The Archdiocese of New Orleans will ordain six men to the priesthood at a 10 a.m. Mass on June 4 at St. Louis Cathedral. The ordination class is the largest since 2001, when seven men were ordained.
Front row, from left, are Deacons Kenneth S. Smith, Paul A. Clark, Francis Nguyen Dzung and David M. Ducote. In the back row are Deacons Patrick R. Carr and Francis Uzochukwu Offia. The ordination Mass will be carried live on WLAE-TV Channel 32 and livestreamed on nolacatholic.org. Following are stories on each of the six ordinands.
Deacon Patrick R. Carr
First Assignment as Parochial Vicar: St. Angela Merici, Metairie
First Mass: June 5, 10:30 a.m., St. Stephen Church, New Orleans
Other Masses of Thanksgiving: June 7, 5 p.m., Ursuline Academy Chapel
What are you most looking forward to in your priestly ministry? “Bringing the good news of the Gospel to the people and offering the sacrament of reconciliation. I think that’s where a lot of healing takes place because people are carrying around a lot of weight in sin and guilt. That’s where God really comes in and restores that relationship.”
Former CPA enters priesthood
By Beth Donze
Deacon Patrick Carr vacillated between the worlds of finance and priestly vocation during a decade-long discernment period that had him entering and re-entering the seminary three times.
For 15 years, the Lake Charles-born Deacon Carr worked as a very successful accountant at firms in his hometown, Lafayette and New Orleans.
“I am humbled because I know I’m a sinner, yet God still chose me to answer this call,” said Deacon Carr, 51, who spent his diaconate internship at St. Pius X Parish in New Orleans.
“You have to be a good listener to understand people’s everyday experiences and show them how God is present in those experiences,” he said, noting how members of the clergy are approached both formally – during sacramental prep and office hours – and informally, after Masses.
“People would ask me, ‘Where was God? How do I reach out to God for help?’” Deacon Carr said. “There’s an art to how to truly listen to a person. I wanted to give immediate answers or textbook answers, but you have to be patient and walk with a person; it might be for a week or it might be a month.”
He also detected “a real hunger” for adult faith formation at baptismal seminars, RCIA and other events at St. Pius in which he was asked to articulate some aspect of the faith and then field parishioners’ questions.
“The Catholic faith has not changed, but the world has changed, so we have to know how to apply our faith to a changing world,” he notes.
Deacon Carr admits he was a vocational late-bloomer. Although educated in Lake Charles Catholic schools through high school, he only became involved in church activities when directly asked by his elders.
By the time he arrived at LSU to undertake the five-year degree program in accounting, it was partying that interested him more than going to Mass. That frenetic lifestyle followed him into the workplace, where Deacon Carr had all the hallmarks of secular success but felt an emptiness.
“Materialism was consuming me,” he said. “Not to say that accounting itself was meaningless, but I didn’t have that proper balance.”
The void began to fill when Carr, then 29, relocated to New Orleans and found a church home at St. Patrick on Camp Street. His attendance grew to include the daily lunchtime Masses of Msgr. John Reynolds.
“I felt that God was calling me to something deeper,” Deacon Carr said. “I had to learn to pray again. I hadn’t said a rosary for 10 years! I remember saying for the first time and thinking, ‘Wow, I remember what this felt like!”
Deacon Carr also began to avail himself of the sacrament of reconciliation, which he says enabled him to enjoy life in more moderate ways than before.
“Life just became a lot lighter, freer. I started seeing the big picture,” he said. “I think God was walking with me in this discernment process. God knows each person individually. I think he gently pulls people, draws them in in a way that matches their personality.”
In the mid-1990s, Deacon Carr began putting his faith into action by becoming a member the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
“I see the face of Christ in the poor. I see their humbleness,” he said. “There’s that grace that comes from not only just giving the poor a bag of groceries, but giving them yourself, your time.”
Deacon Paul A. Clark
First Assignment as Parochial Vicar: Divine Mercy Parish in Kenner
First Mass: June 5, 9:30 a.m., Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos Church, 3053 Dauphine St., New Orleans.
