On Journey to Priesthood -- Bishop O'Connell, center, and Msgr. Thomas J. Mullelly, diocesan episcopal vicar for clergy and consecrated life, far left, pose for a photo with the newly ordained deacons from left, Rev. Mr. James Richard Smith, Rev. Brother Nicholas R. Dolan, Rev. Mr. Michael G. DeSaye, and Rev. Mr. Christopher James Dayton. John Blaine photos
On Journey to Priesthood -- Bishop O'Connell, center, and Msgr. Thomas J. Mullelly, diocesan episcopal vicar for clergy and consecrated life, far left, pose for a photo with the newly ordained deacons from left, Rev. Mr. James Richard Smith, Rev. Brother Nicholas R. Dolan, Rev. Mr. Michael G. DeSaye, and Rev. Mr. Christopher James Dayton. John Blaine photos

 By Lois Rogers | Correspondent

 As scores of their family members, friends and schoolmates looked on joyfully, four young men who embarked years ago on a reverential journey to the priesthood, were ordained to the Order of Deacon May 20 in Trenton’s St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral.

To see photo gallery on this story, click here.

On this eve of the sixth Sunday of Easter, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., ordained Rev. Mr.  Christopher James Dayton; Rev. Mr. Michael G. DeSaye, Rev. Brother Nicholas R. Dolan, and Rev. Mr. James Richard Smith to the ancient order which dates, as Bishop O’Connell explained, to the earliest days of the Church.

The Cathedral nave, bedecked with yellow and white flowers, redolent with incense and rich in a cascade of musical accompaniment from the singers and musicians of the Diocesan Festival Choir under the direction of Shawn Mack, made for a splendid backdrop for the rite.

Nearly 40 priests joined at the altar as concelebrants while permanent deacons and a number of seminarians looked on from their places in the pews as the four were ordained transitional deacons.

Bishop O’Connell set the tone for the sacramental event which would culminate with him welcoming the men as his sons, a term of endearment which warmed the hearts of those in attendance, especially the parents.

Sharing his regard for them, the Bishop spoke of how he had come to know the four as they walked their chosen path to the priesthood. He described them as following in the footsteps of first seven deacons – Stephen, Philip, Prochorous, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicholas – who established an abiding ministry of service

The original seven, the Bishop said, were charged with the threefold mission of service which has come down through the ages: the ministries of the Word, the altar and service to the poor. On this momentous day, he said, they would vow to accept this ministry and fulfill it by proclaiming the Word through preaching and teaching; serving at the altar and responding with charity to the poor in the parishes of the Diocese.

Ordination as a transitional deacon is the final step for the men in the preparation for priestly ordination expected to occur next year. Ordination to the transitional diaconate usually occurs after a seminarian has completed at least three years of study in theology and one year before priestly ordination.

The ritual unfolded as the four men were declared worthy to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders by Msgr. Thomas J. Mullelly, diocesan episcopal vicar for clergy and consecrated life, who called the candidates and gave testimony regarding their worthiness for ordination.

Consent was given in the form of hearty applause by everyone assembled.

The four assented to God’s call to the diaconate and then made a promise of celibacy before offering a promise of obedience to Bishop O’Connell and his successors. The vast cathedral resounded with the plaintive strains of the Litany of the Saints chanted by the Diocesan Festival Choir and congregation as the men prostrated themselves face down, showing their total reliance on God.

The actual act of ordination was instituted with the laying on of hands on the heads of the candidates by Bishop O’Connell, who offered a silent prayer of consecration.

All eyes were on the four as the newly ordained transitional deacons were vested with the garments of their order – the stole and dalmatic -- by priests who had played meaningful roles in their vocations.

Rev. Mr. Dayton was vested by his pastor, Father Harold F. Cullen, St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake; Rev. DeSaye was vested by Father Michael Saharic, pastor of St. Ann Parish, Hampton; vesting Rev. Brother Dolan was Father Alberto Tamayo, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Red Bank. Father Michael Hall, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel, West Trenton, and director of the diocesan Office of Worship, served as the vesting priest for Rev. Mr. Smith.

The ordination rite drew to a close with each receiving the Book of the Gospels from Bishop O’Connell who conveyed the ancient word: “Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.”

All of the newly ordained deacons then assisted Bishop O’Connell during the Liturgy of the Eucharist which followed and then joined with their families, friends and mentor for pictures in the nave and light refreshments in the dining hall.

A relaxed but enthusiastic atmosphere permeated throughout the Cathedral as the newly ordained encountered those who had come to witness this life changing event.

Chip and Melissa Dayton were encircled by their son’s seven brothers and sisters and many relatives as they waited for Rev. Mr. Dayton to appear.

“We’ve known for a long time that Chris had a calling,” his father said. “He has worked hard for this. It was an honor and a blessing to be part of the Mass.”

As the family members of the newly ordained participated in the Presentation of the Gifts during Mass, Melissa Dayton spoke of what that experience meant to her.

“To be so close as he was being ordained was extraordinary,” she said. “We love all these boys and when the Bishop called them his sons, it was a very special moment.”

Chip Dayton added: “when the Bishop thanked me for Chris, it was so meaningful. I wanted to thank him.”

Rev. Mr. Dayton’s sister, Emily 24, shared that she was “super excited” that her brother would be vested and assisting at her upcoming wedding in August. “He’s been such a huge role model for me. It’s a thrill.”

Robert and Maria Dolan said they spent a lot of time during their son’s discernment reflecting on his journey.

“Every vocation is lovely,” Maria Dolan said. “Every vocation is a reflection of God’s will.”

It was a very emotional day for Gregory and Deborah DeSaye as they witnessed their son, Michael’s ordination. “We are so proud to see his happen."

They spoke of sharing in their son's journey to the priesthood  as he had previoiusly spent time in St. Mary Abbey, Morristown,  and became a Benedictine Brother,” before making the transition to become a priest for the Trenton Diocese.

“He’s going to be an asset to the church,” Deborah DeSaye said with a big smile.

Debbie and Robert Smith and their newly ordained son, Rev. Mr. Smith, were among the last to depart the reception.

Like the other families, they seemed to radiate happiness.

“This is a real blessing,” said the newly ordained deacon, who said he is looking forward to spending his transitional year in Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton. “I’m looking forward to a wonderful year.”