Ninth permanent diaconate class
to be installed as acolytes June 19

By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — In numerology, the number nine is often associated with wisdom and initiation. It is considered a highly emotional and Spiritual number. Furthermore, people with a number nine life path tend to care a lot about their Spiritual comfort and the comfort of their soul.

So it seems all-too-fitting that the nine members of the ninth Permanent Diaconate class for the Fall River Diocese will be installed as acolytes by Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., on Tuesday, June 19 during at 7 p.m. Mass celebration at Holy Name of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in New Bedford.

The ministry of acolyte is the second and final ministry these candidates will receive and exercise as part of their preparation before their upcoming ordination as permanent deacons in May 2019. As an acolyte, the deacons can serve at the altar and assist the priest during the Liturgy. In particular, it is their responsibility to prepare the altar and the Sacred vessels and, when necessary, serve as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.

On June 19, the following nine candidates will become acolytes: Richard Bisson of Christ the King Parish, Mashpee; Keith Caldwell of Our Lady of Victory Parish, Centerville; Gary Donahue of Holy Cross Parish, Easton; Kevin Gingras of Holy Family Parish, East Taunton; David Harum of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Attleboro; George Hults of Corpus Christi Parish, Sandwich; Tony Pimental of St. Francis Xavier Parish, Acushnet; Paul Spearin of St. Ann Parish, Raynham; and Matthew Sweeney of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Parish, Attleboro.

As they prepare to take this penultimate step towards their ordinations, the candidates recently shared their thoughts and feelings with The Anchor.

“For most of my adult life, I have felt the tug toward ministry as a permanent deacon,” Caldwell said. “Through conversations with priests and permanent deacons over the years, it became evident to me that I needed to ‘listen to the whispers,’ as Father Bob Oliveira would say. Listening to the whispers and discerning what they had to say convinced me that I was being called to serve God in this ministry.”

“About eight years ago, one of our parishioners came up to me and asked me if I ever thought about a vocation to the diaconate,” Bisson said. “Honestly, I didn’t really know much about the diaconate, so I believe the Lord planted a seed and opened my heart to let me know He wanted me to serve in a more personal way.”

“Around 20 years ago, Deacon John Welch of Raynham suggested (I become a permanent deacon), but my children were still too young,” said Gingras. “But the call remained in the back of my mind for many years and the Holy Spirit would always drop reminders during that time. When the classes were getting ready to start up, my wife Allison and I knew it was time to make these thoughts a reality.”

After becoming a Catholic convert in 2006, Hults said he was inspired by people like Deacon Robert Lemay, who “provided me with a very warm welcome and who always had time to meet with me and answer my questions,” and Deacon David Pierce, who “also made a great impression on me. All of these positive experiences stayed with me and influenced my current calling.”

Similarly for Spearin, he said a “seed was planted many years ago during a men’s retreat.”

“A deacon from Long Island, N.Y., who was the facilitator spent some time with me that weekend and cultivated that interest I have to love and serve the Lord into a prayerful possibility to consider becoming a deacon,” he said. “After that retreat, I began to attend daily Mass and my life was never the same. The seed was planted and flourished into following a call to ordained ministry.”

“I have received and continue to receive unbelievable blessings and gifts from our Lord that weren’t intended to be used only for my benefit,” Pimental said. “God has provided for me and my family through some difficult times. I know He expects something in return. I look at becoming a permanent deacon as a way of glorifying God and making reparations for all the blessings I have received.”

“I love the Lord and I love the Catholic Church, which is the Body of Christ,” agreed Sweeney. “When you love someone, you want to spend time with them and give back to them that which they have given to you, so that is what I am trying to do.”

“The ministry of deacon is attractive to me because of the focus on the Spiritual and Corporal Acts of Mercy — it is a way to put my faith into action,” said Donahue. “Deacons show their love for Jesus by responding to those who are hungry, thirsty, and sick or in the hospital or prison.” 

Given the current priest shortage within the diocese and the fact that several clergy members will be eligible for retirement in the near future, the members of the latest diaconate class hope to “take on more roles in the Church such as Baptisms, weddings and even funeral services,” Gingras said.

“It’s imperative that married men who feel the call to the diaconate step up and answer that call,” he added. “Our diocese needs more good men to assist and serve.”

