Sharing Camaraderie -- Deacons from around the Diocese and their wives gather for their annual convocation Oct. 24-25 in Princeton. The two-day event had as its theme, Love Your Neighbor as Yourself: A Deacon's Ministry to Self and Others. Jeff Bruno photos
Sharing Camaraderie -- Deacons from around the Diocese and their wives gather for their annual convocation Oct. 24-25 in Princeton. The two-day event had as its theme, Love Your Neighbor as Yourself: A Deacon's Ministry to Self and Others. Jeff Bruno photos

By David Kilby | Correspondent

The 2014 Convocation of Deacons, with the theme "Love Your Neighbor as Yourself: A Deacon's Ministry to Self and Others," was a true community-building event for the deacons of the Diocese.

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At the convocation Oct. 24-25 held in the Crown Plaza Hotel, Plainsboro, the deacons -- many of whom were with their wives -- had the chance to receive wisdom and insight from Deacon Joseph Seaman, Deacon Jeff Pierfy, Daughter of Charity Sister Joanne Dress and Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., who celebrated Mass with the deacons Oct. 25.

Bishop O' Connell reflected on the First Reading of the day, from Ephesians which states, "Grace has been given to each of us according to Christ's gift."

"That grace, that ministry, has been given to you as deacons," he said in his homily to the approximately 400 people gathered in the hotel’s amphitheatre.

Blessed Pope Paul VI re-established the permanent diaconate after it had fallen into misuse for 1500 years, he shared. For the first 500 years of Church history, the deacon was considered the eyes and ears of the bishop, part of the hierarchy of the Church.  They are there to help the bishop and the priests in bringing the people of God to holiness. This is "the deepest meaning of our ministry," he noted.

Bishop O' Connell said deacons also have a role in liturgical worship, the "prayer life of the Church," and are called to be "effective witnesses to the life of Christ."

After Mass, Bishop O'Connell answered several questions from the deacons, saying, "I see my primary role as being the teacher of the Diocese."

He used the time to clarify some misconceptions about the Synod on Families.

"Nothing has changed, not one single thing has changed because of the synod," he said.

He also addressed the need for good preaching, saying "One of the main reasons people leave the Church is the quality of the homilies. You’ve  got to get right to the point. Preaching is a critical responsibility... Preaching is hard work, but the Vatican has said it is our primary task."

Deacon Jeff Pierfy of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, in his talk "How to Care for Oneself (Physically, Emotionally, Spiritually),"  told the deacons that they should pray every day and "in this world that is crazy with activity, to find those precious moments where we can recharge. First and foremost we're meant for prayer, and we are meant to be a role model.... We wouldn't be here if we hadn't been moved by the Holy Spirit."

He also mentioned the indispensible support of their wives, saying, "We wouldn't be deacons without the permission of our wives and their willingness to share us."

Deacon Pierfy, who is also director of pastoral care in Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center, Hamilton, opened the floor for dialogue to the deacons.

They asked questions about the impact on their children in them being a deacon, helping versus enabling people, and knowing their own limitations.

Deacon Pierfy advised his fellow deacons to have the ability to say no and be honest with their pastors, being able to say, "That's not my strength, but if you want me to do it I'll do my best."

He stressed the importance of knowing themselves, saying, "How can I understand others' pain if I don't understand mine."

He also reminded them of the importance of staying in shape, going on prayer diets and exercising, saying, "If we're physically fit then we're spiritually fit, and we're emotionally empowered to be the deacon God intended us to become."

Sister Joanne, in her presentation, gave reflections and insights on the importance of service in the life of every Catholic.

"Service has to be rooted in our belief in the love God has for us." she said. "It's not optional. We have to reach out in charity."

In their charity, she told the deacons to remember the Church's social teachings on solidarity and subsidiarity, being there for those in need while not stepping on the toes of others who are doing the same.

Reflecting on the teachings of St. Vincent de Paul, she said "We do good work, but we need to organize ourselves so that we are more effective."

Deacon Seaman, in his presentation, talked about the different stages in the life of a deacon, explaining how a deacon is called to a ministry of service. Deacon Seaman, from Christ Our Light Parish, Cherry Hill, also noted that a deacon should, as part of his service, make sure he is taking care of himself.

He used his own experience in raising his own children, one who has cerebral palsy, to show how being a deacon is an ongoing formation process that challenges and calls them to be servants and heralds of the Gospel to other people, said Msgr. Thomas Mullelly, diocesan vicar of clergy and consecrated life and organizer of the convocation, as he reflected on the presentation.

In between presentations, meals and prayer the deacons and their wives browsed the display of books, deacon stoles, shirts and jackets that were set up in a room of the conference center.

The deacons agreed that the convocation was a great chance for them and their wives to reflect on the significant calling and spirituality of the permanent diaconate.

"It's all about humility," said Deacon Thomas Knowles of St. John Neumann Parish, Mount Laurel. "It's the grace of God that allows us to do what we do on a daily basis, bring the love of God to our neighbor. It's that constant prayer that allows us to serve the Lord and walk in his footsteps."

"I came to our convocation seeking a renewal of spirituality and reaffirmation of my role as an ordained minister of the Church," said Deacon William Malone of St. Mary of the Lake Parish, Lakewood. "I found both, in addition to thought-provoking ideas going forward in my ministry."

Deacon Mike Lonie, St. Catharine, Holmdel said, "My pastor came to me and asked if I had considered (being a deacon). I actually turned around to see if he was talking to someone else."

Since then, he said, the permanent diaconate has been "eye-opening" for him. "I've always felt called to having a more intimate relationship with God, giving back what he gave to me. I never thought of doing that as a deacon until Monsignor (Eugene Rebeck) told me to. It goes to show the sense of humor God has in choosing someone like me."

"I support him in everything he does," said Maryanne Fiore, wife of Deacon Philip Fiore in St. Mary Parish, Barnegat. "He does what he has to do and I'm right behind him."

Deacon Fiore added, "I have a wonderful and understanding wife."

Elizabeth Pladek, wife of Deacon Robert Pladek of St. Luke Parish, Toms River, said being the wife of a deacon is a journey. "You had one idea of what you thought it would be like, but it's been very fluid. There've been some surprises along the way."