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A step in faith: Three to be ordained May 24

Three men will be ordained as transitional deacons May 24 at St. Louis Cathedral by Archbishop Gregory Aymond. This is the final step before ordination to the priesthood, which will come in 2015. From left to right are Mark Odoi, Christopher Zavackis and Paul Clark. Zavackis and Clark are studying for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and Odoi, a native of Uganda, will serve in his home Archdiocese of Tororo. For a look at their vocation stories, continue reading...

Paul Clark
Age: 31
First Assignment as Deacon Intern: St. Clement of Rome Parish, Metairie, June-October 2014
What are you most looking forward to in your ministry as a transitional deacon? “I’m excited about preaching and serving in the liturgy. I’m hoping to bring the gifts I have – the joy of the Lord – to others. I also want to bring others to the ministries of the life of a parish.”

Felt God’s providence
By Christine Bordelon
Clarion Herald

A statue of the Blessed Mother atop Notre Dame Seminary says it all for seminarian Paul Clark, who will be ordained a transitional deacon on May 24.

“Mary is looking down on Jesus and ushering us (seminarians) in to go to him and do whatever he tells us,” Clark said. “(She is saying) ‘I am here to help you come closer to my son.’”

Clark knows that he did not enter the seminary by accident. He’s found enormous consolation in the hope of a new life in Christ.

“God’s providence is to be here, to learn from one another in the apostolic community,” Clark said. “The most beautiful gift we can give is to lay down our life for God.”

During his priestly formation, he has seen historical events in the life of the church come alive in sacred Scripture.

“It changed the way I will forever see the world, and it is awesome,” he said. “The liturgy has been such a source of nourishment and life for me as I have lived our story. It’s our family story, but we have been touched ... because we have been part of it.”

Already passionate and joyful, Clark said in the seminary he’s reaped a generosity of heart and more self-awareness that he is a beloved son of God who can hopefully bring people to an understanding of God’s love.

A gift of self
“God is asking me to make a gift ... in formation. He has been calling me to the priesthood to serve the people of Christ in New Orleans,” Clark said. “Each time that he says that, the joy in my heart becomes more profound. The gratitude wells up for what God is doing.”

Clark said summer assignments at Divine Mercy in Kenner and St. Clement of Rome in Metairie taught him to live in community with priests, to prioritize prayer and community and an awareness of how each priest uses individual gifts to serve the people of God. “It made me love the call to diocesan priesthood. ... Going to a parish helped me understand I want to be present for God’s people and be with them wherever they are, in every stage of their life.”

As a hospital chaplain last summer, he gained a listening ear. Over several Acompaño mission trips to Nicaragua, he learned humility, leadership and how to recognize others’ gifts. He also spent 10 weeks at the Institute for Priestly Formation, learning about the priesthood.

He’s looking forward to a deacon’s ministry of charity.

“The deacon is the visible sign of Christ’s service to us in the world; to live a life as a servant; to see God’s power flow from the works of charity,” he said.

His understanding of calling priests “father” has deepened.

“We call our priests fathers because they are the image of God, a father to us in this world,” he said. “The call of the priest is to help the laity come in full stature to their vocation. ... The priesthood extends Christ’s victory and sees it manifest.”

Clark doesn’t fear service to God’s people, because he trusts God will walk beside him and flow from him.

“Whatever I have done, whatever I will do, God will provide,” he said. “I am the reservoir and I just need to let it flow. ... I get to live as a beloved son and share the fruit in various ways God will present it.”

Mark Odoi

Age: 41
First Assignment as Deacon Intern: Our Lady of Divine Providence Parish, Metairie, June-October 2014
What are you most looking forward to in your ministry as a transitional deacon? “I look forward to sharing with the people and preaching as a deacon. I’ve been preaching, but just for practice. This will be the first time I will be able to minister with the authority of having been ordained.”

A long road to the altar
By Peter Finney Jr.
Clarion Herald

Mark Oboth Odoi, who will be ordained a transitional deacon May 24 by Archbishop Gregory Aymond for the Archdiocese of Tororo in Uganda, has taken a long road to the altar, but he has “cherished” his vocation from the time he was young.

“I see it coming closer to realization,” said Odoi, 41, a native of Achilet, Tororo, Uganda, who has studied since 2011 at Notre Dame Seminary and who will be ordained to the priesthood in July 2015 to serve in the Archdiocese of Tororo. “This will be my total gift of self, serving in the Lord’s vineyard in thanksgiving for his gracious providence to me and my family.”

“From sharing with priests and from reading, I know priesthood can sometimes be very challenging, but I trust that the Lord will provide me the graces I need to be the priest that he wants me to be so that I can provide the best service to his people.”

Odoi is one of seven children, and one of his sisters is a Eucharistic Handmaid sister who teaches in Uganda. Odoi felt a tug to the priesthood as a young boy. When he was 10, he yearned to attend the preparatory seminary located next to his parish church.

