Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., imposes hands on the head of Deacon John Senkewicz, ordaining him a deacon. Craig Pittelli photo
Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., imposes hands on the head of Deacon John Senkewicz, ordaining him a deacon. Craig Pittelli photo

For the Diocese of Trenton’s six new deacons, there were a number of firsts that came with their June 20 Ordination Day.

Theirs was the first Mass of Ordination to be celebrated in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral since the Freehold parish was elevated to Co-Cathedral status in 2017. Five of those six men comprised the first class of permanent deacons to be ordained under the revised diocesan diaconate formation program.

Photo Gallery: Bishop O'Connell ordains six deacons for Diocese

And there were a number of obvious firsts that came with the COVID-19 rules, regulations and restrictions – having a limited number of people in attendance, practicing social distancing measures, and additional use of hand sanitizer and wearing facemasks.

Rooted In Scripture and Tradition

Referencing the First Reading from Acts Chapter 6, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., assured the men that they continue to follow “the long tradition, the long line” that goes back to the earliest days of the Church when the first seven deacons stepped forward to assist the Apostles in their ministries.

“Through the centuries, through the millennia, that privilege, that honor, as humbling as it is, comes to you today,” the Bishop said in his homily. “So rejoice, be grateful for yours now will be a ministry of the altar, a ministry of the Word, and a ministry of service and charity for the people of God in the Diocese of Trenton.”

The six men Bishop O’Connell ordained are: the now-Rev. Mr. Rjoy Ballacillo, a transitional deacon who will continue his formation for priestly ordination next year; Deacon John Edward Barrett of St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant; Deacon Russell David Greiner of St. Joseph Parish, Toms River; Deacon Mark D. McNulty of St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake; Deacon John Senkewicz of St. Leo the Great Parish, Lincroft, and Deacon Edward Woram, also of St. Joseph Parish. Also present in the first row where the deacon candidates were seated was a table set up as a memorial for deacon candidate John G. Gilligan who would have also been ordained. Mr. Gilligan, a member of St. Catherine Laboure Parish, Middletown, died suddenly in November, 2019.

Bishop O’Connell urged the men not to take their “new ministry, this order lightly.” To the permanent deacons, he said, “Recognize that it is a call, a call within in a call you already received to married life, to family life and within your family, you take on another role to a larger family, to the family of God.”

Presence of the Holy Spirit

After the homily, the then-deacon candidates were called forward by Msgr. Thomas J. Mullelly, diocesan episcopal vicar for clergy and consecrated life and director of seminarians, who testified that the men were prepared to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders and assume the responsibilities of the diaconate. Bishop O’Connell, in the name of the entire Church, accepted the testimony. The congregation signaled their approval with a round of applause.

The six men assented to Gods’ call to the diaconate, making a Promise of Obedience to Bishop O’Connell and his successors, and Rev. Mr. Ballacillo also made a Promise of Celibacy.

The six men, showing their total dependence on God, first prostrated themselves on the floor as the cantor chanted the Litany of Saints, then knelt – one by one – before Bishop O’Connell, who placed his hands on their heads, conferring the Holy Spirit and silently prayed the words of consecration.

After the Bishop imposed hands on each new deacon, the men, with assistance from their priests, were vested with the stole and dalmatic, the liturgical garments that symbolize their ministry. The newly ordained deacons again each knelt before Bishop O’Connell, who placed the Book of the Gospels in their hands and said, “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.”

Stories of Faith

While COVID-19 restrictions did not allow for an indoor reception after Mass, well-wishers had an opportunity to greet the new deacons and their families outside.

Msgr. Mullelly, as he looked around at the jubilant class of deacons, noted that he was pleased with the direction the formation program for permanent deacons has taken since it was revised. He noted that the program  went from a four-year program to five years and allows the men to work toward  a master’s degree. He feels confident that the program challenges deacon candidates as they acquire the necessary spiritual, pastoral and intellectual formation requirements.

“Joyful” was how Deacon McNulty described his Ordination Day. He said he believes after having served his parish for many years as a volunteer in various ways, including youth ministry, he is responding to a call from God. “And today I said, ‘Here I Am Lord.’”

Rita Greiner said she is proud and excited for her husband to “do God’s work.

“It’s intensive,” she said of the formation program, but in that time “Dave has learned a lot about himself and what it means to be Catholic.”

Looking to the future, Greiner believes her husband brings qualities “in which he can reach many people and help bring them closer to God.”

Deirdre Senkewicz smiled as she told of how grateful she is to have been able to walk with her husband on his journey to the diaconate.

She said their home has become more faith-filled, adding that whether it was on their ride home from the Diocesan Chancery after class or at the dinner table, she and her husband would have many conversations about all they had learned.

It’s been a blessing, she said, “that we have been able to travel John’s journey together.”

Deacon Senkewicz, who has always been involved in St. Leo the Great Parish, appreciated the encouragement he received from his pastor, Father John Folchetti, “to do more around the parish.” When Father Folchetti broached the subject of the diaconate, Deacon Senkewicz said at first he was shocked, then took the time he needed to pray about it.

“It’s been an awesome journey,” he said as he acknowledged the support he received from his wife, family, “my now brother deacons” and Father Folchetti.

“It’s been a lovely, lovely journey,” Deacon Senkewicz said. “It’s changed my life.”