Ordained for God's service
Five men from four different countries were ordained by Archbishop Gregory Aymond as transitional deacons – the final step before ordination to the priesthood next year – on May 23 at St. Louis Cathedral.
Four of the new transitional deacons – Deacons David M. Ducote, Dzung Francis Nguyen, Francis Uzochukwu Offia and Kenneth S. Smith – will serve in the Archdiocese of New Orleans as they complete their theological studies at Notre Dame Seminary in 2015-16.
Deacon Zachary Oburu was ordained for the Archdiocese of Tororo in Uganda, where he will return next summer for his priestly ordination.
Archbishop Aymond said the five new deacons each had come to offer their lives to God as ministers of the church in different ways. Some, such as Deacons Nguyen and Oburu, had served at the altar as children and drew close to the priests in their native Vietnam and Uganda.
Took different routes
Others, such as Deacon Smith, had begun business careers before hearing the call to enter the seminary. Deacon Smith was the executive chef at Upperline Restaurant in New Orleans for many years before entering Notre Dame Seminary.
“God has spoken very differently – and even in different countries – but the message that God gave them was the same, the invitation was the same: ‘Come, follow me. I ask you to lead my people,’” Archbishop Aymond said.
With the ordinands sitting before him in chairs in front of the first pew, the archbishop thanked them for hearing and heeding their vocational call.
“After many years of prayer-filled discernment, study and priestly formation – and certainly along the way there were some questions and some doubts that you gave over to the Lord – you have come to us prepared, with hearts open to the Lord, saying, ‘Here I am, Lord. I’m ready. Send me,’” Archbishop Aymond said.
Handed down over millennia
The archbishop said the rite of ordination of deacons is essentially unchanged from the time of the first apostles. The Acts of the Apostles indicates the apostles were being overwhelmed in meeting the spiritual needs of the growing Christian community, so they decided they needed help from others to care for the growing flock, freeing the apostles to “preach the Word of God and lead the people in prayer.”
“They found seven men who were deeply spiritual and very wise, and then they prayed over them and laid hands on them as they called down the gift of the Holy Spirit,” the archbishop said. “They became the first deacons of the church 2,000 years ago.”
Archbishop Aymond said by virtue of their ordination and the power of the Holy Spirit, the five new deacons would be “sent to lead and to serve the people of God in the name of Christ, particularly Christ who is the servant.”
He identified the threefold ministry of a deacon as performing works of charity, especially to those who are on the fringes of society; proclaiming the Gospel and preaching at Mass; and leading people in prayer by celebrating marriages and funerals and assisting the priest at the altar.
‘Conscience’ of church
“I like to think of you as the conscience of the church,” Archbishop Aymond said. “A lot is being asked of you. I’m sure along the way, in your nervousness, you said, ‘Can I do all that?’ You can, if you live the promises you make today before this assembly and before God to be men of prayer.”
The five new deacons said they were overwhelmed by the ordination Mass and were ready to begin their lives as ordained ministers.
“It’s exhilarating certainly, and even surreal,” Deacon Ducote said. “Feeling the archbishop’s hands on my head – because he was certainly pressing down – really made it real. I’ve heard the litany of the saints so many times, but this time I was the one lying down. That was very moving. And what stuck out for me in the archbishop’s homily is when he called us to be a voice of conscience for the church.”
“I feel excited to become a deacon,” Deacon Nguyen said. “I would like to serve the archdiocese and the people of God. When I laid down (for the litany of the saints), it was an exciting moment, and I was very happy. I prayed to God and prayed for all the people, especially for God to change my heart and my mind to belong to God.”
“This is great because of what God has done for me,” said Deacon Offia, a native of Nigeria. “It’s not because I desired it. God has been so merciful to me. He’s been so gracious to me. I don’t know how to express the joy. I thank the Lord. I could feel the outpouring of the Holy Spirit when the archbishop laid hands on me. I pray that what I received today will remain in me for the rest of my life.”
“It was everything that I expected and more,” said Deacon Smith, who slept at the cathedral rectory the night before the ordination. “My room overlooked the back garden, and when I got up and looked out the window, I saw the vestments and I said, ‘Uh oh, this is real! This is the real thing.’ It’s just amazing. One of the things the archbishop said is this will be a year of joy, and I am looking forward to that.”
“I’m feeling overwhelmed by the joy of the Lord,” said Deacon Oburu. “What better gift can I give to the church and to God but myself? The archbishop’s homily was very, very touching when he spoke about the threefold ministry to which I am called, and I am greatly humbled.”
The transitional deacons will serve for five months in parish ministry and then return to the seminary to complete their theological studies. They have been assigned as follows: Deacon Ducote, St. Catherine of Siena, Metairie; Deacon Nguyen, St. Cletus, Gretna; Deacon Offia, Divine Mercy, Kenner; Deacon Smith, St. Rita, Harahan; and Deacon Oburu, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Belle Chasse.