By Maureen Smith
JACKSON — Saturday, June 4, Bishop Joseph Kopacz ordained six men into the permanent diaconate in the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle. The men have spent the last five years in formation, spending weekends in Memphis studying spirituality, cannon law, homiletics and learning how to administer sacraments. The Diocese of Memphis partnered with Jackson to bring professors down from St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana to teach the classes.
Each of the men will serve in his home parish. The new deacons are: Jeff Artigues of Starkville St. Joseph Parish, Richard Caldwell of Vicksburg St. Mary, Denzil Lobo from Madison St. Francis, John McGinley, also from Starkville, John McGregor of Pearl St. Jude Parish and Ted Schreck of Southaven Sacred Heart. Read more about the men and their wives on pages 9-13.
Father Sam Messina, pastor of Batesville St. Mary Parish, oversaw their formation. “They went to St. Meinrad’s last summer and studied homiletics – preaching. I got some of their DVDs of their practice,” he explained during an interview this past winter. “A deacon’s thrust of ministry is service and the Word. They work with charity, visit hospitals, visit prisons, helping with food pantries, that sort of thing, as well as assisting at the altar,” he added.
Permanent deacons are ordained and can administer baptisms, marriages and perform funerals. In hospital ministry, they can pray over someone in the name of the church. They cannot consecrate the Eucharist, although they can preach at Mass and Communion services. “They can teach, prepare a couple for marriage, they can work on marriage cases, preparing them for the tribunal. Of course they work in the field of charity. When people come to the parish for help they can size up the needs of the people, share with the pastor and reach out to the people in need,” said Father Messina.
They can be married when they are ordained, but cannot remarry, even if they become widowers. The wives of those ordained play an important part in the preparation and ministry. Father Messina said all of the wives were required to take a year of the classes and could attend more if they wanted. Families have to prepare themselves for a ministry of service to the church. An unmarried man ordained into the permanent diaconate cannot marry.
“The diaconate is a supplement to what the priest does. It goes back centuries. There were deacons in early churches. As you well know, in the acts of the apostles they talk about ‘we can’t wait on tables and take care of the spiritual needs of the people so we’re going to have men (to do that),’ and they chose eight men – and all their names are in the Acts of the Apostles and they will help us ministering to the tables and preaching- supplement what we priests can do, what the bishops can do,” said Father Messina.
The formation period is more than just education. Those who enter it must be fully aware of their life-long commitment. “An ordained deacon is not a volunteer. He’s committed for life. He’s a great asset to the community, in my opinion,” said Father Messina.
Father Kevin Slattery, vicar general for the Diocese of Jackson, said the diocese hopes to have another class of deacons, but is still working out the logistics. The age limit to enter is 45. Anyone who feels called to this ministry should first go to his parish priest.