“Priests within the Church today are carrying a heavy workload,” agreed Sweeney. “Anything that we, as deacons, can do to help is something that we should be trying to do. By helping in these areas, we can carry a little of that load.”

Caldwell stressed the importance of fostering vocations to all ordained ministries — be they priests or permanent deacons.

“The mission of the Church is to serve others through pastoral ministry and to bring Christ to the world through preaching and living the Word of God,” he said. “We need increased vocations to ordained ministry to serve Christ and His Church in carrying out this important work.”

“The Church needs good, solid men who are strong in the faith, who are being called for service and sacrifice,” said Hults. “Msgr. John Oliveira told us at the very beginning, ‘If you think you are choosing to be a deacon, you are mistaken!’ We are all called by God to a unique vocation and we must ask Him in our thoughts, prayers, and pleadings to make it known to us.”

For Donahue, it’s all about providing the necessary support network for our bishop and priests.

“So many of our priests are doing two or three jobs,” he said. “As deacons, hopefully we can help, but we can never replace a priest. Deacons are configured to Christ the Servant and it is important that we not think of them as ‘junior priests.’ We all need to pray for more priestly vocations and encourage our young men to consider answering the call to the priesthood.”

“Men need to be who God intended us to be — to support, protect, and teach our children that God is the only answer to make our world and lives better,” Bisson said. “I can truly say that God is what drives me each and every day, and I suggest to other men to spend many hours in adoration and listen to the voice of Jesus. He will guide you in everything you do and say.”

“The call to serve our Church and its people is more important now than ever,” Spearin said. “With the shortage of vocations, it is essential for men to step forward as leaders in their home and become leaders in the Church to teach, preach and serve the Good News to our faith community.”

Pimental feels that as “regular guys” serving the Church, permanent deacons can help “bring faith beyond the Sanctuary” and it gives them a unique ability “to proclaim the Gospel in unexpected and wonderful ways.”

“To go to places where our amazing priests can’t always be — the ball field, the Scouts meeting, the corner bar — that is where our faith moves beyond theology and Sacred Scripture and is put into practice every day,” he added.

With their ordinations now less than a year away, the candidates all expressed great joy and anticipation at the prospect of beginning their ministries.

“I look forward to whatever the Lord has in store for me,” Caldwell said. “I try not to project too far into the future or make too many assumptions, because what I may envision will most likely be different from what God will ask of me. I look forward to the joys and challenges that lie ahead and pray I am open to God’s plan.”

Gingras said he’s most looking forward to celebrating the Sacraments after ordination, especially Baptism. “I’ve been able to assist Deacon Robert Craig as well as Father Kevin Cook with a few Baptisms and playing such an important role as this person begins their journey into the Catholic Church will be a very moving and humbling experience,” he said.

“Proclaiming the Gospel is the pinnacle moment for me once ordained,” Spearin said. “Though, on a collective note, serving Mass in a Liturgical setting, participating with families during joyous Sacramental milestones — Baptisms, Marriages and also being present by ministering comfort to those during wakes and graveside services — all are ways I look forward to loving God’s people in diaconal service.”

“I am looking forward to helping people learn and grow in their faith,” Hults said. “Right now, I am enjoying teaching young adults in Confirmation, and will be taking part in prison ministry in the near future. But most of all, I am looking forward to seeing what God has in store for me. One thing I’ve noticed is that God’s plans are always much better, much greater than any plans I try to make for myself.”

“God willing, if I am ordained next year, I am looking forward to being able shift the time I am currently spending in formation to my first assignment,” Donahue said. “One of the challenges of the formation process is that we need to be careful with our time commitments within our parishes.”

“I am looking forward to all of it, but I suspect it is like getting married,” Sweeney said. “Before someone gets married, are they necessarily looking forward to something in particular? It is difficult for me to say I am looking forward to a particular thing. Our relationship with the Lord grows over time — I am looking forward to that.”

“I think what I look forward to most is taking the time and effort that’s been spent on formation studies and to use it doing ministry work,” Pimental said. “I don’t quite know what that work will be, but I trust God will nudge me where He wants me to go — He seems to have a way of doing that!”

“I will say that my heart is full of joy and love for this opportunity to help in serving others,” said Bisson. “The truth is, I didn’t even think I would make it this far, so I guess I’m either the luckiest man in the world, or God is carrying me to see this through.”

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts