Bishop O'Connell presents the Book of the Gospels to Deacon Thomas R. Wieczerzak of St. James Parish, Red Bank. Jeff Bruno photo
Bishop O'Connell presents the Book of the Gospels to Deacon Thomas R. Wieczerzak of St. James Parish, Red Bank. Jeff Bruno photo
A congregation of family members, friends, clergy and religious filled St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, May 20, where they witnessed the ordination of 12 men as deacons by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

PHOTO GALLERY: 2023 Diaconate Ordination

“As a successor to the Apostles, the Bishop of a Diocese has the privilege and responsibility to call men of good standing, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, to join in his pastoral ministry to the community of faith,” Bishop O’Connell said.

Of the12 deacon candidates, Rev. Mr. Wynne Kerridge and Rev. Mr. Brian Meinders are transitional deacons who are continuing their formation until their ordination as priests next year.

The remaining 10 men are permanent deacons who will serve in various ministries in their parishes. They are Deacon Christopher Buono, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Whiting; Deacon Donald Gries, St. Justin the Martyr, Toms River; Deacon Louis Mayer, St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford; Deacon Mynor Pardo, St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton; Deacon William Ross, St. Mary, Middletown; Deacon Philip Thompson, St. Veronica, Howell; Deacon Robert Vidal, St. Mary, Barnegat; Deacon Jay Werling, St. Theresa, Little Egg Harbor; Deacon John White, St. Monica, Jackson, and Deacon Thomas Wieczerzak, St. James, Red Bank.

Before the Ordination Rite, Bishop O’Connell preached on the ministry of a deacon as “very important to the life of the local Church,” and described their three-fold ministry: Service of the Word, Service of the Altar and Service of Charity.

As ministers of the word, deacons serve as both evangelizers and teachers. As ministers of the liturgy, deacons assist the priest in the Eucharistic celebration, and may also preside at baptisms, weddings, and funerals, and bring Communion to the sick and homebound. As ministers of charity, deacons help with identifying and meeting the needs of others.

Embracing the Call

Addressing the deacons, Bishop O’Connell stressed, “In all that you do and are, yours is a call and vocation to holiness … Your holiness will be the primary inspiration to the people whom you serve.”

The Bishop assured them that the “holy order of the diaconate is a gift to you: a gift from God, a gift from the Church, a gift from the Diocese, a gift from me.”

Following the homily, Msgr. Thomas Mullelly, diocesan episcopal vicar for clergy and religious life and director of seminarians, called the then-deacon candidates forward and testified to their readiness 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, and the congregation responded with a round of applause.

During the Rite of Ordination, each deacon candidate knelt before the Bishop, placing their hands in his and making a Promise of Obedience to the Bishop and his successors, before prostrating themselves on the Cathedral floor to demonstrate total dependence on God.

The Bishop then placed his hands on their heads as they knelt before him, conferring the Holy Spirit upon them and silently praying the words of consecration.

The ordinands, with assistance from the priests they had selected, were then vested with the stole and dalmatic, the liturgical vestments that symbolize their ministry.

The rite continued with the deacons kneeling again before Bishop O’Connell, who handed them the Book of the Gospels, saying, “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.”

Words of Support

After Mass, the new deacons were congratulated by their families and well- wishers.

“Today was a touchstone day for our family,” said Rev. Mr. Kerridge’s mother, Lisa Sinak, who traveled to Trenton from her home in Texas.

“God has been so faithful to Wynne and our family in each step leading up to today. From the initial stages of Wynne’s discerning God’s call to the priesthood, through our understanding of what this would mean, through five years of study at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary to seeing him commit to the Diocese of Trenton as a transitional deacon. We have received so many graces during these years.”

Noting that Wynne had earned a degree in economics from Princeton University, Sinak admitted the priesthood was not the career path she thought he would pursue.

“However, as we have seen the excellent formation that the Mount has given him and the joy that Wynne has experienced as he has come to understand and to live the Scriptures even more deeply, we have been thrilled to feel confidence that God had an even better plan for Wynne’s life than we had anticipated.”

Jackie Ross, Courtney Buono and Diana Wieczerzak exuded great joy while expressing what it meant for them to witness their respective husband’s Ordination after having supported them over the past five years of their formation.

Wieczerak admitted that for she and Thomas, it took a lot of juggling of household duties to manage raising two young children and handle fulltime jobs so that Thomas could pursue diaconate studies.

“Some days he would leave the house at 4 a.m. and then not get home until midnight,” Wieczerak said. “Today is like a reward for his hard work. I can’t wait to see how he will serve the community more than he already does.”

Buono and her daughters Angie, Bella and Jules, were inspired by their husband and faither’s determination to fulfil his diaconate vocation.

“He’s wanted this for so long,” said Courtney, who realized that her patience and support were essential in her husband’s formation.

Jules Buono added how proud she was of her father and commended the way he balanced all aspects of his life, including his always being present for hers and her sisters’ school and sporting events.

Tears welled in Jackie Ross’ eyes as she spoke of the transformation in faith she has seen in her husband, Bill, during the past five years.

“His Ordination today means something that’s way bigger than us and our family. Today is about his service to the Diocese, the wider Church and helping to build the Kingdom of God,” she said.

“He is God’s,” Ross said of Bill. “He belongs to the Church. Bill’s mission is to serve God’s Church and I’m blessed to witness it and be part of it.”

 Parish pastors Father Daniel Swift, St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford; Father Peter James Alindogan, St. Veronica, Howell, and Father Evarist Kabagambe, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Whiting, wholeheartedly welcome new permanent deacons serving in their respective communities.

“As we continue to maneuver through the shortage of priests, deacons ‘slow the stretch of the rubber band’ as I like to describe it,” said Father Swift, noting that his parish currently has a semi-retired permanent deacon.

“With Deacon Ed now ordained and God willing, Tom McDonald to be ordained next spring, and additionally [having] Harry Kingsmill, who was just accepted as a seminarian by the Diocese, we are seeing our weekly prayers for vocations being answered,” said Father Swift.

Having a parish that serves numerous retirement communities, homebound and nursing home residents, Father Kabagambe noted that Deacon Buono’s assistance with the many requests that are received for visits, is greatly appreciated.

The Ordination of Deacons and Priests “brings out the tradition of the Church and through the Readings shows the connections of that ministry to the work of the Apostles,” he said. 

“Having Mr. Thompson as our new deacon in St. Veronica Parish is a cause for celebration and gratitude,” said Father Alindogan, because “it brings a sense of renewal and enrichment to our community and it inspires us to put into action what Bishop O’Connell said to him when he was handed the Book of Gospels, “believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.”

The diaconate ministry holds an invaluable place in the Church and an indispensable role in its history, theology and tradition, Father Alindogan said.

“Deacons have that special privilege and honor in sharing continually and consistently the Good News of our salvation,” he said.