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Archbishop Gregory ordains nine men ‘filled with the Spirit and wisdom’ as permanent deacons

Archbishop Wilton Gregory presents Deacon Mark Asselin with the Book of Gospels during a June 22 Mass of Ordination to the Permanent Diaconate at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

The qualifications needed to be a deacon have little to do with academic credentials, job experience, professional titles, or monetary gains, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory told the nine men who were ordained as permanent deacons for the Archdiocese of Washington during a June 22 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Rather, as it has been since the beginning of the Church, deacons are expected to be “reputable men filled with the Spirit and wisdom,” he said, quoting the second reading for the Mass (Acts 6:1-7).

Archbishop Gregory was joined at the Mass by Washington Auxiliary Bishops Michael Fisher and Roy Campbell Jr., as well as Richmond Bishop Barry Knestout and priests and deacons from throughout the Archdiocese of Washington.

The nine ordinandi were Deacon Mark Asselin, Deacon Frank Avenilla, Deacon Duane Clark, Deacon Wilberto Garcia, Deacon Darryl Armfield Kelley, Deacon Mark Kijesky, Deacon Matthew Laidley, Deacon Eric Simontis, and Deacon John White, Jr. They include veterans of the armed forces, government employees, a former state delegate, and the Archdiocese of Washington’s Chief Financial Officer.

Prior to his homily, each of the ordinandi were called forward and presented to Archbishop Gregory, who asked Deacon Charles Huber, the assistant director of the archdiocese's Office of the Permanent Diaconate, if the men were all fit for ordination. After Deacon Huber confirmed that they were worthy, Archbishop Gregory elected them for ordination, and the congregation applauded in approval.

Archbishop Gregory elaborated on each of the three qualifications required of deacons, saying being men of “good reputation” means they need to have the esteem of the community, and to be respected as men of integrity.

(CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

The Holy Spirit was very active in the early Church, said Archbishop Gregory, adding that it gave many believers the courage to witness to the faith, sometimes even to the point of martyrdom.

“We need those same qualities today just as much as in the early Church,” he said.

In fact, in some ways the Church today has more complicated challenges, he said, noting that in the ancient Church they only needed to speak to people in a few different languages, but today in the Archdiocese of Washington, people speak a large diversity of languages.

“Parishes in the archdiocese of Washington are as multifaceted as those small communities ever dared to be,” he said. “We have large populations that include the sick and the homebound, the young and the undocumented immigrant, the poor and the marginalized. The needs of our parochial assemblies are a ripe harvest for the ministry of charity that our soon-to-be deacons must offer.”

Archbishop Gregory told the new deacons they must “open their lives to the prompting the Spirit provides” in order to work in collaboration with the archdiocese’s priests and to “always exercise your office with dignity and reverence” so people are drawn to the Lord.

Finally, he encouraged them to deepen their life of prayer, which is where “you will find strength and wisdom to fulfill your duties both in your families and in the family of the Church.”

As he concluded his homily, he also thanked the deacons’ families for their support, saying, “They have been and will continue to be your most important source of encouragement and strength.”

Archbishop Gregory then questioned the ordinandi about their readiness to accept the responsibilities of the Office of Deacon, and each of them knelt before the archbishop to promise obedience to him.

The nine candidates for ordination as permanent deacons lay prostrate during their Mass of Ordination. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

As the nine men lay prostrate on the floor, the congregation knelt and prayed for the intercession of the saints. After the conclusion of the litany, everyone stood to watch as the men each knelt in front of the archbishop, who laid his hands on them and asked God to dedicate them to the service of the Gospel.

The newly ordained deacons were vested in a stole, worn over the left shoulder to symbolize that the right arm is always free to help others, and a vestment called a dalmatic. They were then presented with the Book of the Gospels as a sign of their duty to preach the Word of God. As Archbishop Gregory presented it to each of them, he told them to “believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.”

After each of them had received the Book of Gospels, Archbishop Gregory and each of the roughly 70 deacons at the Mass exchanged a sign of peace with the newly ordained deacons.

Deacons exchange a sign of peace. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Following the Mass, Carrie Clark, the wife of Deacon Duane Clark, noted that her husband and all nine of the new deacons “have worked very hard and are very dedicated.” Each of the nine men completed five years of formation in preparation for their ordination to the diaconate.

“To see them ordained is very special,” said Clark, who along with her husband is a parishioner at St. Gabriel Parish in Washington. “It means so much to our family and means so much to him to serve God in this manner.”

Kathy Ferrara, the sister of Deacon John White, Jr., attended the Mass along with his four other siblings. She said her brother will make a good deacon because he is good at listening and giving advice.

“If you’re having a crisis, he is in it for the crisis,” she said.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory ordains Deacon John White Jr. as a permanent deacon. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Deacon Mark Asselin, a parishioner of St. Elizabeth Parish in Rockville, said the day was “a culmination of several years of training and discernment,” and “when the day came, I didn’t realize how overcome with emotion I would be.”

“At the same time, I felt a sense of spiritual peace,” he said. “…I’m just humbled by the whole experience.”

After the ordination, each of the new deacons learned which ministry of charity and which parish community they have been assigned to serve. Deacon Asselin was assigned to serve the poor, hungry and homeless as well as his home parish of St. Elizabeth, and he said now that his studies are out of the way, “I’m looking forward to more formal service.”

Deacon Eric Simontis, the Chief Financial Officer of the Archdiocese of Washington, said “it was an unbelievable feeling” look out at the crowd gathered in the basilica and to see everyone there who had supported him to that point. He said he was also struck by the similarity between that ceremony and a wedding, and says he now considers himself “married not just to my wife, but also to the Church.”

Deacon Simontis began his studies to be a deacon in Atlanta, under the leadership of Archbishop Gregory, seven and one-half years ago. Then, three and one-half years ago, he moved to Washington to serve in his current role, and on June 22 was ordained by Archbishop Gregory, just as the members of his first diaconate class had been in Atlanta.

During a June 24 Mass with his coworkers at the Archdiocese of Washington’s Pastoral Center, Deacon Simontis said, “If I tried to describe the joy I’m feeling right now, words would fail me.”

At a lunch following the Mass, he thanked his coworkers for their prayers, telling them that every time they prayed for an increase in vocations either in the pastoral center’s chapel or at their home parish, “you were praying for me.”

“Those prayers work,” he said.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory stands with the nine newly-ordained permanent deacons. They are, from left to right: Deacon Eric Simontis, Deacon Mark Kijesky, Deacon Frank Avenilla, Deacon Duane Clark, Deacon Mark Asselin, Deacon Wilberto Garcia, Deacon Darryl Kelley, Deacon Matthew Laidley, and Deacon John White Jr. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)