By Linda Andrade Rodrigues, Anchor Correspondent
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — Is God calling you to serve His Church as a deacon?
Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., has authorized the formation of a new permanent diaconate class, which will begin in the fall. Those discerning a vocation are invited to attend an informational night on March 24 at 7 p.m. in St. Mary’s Parish Center in New Bedford.
A man who believes the Lord is calling him as a deacon serves alongside priests and bishops, while also maintaining his obligations to family and career.
“We look for men who will grow in Spirituality, love of the Church and love of the diaconate,” said Msgr. John J. Oliveira, diocesan director of the Office of the Permanent Diaconate for the past 10 years and pastor of St. Mary’s Parish. “They will balance a three-part life: as a family man and husband, if married; their work; and diaconate ministry. This is a call, and God is calling them to serve.”
Candidates between the ages of 35 and 60 must be of sound faith and actively involved in the Church’s apostolate; display personal integrity, maturity and holiness; and be in a valid Catholic Marriage for at least five years or a mature celibate state of life, if single. The ministry also requires a real commitment involving time, effort and hard work.
Some of the duties of the ministry include proclaiming the Gospel during Mass, delivering homilies, distributing Holy Communion, celebrating Baptisms, witnessing Marriages, teaching Religious Education, visiting the hospitalized, imprisoned, aged and homebound, and coordinating advocacy efforts in light of Catholic teachings.
The fraternal bonds forged throughout the five-year preparation period are profound.
“One of the things you develop is a bond with your fellow brothers,” said Deacon Gary John, who serves at Espirito Santo Parish in Fall River. “We remain close, and it’s hard to describe, but it’s more powerful than anything I’ve ever experienced.”
Originally from New York, Deacon John is married with two grown children. His job demands full-time travel, which proved a challenge fitting in the required two classes every week.
“You need the desire and deep faith to commit yourself to it,” he said.
Deacon John performed 18 Baptisms in the past eight months at Espirito Santo Parish.
“It is a joy to share that Sacrament with them,” he said. “They are the antithesis of the inner-city parish. There are many young Portuguese families, and we are growing with them.”
Deacon John also has served at his home parish of Holy Trinity in Fall River.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to give back to the Lord the way He has sustained me my entire life,” he said.
Deacon John admitted that if he had one regret, it is that he did not get the calling sooner.
“I had a secure job, family and home, but something was missing,” he said. “After I attained the diaconate, that’s when I was fulfilled. People ask, but the Lord decides. You are called by grace. You are called by Him.”
Originally from Cork City, Ireland, Deacon Brendan Brides serves at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Pocasset.
“I’ve been here 30 years and have always been active in my church, Christ the King in Mashpee,” he said, adding that he received “pretty substantial encouragement” from his parish to enter the permanent diaconate.
He started the process in his late 40s. Married with two adult children, his son is a recent graduate of Cape Cod Community College who enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and his stepdaughter is disabled.
“It’s been very positive for me, my family and my Marriage,” he said.
Conversely, he advised against men with young children entering the diaconate at this time of their lives.
“Not with young children,” he said. “I think it doesn’t work well to take yourself away from your family.”
But for those currently discerning a vocation, he encouraged them to take it to the next level.
“If God is calling them, they should inquire,” he said.
A teacher at Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro, Deacon Joseph McGinley serves at St. Ann’s Parish in Raynham. He just celebrated 36 years of married life with his wife, Sue, and they have two daughters and two grandchildren.
“The diaconate is a wonderful ministry in that those deacons who are married can draw upon their experiences as a husband and, in most cases, a father, when they are ministering to the faithful,” said Deacon McGinley. “There is a commonality of experiences that the deacon can draw upon and which might serve to facilitate interaction with the laity.”
Formation in the permanent diaconate requires daily prayer, Spiritual direction and training, and commitment to increase understanding of the Catholic faith and theology.
“The program is a period of preparation, and we are seeking candidates who are being called by God to serve the Church in a special way,” Msgr. Oliveira said.
To register for the informational night, visit the Office for the Permanent Diaconate website at www.frpermanentdiaconate.com. St. Mary’s Parish Center is located at 106 Illinois St. in New Bedford.