Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., celebrates Mass during the Convocation of Deacons Oct. 26. During the Mass, he also presided at the Rite of Candidacy for 10 men who were formally accepted into the diocesan Diaconate Formation Program. Joe Moore photo
Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., celebrates Mass during the Convocation of Deacons Oct. 26. During the Mass, he also presided at the Rite of Candidacy for 10 men who were formally accepted into the diocesan Diaconate Formation Program. Joe Moore photo

Christopher F. Buono, a candidate in the diocesan Diaconate Formation Program, said he believes that his vocation to become a deacon had its roots at the worst moment of his life. It was 25 years ago when his father died at age 45.

“I was crushed in every aspect imaginable,” said Buono.

“Feeling that a piece of me died with my father, I was led back to healing after seeking God and our Savior Jesus. It was by this divine mercy that I was able to move forward and be blessed with a wonderful life, he said, noting that his experiences had motivated him to want to help others in need and also nurtured his decision to pursue a vocation as a deacon.

Photo Gallery: Convocation of Deacons 2019

“The call to serve our God, our Savior and the people of our Diocese became too strong to ignore anymore,” he said.

Buono, a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Whiting, shared his story following the Rite of Candidacy, a ceremony that took place during the Convocation of Deacons held in Princeton Oct. 25-26.  During the rite, Buono and nine other deacon candidates were called by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., to prepare to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders upon completing five years of formal study. The other candidates include:  Donald Gries, St. Justin the Martyr Parish, Toms River; Louis E. Mayer, St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford; Mynor A. Pardo, St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton; William J. Ross, St. Mary Parish, Middletown; Philip J. Thompson, St. Veronica Parish, Howell; Robert C. Vidal, St. Mary Parish, Barnegat; Jay L. Werling, St. Theresa Parish, Little Egg Harbor; John L. White, St. Monica Parish, Jackson, and Thomas R. Wieczerzak, St. James Parish, Red Bank.

The Rite of Candidacy signaled the end of a period of aspirancy, which began last year, during which the men sought to discern whether they were being called to the diaconate, learned what to expect in the formation process and more about the life of a deacon.

During the Mass he celebrated Oct. 26, Bishop O’Connell reflected on the parable of the barren fig tree, likening the vision of the worker to the 10 men he was about to officially recognize as deacon candidates.

While there are some folks who see no other option than cutting [the Church] down, shutting its doors and bailing, “in truth, all is not lost,” said Bishop O’Connell.

“Like the worker continues to have hope for the fig tree and [knows] there is still time for the fig tree to grow and produce, we need to be patient and look beneath the surface for the faint signs of new life that may be there,” said Bishop O’Connell. “That is why our deacon candidates have stepped forward, seeking admission to candidacy. They have confidence and hope. They are signs of confidence and hope for us.”

Sound Advice

The convocation was attended by 175 deacons and their wives and had as its theme “Healthy Deacon/Healthy Ministry.” It opened with the keynote address by Msgr. Michael J. Walsh, pastor of the Catholic Community of Hopewell Valley that consists of three parishes.

Msgr. Walsh reviewed some of the historical highlights of the diaconate in the Diocese and made special mention of the priests who supported its establishment in the Diocese more than 40 years ago.

“As I look at you, I see instruments of God’s presence to thousands of people,” said Msgr. Walsh, who is also episcopal vicar of Mercer County. “You are a gift to the Church.”

Msgr. Walsh explained how deacons should prioritize their lives by placing God first, then family, then work and then diaconate responsibilities. He then reminded the deacons to see their lives in terms of relationships.

“Our mission in life is about relationships,” he said, urging the deacons to think about their relationships with their spouses as well as with others, including those that may be in transition.

Msgr. Walsh described the deacon as being a “man of the heart,” and one who is kind because he listens; tender because of his active presence; forgiving, humble, compassionate and loving.

He reminded the deacons of how central prayer is and for the men to persevere in their prayer. He also spoke of the community that exists in the diaconate and urged the deacons and their wives to make it a priority to strengthen their vocation by praying together, socializing, going on retreats and “just hanging out.”

Stay Healthy

Dr. Andrew Martin, a Princeton-based psychologist who assists the Diocese with evaluations and psychological services, also addressed the deacons, reflecting on establishing healthy boundaries.

Martin reviewed the four types of boundaries – soft, spongy, rigid and flexible – as well as areas of boundaries, one of which was time.

Emphasizing the importance of setting limits on the amount of time deacons might spend in ministry, he cautioned them not to let their ministries take away time from their families or other areas of their lives. He added that even though it may be difficult to say no, it is permissible to say no without feeling guilty, he said.

Presenter Dr. James Turro, who is presently Primary Care Internist for Hackensack Meridian Health/Core Faculty for Ocean Medical Center Internal Medicine in Toms River, offered medical advice, reminding the deacons to visit their doctors for wellness check-ups and to keep current on inoculations. Turro is a member of Sacred Heart Parish, Bay Head, and a first-year candidate in the Diaconate Formation Program (Class of 2024).

Take Aways

Deacon Larry Finn of Mary, Mother of the Church Parish, Bordentown, said the two Great Commandments – to love God and neighbor came to mind as “I was listening and hearing Msgr. Walsh remind us that we are to be compassionate and caring in our ministry.”

Deacon Jim Casa of Sacred Heart Parish, Mount Holly, enjoyed the focus of the conference being on health in body, mind and spirit saying, “It was good to hear Msgr. Walsh’s remarks on the importance of maintaining good relationships and how this fuels the engines of our ministries.”

As the wife of a deacon and as a registered nurse, the convocation topics appealed to Sandy Mullarkey.

“It is always good to be reminded of the very simple but necessary actions needed for good health and good ministry,” she said. “Each speaker inspired and motivated us to take care of ourselves.”