Other Masses of Thanksgiving: June 11, 4 p.m., St. Clement of Rome, Metairie; June 12, 10 a.m., Visitation of Our Lady, Marrero.
What are you most looking forward to in your priestly ministry? “I want to be generous and loving to the people of God, have a heart that longs for that, wanting the best for the people.” He also wants to bring comfort through the sacrament of anointing of the sick.
Katrina volunteer to joyful priest
By Christine Bordelon
Joy. Gratitude. Hope. All attitudes that Deacon Paul Clark has allowed God to plant deep into his heart as he has prepared the past six years to be a priest for the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
“I have great love for sharing the Good News (of Jesus Christ) and am excited to bring the Good News to all I meet,” he said. A ministry of presence in one-on-one encounters is how Deacon Clark has reached others as a deacon and soon will reach them as a priest.
“We get to help a family and a person receive the Lord in the way he speaks,” said Deacon Clark.
His seminary experience was more than studies. He found the freedom to be comfortable in his own skin while walking in fraternity with fellow seminarians and professors in a “community that helped me grow as a man and recognize the vocation that God wants for me and wants to give me,” he said. “It’s not about changing me, but growing me into the man that ‘he’ sees and has always seen, and to send me out as a priest of Jesus Christ.”
Deacon Clark’s path to the priesthood could be described as multiple affirmations of God’s presence and love for him. While abroad at college, he was a hospice orderly. By experiencing death with others it helped him squelch fears of not knowing what God wanted for him.
“It taught me I didn’t have to know everything. I could just be vulnerable, like those dying around me,” he said.
A retreat his senior year at St. Louis University was when he heard Jesus saying, “I want you to be a priest.”
“I was overwhelmed with paschal joy that is sustaining and life giving, an intense joy,” Clark said.
He came to New Orleans in 2006 as a Katrina volunteer and began realizing that God steered him here so “my vocation could grow and be received, and I could say yes to the priesthood with joy.”
He entered formal seminary studies in 2009 and has interned at Visitation of Our Lady in Marrero and St. Clement of Rome in Metairie and befriended many priests who modeled for him how God works through the different personalities of all priests. He also recognized that priests never stop being deacons – a servant to people.
“There’s a joy I’ve experienced in the Lord and a joy in the way God speaks and shares that with others,” he said.
Working in hospice care also helped him recognize the comfort he will be able to offer people and families in the anointing of the sick.
“It’s an amazing experience to visit with people in their home or go to the hospital to celebrate the sacrament because the hospital can be a scary place ... but look at how Christ works. I will be presenting his consolation and comfort and healing of the body and soul. He’s always effective. I will be anointing their forehead and hands as a gesture of our Lord’s wounds. It’s a beautiful sacrament.”
Clark is bilingual and will be parochial vicar at Divine Mercy Parish in Kenner, where he will celebrate Mass in Spanish and English alongside Father David Dufour and Deacon Pedro Prada from Colombia.
“I can’t wait to be there for the whole parish,” Clark said about Divine Mercy.
His mother and father, Nathaniel and Lian Clark from Ohio, his two brothers John and Michael and sister Bethany and her husband and two children will travel to New Orleans for Deacon Clark’s ordination.
Deacon David M. Ducote
First Assignment as Parochial Vicar: St. Clement of Rome, Metairie.
First Mass: June 5, noon, St. Edward the Confessor, Metairie.
Other Masses of Thanksgiving: June 12, 11 a.m., St. Catherine of Siena, Metairie; June 19, 11 a.m., St. Anselm, Madisonville; June 25, 4 p.m., St. Jerome, Kenner.
What are you most looking forward to in your priestly ministry? “Celebrating Mass and hearing confessions. That’s something I’m looking forward to but also very nervous about. It’s such an intimate experience and a very important ministry. I’m looking forward to getting to know the people.”
Looking to serve the people
By Peter Finney Jr.
One of the great joys of the last year for Deacon David Ducote, who will be ordained to the priesthood on June 4, was his five-month internship at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Metairie, where he learned what it means to live in a parish setting and meet the needs of the people.
