Diocese's deceased deacons honored during Memorial Mass
By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
Antonina Oliveri smiled as she thought of her late husband, Deacon Vito Oliveri, and his service to the Church.
Deacon Oliveri, who had only been ordained three years before he died in 1992 at age 41, had served in the former St. Francis of Assisium Parish, Trenton. He was inspired to the diaconate after their young son, Pete, survived serious health problems.
“[The doctors] didn’t give us much hope, but here he is,” Oliveri said, motioning to Pete, who was sitting next to her. “Our son was spared, and Vito saw his being a deacon as a way to give glory to God.”
Antonina and Pete were among family members who attended the annual Memorial Mass for deceased permanent deacons of the Diocese, an event that is held each November during the month of All Souls, at which time the diocesan diaconate community gathers to remember all deacons of the Diocese who have died, especially those in the past year. This year’s Mass was celebrated Nov. 11 in St. Dominic Church, Brick, by Msgr. Thomas Mullelly, diocesan episcopal vicar for clergy and consecrated life. Concelebrants were Msgr. James Brady, parish pastor, and Father Michael Gentile, parochial vicar. Deacon Edward J. Buecker preached the homily.
There is a time for mourning and a time for joy, said Deacon Buecker, as he reflected on Chapter 3 in the Book of Ecclesiastes.
“Those two emotions find their way into our hearts today. It has been said that at the end of this life, we need to praise God and all his blessings because it’s clear how rich God’s blessings have been to all of us, and how he has blessed us with the life of the diaconate community that has gone before us,” he said.
“At the same time,” Deacon Buecker continued, “we mourn with our hearts, burdened with sadness, because we lost a community of deacons who have meant so much to their parish community and the people they served. That’s why we celebrate this day each year, reminding us of an unselfish community of deacons, wives and family who have dedicated their lives to the building of God’s kingdom.”
By being present for the Memorial Mass and preaching this year’s homily, Deacon Buecker spoke of the personal comfort he gained as he fondly remembered two of his brother deacons from St. Dominic Parish who died.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about them or remember what they taught me in ministry and the camaraderie we all shared.”
Deacon Buecker also shared that the Month of All Souls reminds him of his journey to the diaconate, which came about after experiencing the 1998 death of his 15-year-old son, Bobby, who died from a rare childhood cancer.
It was Bobby’s faith and his trust in God along with the support and generosity from the community in St. Dominic Parish that “illuminated my life and that of my wife and family…It was in their love and prayers that opened my heart to a world of service to the people of God,” Deacon Buecker said.
During the Prayers of the Faithful, as the names of 161 deacons were called, a loved one came forward and placed a flower in the vases that stood at the base of the sanctuary. In addition, a flower was placed in memory of Msgr. James McManimon, who began the diaconate program in the Diocese in 1974, and another flower was placed in memory of all deacons’ wives and family members who are deceased.
Susan Lachance Shih attended the memorial Mass for first time, during which she remembered her father, Deacon Paul Lachance, who died in 2016.
Lachance Shih shared how her father had ministered in St. Paul Parish, Princeton, and had been one of the 46 men ordained in the first class of deacons in 1977 by Bishop George W. Ahr. She fondly recalled her father developing the parish’s hospital ministry, in which he arranged for extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion to visit hospitalized patients. Eventually, he expanded the ministry to include visits to elder care/nursing home facilities.
“He was always spending time in church,” said Lachance Shih, who was 13 when her father was ordained. She added how much her father loved to celebrate Baptisms and witness weddings, especially those of his children and grandchildren.
Melanie Lacey Flynn spoke of her father, Deacon James A. Lacey Jr., of Sacred Heart Parish, Bay Head, who was also in the 1977 ordination class and still assisting at Mass at age 89 until two months before his Aug. 22, 2016, death. Lacey Flynn spoke of how being a deacon was her father’s passion and how much time he spent giving to others.
Now that her father is deceased, Lacey Flynn said that she, her mother and sister found the Memorial Mass to be a nice time not only to remember those deacons who are deceased, but also to recognize their accomplishments and how they “gave their hearts and time to their community and Church.”