“I knew that the boys who went there were so smart,” Odoi said. “I asked my parents, ‘How do people get to that seminary?’ My parents said if I was interested, they would pay for me.”

A brief delay
He entered St. James Preparatory Seminary at age 13 – about the time his father died – and then went on to the high school seminary, St. Pius X, and the major seminary, St. Thomas Aquinas. He completed two of the required three years there before getting sick and having to drop out. Eventually, Odoi earned an education degree and taught in the same high school seminary he attended as a teenager.

“I wasn’t really thinking about going back to the seminary, because when at first they didn’t let me back in, I thought maybe it was the Lord’s will,” he said. “I was teaching and just hoping to live another life.”
Then, on separate occasions, three priests who observed his work with the young students suggested that he consider re-entering the seminary.

“The final priest who approached me was just there for a short holiday, and he was a friend of the archbishop,” Odoi said. “I told him I didn’t make it, which is why I became a teacher. But he shared this with the archbishop, and the archbishop said, ‘He can still come back.’”
Odoi returned to St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in 2009 and two years later was asked by his archbishop to complete his studies in New Orleans. Odoi misses his family, but he has become less homesick over the last two years.

“One of the enriching things for me is the exposure of being able to meet people from other countries,” Odoi said. “It’s been a great privilege to study in such an excellent seminary, with an excellent faculty and facilities. “This has been a really special opportunity, for which I am most grateful to Archbishop Aymond.”

Christopher Zavackis
Age: 45
First Assignment as Deacon Intern: St. Pius X, New Orleans, June-October 2014
What are you most looking forward to in your ministry as a transitional deacon? “I’m looking forward to getting out and working in all the different ministries, being immersed with the people. I love that idea. In a nutshell, I love that I will be able to go out and serve everybody. I’m excited about that!”

Finding true fulfillment
By Beth Donze
Clarion Herald

Although he never strayed from his family or his faith, Christopher Zavackis heartily identifies with the Prodigal Son.

After leaving the seminary in his early 20s to pursue a more secular path, Zavackis shrugged off the insecurities connected with midlife and boldly re-embarked on his journey to the priesthood.

“In the Prodigal Son, God shows us his great mercy and love. He is merciful, despite how many times you fall flat on your face,” said Zavackis, 45, who will be ordained to the transitional diaconate May 24 at St. Louis Cathedral. “I thought (married life) was where my aspirations were, but God had other plans. I just wasn’t cooperating with him yet.”

A graduate of public schools who grew up as an only child in St. Margaret Mary Parish in Slidell, Zavackis felt his first priestly stirrings at age 15, when his home church opened a perpetual adoration chapel. Up to that point, Zavackis said he was an observant but otherwise uninvolved Catholic.

“I fell in love with God. I fell in love with going (to adoration) and praying,” he said, adding that his teenage faith was also nourished by watching his pastor, the late Msgr. Richard Carroll, celebrate Mass and studying Scripture in an English class at his 1988 alma mater of Slidell High.

Considered marriage
Zavackis entered St. Joseph Seminary College directly out of high school, earning a degree in liberal arts with an emphasis in philosophy and religion, while serving in the Army National Guard. A year into graduate studies at Notre Dame Seminary, he decided to part ways with the seminary to figure out if marriage was a better fit for him.

“The right girl just never came along,” said Zavackis, who refers to his 18-year detour from formal priestly studies as a period in which “God was training me outside of the seminary.”

“I think (those 18 years) were part of my journey back to the seminary – I just wasn’t finding fulfillment in employment, in dating, in owning lots of things,” he said.

Zavackis spent a major chunk of that period of vocational discernment – 13 years – working with individuals with developmental disabilities such as mental illness, mental retardation, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. He worked for seven years as executive director of the West Bank ARC and one year with the state of Louisiana, helping the developmentally challenged live more independently in their homes through the teaching of cooking skills, money management and self-advocacy.

“I loved working in that field,” recalled Zavackis, noting that one of his favorite jobs involved helping those with disabilities to find employment. “It was very challenging, but so rewarding to see someone with a developmental disability become integrated in the wider community and then see the community embrace that person.”

On a working trip to Thibodaux, Zavackis ran into one of his old friends from St. Joseph Seminary, Father Clyde Mahler, a priest in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. Their conversations eventually prompted Zavackis to return to Notre Dame Seminary – and his life’s true calling – in 2011.

“We were just talking like good friends do; he would just share what he was doing every day, whether it was meeting with the parish council, the people he helped, the funerals he celebrated, how he prepared for Mass, how he’d write his homilies,” Zavackis said. “I fell in love with wanting to be a priest again.”

Zavackis said his journey as someone who settled his vocation later in life illustrates how if one is dedicated to prayer and pays attention to his heart, “those little prompts of God” will eventually register and give direction.

“As we go through our busy schedules of life, we push out those prompts of what God wants in favor of what we want,” Zavackis said. “It’s essential to pray every single day, to cling to God and to trust him completely,” he added. “It sounds so simple, but it’s a daily task to recommit yourself to prayer and trust in God.”

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