“It’s certainly been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” Deacon Ducote said. “I really got to know the people and got into their lives. I really got involved in the school, and I enjoyed that immensely.”
The Chalmette native was an altar server at the former Prince of Peace Parish when he first began serving at the altar in the fourth grade, continuing until he was a senior at Brother Martin High School.
His high school ministry as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion also strengthened his faith, even though he said he may not have realized it at the time.
Deacon Ducote’s family was forced to relocate to Metairie by Hurricane Katrina, and they wound up worshiping at St. Edward the Confessor, where he said he heard God’s voice quietly through the prayer of the faithful, which included entreaties to help those whose lives had been turned upside down by the storm.
He said the prayer intentions were “the catalyst I needed to begin discerning whether or not God was calling me to the priesthood.“
Then something happened that Archbishop Gregory Aymond has been preaching about since he returned to New Orleans in 2009. Two parishioners made a point of telling Deacon Ducote that he might have a calling to the priesthood.
He decided to discern that call by entering Notre Dame Seminary.
In the last year, as he prepared for priestly ordination, Deacon Ducote had the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel and preach at Mass, something he said still requires a leap of faith on his part.
“It was a little nerve-wracking at first, and still, in a way, I’m trying to figure it out,” Deacon Ducote said. I’ve been preaching for about a year, but
I’m still fresh. I’m trying to learn how to do it.
“But even that has been a great experience for me. To get up and preach God’s word and say this is the love that God has for us.”
Deacon Ducote said one of the special pleasures he had at St. Catherine was to make home visits to families with babies as part of preparation for the sacrament of baptism.
“At St. Catherine we went to the family’s house to get to know them in their own environment and share with them the mystery of what baptism is all about,” Deacon Ducote said. “That’s great because you’re not meeting them for the first time at the baptism, and they have some idea of what’s going on. So much goes on in a baptism that a family can miss a lot of the perspective when they’re running around after the kids. Hopefully, they can enter into the sacrament more fully for themselves and their child.”
Deacon Ducote said he also is looking forward to working with the children at St. Clement of Rome School. He spent his formative years in Catholic education.
Deacon Ducote has chosen Father Walter Austin, who was his pastor at Prince of Peace as a child, to vest him at his ordination Mass on June 4. Father Austin is currently pastor of Ascension of Our Lord Parish in LaPlace.
Deacon Francis Nguyen Dzung
First Assignment as Parochial Vicar: Visitation of Our Lady in Marrero.
First Mass: June 4, 5:30 p.m. in Vietnamese at Mary Queen of Vietnam, 5069 Willowbrook Drive, in N.O. East
Other Masses of Thanksgiving: June 5 at 11 a.m. at St. Cletus (where he completed his diaconate internship).
What are you most looking forward to in your priestly ministry? “I want to learn from the pastors and get a chance to work with parishioners at my new parish. It’s a good chance to serve the people well, and I will get to improve myself” (especially his accent, since English is his second language).
Priesthood: 21 years in making
By Christine Bordelon
Most people would struggle waiting almost two decades to realize a dream. But, for Deacon Francis Nguyen Dzung, the two decades from the time he thought of being a priest to today was worth the wait.
He grew up in Vietnam on a rice farm at a time when Christians were persecuted. Yet his family was faithful to Catholicism. As the elder of two boys, he was invited at age 16 to live in a Catholic rectory with 11 other boys interested in the priesthood (four have since become priests). The teens helped the priest care for the parish. Deacon Dzung recalled ringing church bells at 4 a.m. to call people to 5 a.m. Mass, being an altar server and driving the priest by motorcycle to mission churches. After high school, he earned a bachelor’s degree in literature in Vietnam, a requirement he needed to enter a U.S. seminary.
Deacon Dzung came to the United States alone eight years ago at age 28 to study English as a Second Language at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Diocese of Hanoi Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet spoke on his behalf to the archbishop in Chicago.
“This was a blessing from the bishop,” Deacon Dzung said about studying in the U.S. “He hoped that in the future I would enter seminary and become a priest.” After a year of English as a Second Language classes, he entered Mundelein Seminary in Chicago, where he studied for six years for the priesthood.
During his off time in the seminary, he had traveled to New Orleans and met several seminarians and Vietnamese priests from here and decided to finish his final two years at Notre Dame Seminary and be a priest for the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Deacon Dzung said his mother was a strong influence on his vocation by teaching him how to pray and modeling service to people.
“She volunteered to teach catechism and worked with engaged couples and was a lay leader in the church parish,” he said.
Deacon Dzung said Catholicism is growing in Vietnam. When he was young, there were only 29 priests in his diocese, and his pastor took care of 12,000 people. Today, there are more than 200 priests.
He says God blessed him by sending him here to serve others.
“It’s been a blessing to me to come to the United States,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about different cultures and gained knowledge, learning English. ... The people of New Orleans are very friendly and easygoing and are very faithful. They remind me of my country, where the people are faithful and trust in God.”
He said a recent silent retreat confirmed his decision to be a priest.
“In the silence of my prayers, I’m hearing God say, ‘You are my beloved son.’ In my silence, I remembered Isaiah. God called him and he answered three times, ‘Here I am Lord.’ It is good for me to learn from Scripture. I trust in God and can say, ‘Here I am.’”
Deacon Dzung said being a good listener is a strength of his, so he is looking forward to hearing confession. He hopes to emulate qualities he’s admired in other priests that he considers role models: to be humble, work hard and take care of people.
“For me, God is a protector; God is mercy,” he said.
His parents Peter Nguyen and Mary Doan and brother Sy Francis Nguyen and his wife Mary Vu as well as Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry of Chicago will attend his ordination and first Mass of Thanksgiving.
Deacon Francis Uzochukwu Offia
First Assignment as Parochial Vicar: St. Luke the Evangelist, Slidell, July 1.
First Mass: June 4, 4 p.m., Divine Mercy, Kenner.
Other Masses of Thanksgiving: Deacon Offia will travel to Washington, D.C., after ordination and hopes to celebrate Mass in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
What are you most looking forward to in your priestly ministry? “I can’t wait to hear confessions and say Mass. I’ve been assigned to St. Luke the Evangelist in Slidell, and I know Father Pat Wattigny will be a great guy to work with. I’m looking forward to assisting in his parish. I’ve already been there for a parish council meeting.”
Nigeria is a font of Catholicism
By Peter Finney Jr.
When Deacon Francis Offia was growing up in Ekwulumili, a farming village in eastern Nigeria, he thought everyone in his town was Catholic.
That’s because almost everyone was.
“Catholicism is very predominant in the part of Nigeria where I come from,” he said. “Almost every family in my community was Catholic. Even up until I was 12 or 13 years old, I thought everybody in the world was Catholic.”
That strong Catholic culture seeped into Deacon Offia’s family of nine children. Deacon Offia’s late mother already had lost four children when Francis was born, and she had made a promise that she would dedicate her newborn son to God.
“My mom wanted me to serve at the altar from the time I was 7, when I received first Communion,” he said
His mother was a “no-nonsense woman,” and Catholic obligations of attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, going to confession monthly and being active in the parish were non-negotiable.
“It was never a matter of choice,” Deacon Offia said, smiling. “She made us live that way, because of her strong belief that God had entrusted it upon her to educate us in the faith. The way we were brought up in the Catholic faith by our parents really paid off. None of us ever strayed from the practice of the faith.”
Deacon Offia entered a high school seminary at 13 in the town of Ukpor, Nigeria, 40 miles away. After high school, however, he “lost interest in becoming a priest” and worked for six years at various jobs, including being storekeeper in Lagos, the most populous city in Nigeria.
His interest in becoming a priest was reignited when he became involved in his local parish and befriended the pastor. Deacon Offia joined the Legion of Mary and a young adult group whose conversations focused on vocational discernment.
In 2005, he re-enrolled in the college seminary to study philosophy.
“A lot of priest friends influenced and encouraged me strongly to open my heart to what God might want from me,” Deacon Offia said. “It’s interesting to know that in all these years, just like St. Monica, my mom (who died two years ago) never ceased praying for me. Her intercession is so powerful and very helpful.”
