said after the ordination Mass. “I’ve prayed this prayer many times, even before coming into the seminary, but as I was prostrate on the floor, I asked God to configure my hands, my arms, my heart, my thoughts, my mouth, what comes out of my mouth, more closely to God.”
Deacon Clark said one of the first people he saw as he processed from the cathedral was a young couple.
“Walking out of the cathedral, I had the awareness of, ‘Lord, where are you sending me to serve?’” Deacon Clark said. “It was seeing people as the Lord’s beloved and his desire to go out into all parts of the earth and wash their feet and love. I saw this beautiful couple, and I greeted them. They are part of my prayer intentions. They are part of who I bring to the altar. I’m asking the Lord to continue to form me and conform me unto his heart so that I can be the servant God is calling me to be.”
Deacon Odoi said he hoped his family in Uganda, who could not travel to the ordination, would be able to see video clips of the liturgy.
“I’m just so excited, so glad and so happy to be ordained a deacon,” he said. “I have been looking forward to diaconal ministry. I am so grateful for this wonderful day.”
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.