In 2011, he was invited by Archbishop Gregory Aymond to discern for the priesthood at Notre Dame Seminary, and he enrolled in the seminary in the spring of 2013.
For five months last year, Deacon Offia served his diaconate internship at Divine Mercy Parish in Kenner, where he preached for the first time, conferred baptism and prepared a couple for marriage.
He is growing in his preaching skills.
“My first homily I was so nervous because everyone was looking at me to hear what I was going to say,” Deacon Offia said. “After a few months, I got courage and confidence and people actually said they loved it when I preached. My challenge was to communicate in a way that people could understand. I always try to speak slowly and clearly. Of course, I come from a culture where a priest could talk for 30 or 40 minutes. If I go eight minutes here, someone might call me out on that.”
Six people from his family and another four priests and two former seminary classmates from Nigeria will attend his ordination Mass
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Deacon Kenneth S. Smith
First Assignment as Parochial Vicar: St. Rita, Harahan
First Mass: June 5, 9:30 a.m., St. Rita, Harahan
What are you most looking forward to in your priestly ministry? “To be able to anoint the sick and be with the families when loved ones are dying. You get to be a part of people’s lives when they’re at their lowest – frightened, scared and some of them knowing they might never return to their brick-and-mortar home.”
Ex-chef to offer spiritual food
By Beth Donze
As the self-described kid whom “no one wanted on their basketball team,” Deacon Kenneth Smith found refuge in his childhood kitchen, using his mother’s “Betty Crocker Cookbook” to guide his first solo endeavor: a chocolate-frosted cake made completely from scratch.
“It turned out great and I was hooked,” said the Natchitoches-raised Smith, who went on to graduate from Delgado’s Culinary Arts program and rose to the position of executive chef at the Upperline Restaurant in New Orleans.
Suddenly, in 2010 – at the top of his game and the subject of multiple cooking features in the New York Times – the then-49-year-old gave it all up to enter Notre Dame Seminary.
Deacon Smith, who had felt a tug toward the priesthood since the fifth grade, had assumed it was too late for him to become a priest until one of his Upperline customers gave him a prayer card inscribed with a meditation from St. Ignatius Loyola.
The prayer read, in part: “Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess you have given me. I surrender it all to you to be disposed of according to your will.”
The card-giver was none other than Archbishop Gregory Aymond.
“When I really said that prayer, I thought, ‘This is too hard to say because this is asking me to let everything go,’” Deacon Smith recalled. “There I was with this very nice apartment (and) this extraordinarily nice kitchen, and I’m praying to let things go? No, I worked too hard for this stuff,” said Deacon Smith, who tucked the prayer card into his Bible and took it out every so often.
Around the same time, Deacon Smith became a daily communicant at his home parish of Mater Dolorosa, riveted by the Masses of Father Francis Ferrié, a resident priest. He began sitting in the front pew at daily Mass and soon realized that the “surrender” prayer given to him by Archbishop Aymond was getting easier and easier to say.
“The next time I saw the archbishop at the restaurant, I marched right up to his table, shook his hand and said, ‘What’s the process to become a priest?’ He said, ‘Talk to the bishop,’” Deacon Smith recalled.
Of course, he was talking to the bishop, so “the rest is history,” said Deacon Smith, smiling.
At Deacon Smith’s transitional diaconate parish of St. Rita in Harahan (which also will be the location of his first priestly assignment), he was immersed in funerals, baptisms, hospital emergency calls and taking the Blessed Sacrament to shut-ins.
“It was a sense of being very personal with the parishioners – a sense of comforting them and just being a part of their lives when they were not able to get out and come to Mass,” Deacon Smith said of the home visits. “I was bringing them the Lord, and to me it was very, very important.”
As a priest, he is most looking forward to administering the anointing of the sick. While completing his Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) in Pensacola, Florida, Deacon Smith stayed in the hospital room of a dying 24-year-old when her own mother was too grief-stricken to witness her disconnection from life support.
“It was wonderful to be able to tell the mother she didn’t suffer. She just drifted away,” Deacon Smith said. “It’s like walking with them when they’re crossing a threshold.”