Bishop ordains 13 deacons as ‘servants of the Gospel’

May 21, 2024 at 5:48 p.m.
Bishop O'Connell is pictured with the 13 new deacons of the Diocese following the May 18 Mass of Ordination in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. Also pictured from far left are Rev. Mr. Brian Meinders, a transitional deacon for the Diocese who is expected to be ordained a priest on June 1; Msgr. Thomas Mullelly, episcopal vicar of Clergy and Consecrated Life and director of Seminarians, and Father Christopher Colavito, diocesan director of vocations and director of the diocesan diaconate formation program. At far right is Msgr. Thomas N. Gervasio, diocesan vicar general and moderator of the curia. Mike Ehrmann photo
Bishop O'Connell is pictured with the 13 new deacons of the Diocese following the May 18 Mass of Ordination in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. Also pictured from far left are Rev. Mr. Brian Meinders, a transitional deacon for the Diocese who is expected to be ordained a priest on June 1; Msgr. Thomas Mullelly, episcopal vicar of Clergy and Consecrated Life and director of Seminarians, and Father Christopher Colavito, diocesan director of vocations and director of the diocesan diaconate formation program. At far right is Msgr. Thomas N. Gervasio, diocesan vicar general and moderator of the curia. Mike Ehrmann photo

By Rose O'Connor, Digital and Social Media Manager, and Mary Stadnyk, Associate Editor

Before a cathedral filled with loved ones, supporters and clergy, Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., ordained 13 men as deacons during a Mass May 18 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.

“We come for a holy purpose: to ordain these 13 men to the Holy Order of deacon,” Bishop O’Connell said in his homily. “They have prayed and listened and learned what that order and rank means and what it requires of them. The order that they seek was born out of the needs of those first Apostles to serve the community of faith in very practical ways.”

PHOTO GALLERY: 2024 Diaconate Ordination



Of the 13 deacon candidates, one, Rev. Mr. Alan Bridges, is a transitional deacon who will continue his formation and is expected to be ordained a priest next year. The remaining 12 will serve as permanent deacons. The ordinands and the parishes in which they will serve are: Deacon Nelson Abreu, Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony, Hamilton; Deacon Stuart T. Altschuler, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Moorestown; Deacon Mark F. Degenhart, Sr., St. James, Red Bank; Deacon Vincent P. Delle Grotti, Jr., St. Gregory the Great, Hamilton Square; Deacon Richard A. Gerbino, St. Mary, Colts Neck; Deacon Richard J. Huegi, St. Mary, Barnegat; Deacon John C. Italia, St. Paul, Princeton; Deacon Thomas W. McDonald, St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford; Deacon Joseph L. Sbarra, St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Hightstown; Deacon Michael F. Shuflat, St. Pius X, Forked River; Deacon Joseph V. Stillo, St. Mark, Sea Girt; Deacon James J. Turro, Sacred Heart, Bay Head, and St. Pio of Pietrelcina, Lavallette.

Ministry of Service

In his homily, which preceded the Ordination Rite, the Bishop preached on the ministry of the diaconate saying that the “Order of Deacon is not primarily about doing things.

“The deacon responds to a call to be deeply, personally united to Jesus Christ who serves; to deeply, personally represent in a visible way Jesus Christ who serves. The deacon’s ministry comes from the hands of the bishop, today from my hands. He will serve God’s people in all the significant moments of their lives; this ministry strengthens the hands, the minds, the hearts and souls of the faithful,” the Bishop said.

Bishop O’Connell explained that a deacon shares in the ministry of the Word – “the Word of truth that is the origin and the goal of all who believe.

“The deacon shares in the ministry of the altar – helping others lift their  minds and hearts to God. The deacon shares in the ministry of charity, which is the only thing that endures,” he said. “Love the Word. Read it. Study it. Know it. Let it speak to your heart and let your heart speak to God’s people.

“Love the Church and its teachings; don’t stray from them. Love the altar. Love your prayer. Love the people of God, especially his beloved poor,” the Bishop said. “Be for all what the deacon is intended to be: servants of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Ordination Rite

Msgr. Thomas Mullelly, diocesan episcopal vicar for clergy and consecrated life, began the Ordination Rite by calling the candidates forward and testifying 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 by applauding.

Each candidate then knelt before the Bishop, placing their hands in his and making a Promise of Obedience to him and his successors. In an act signifying their complete dependence on God, the 13 men prostrated themselves on the Cathedral floor, covering the full length of the center aisle, while the Diocesan Festival Choir led the singing of the Litany of Saints.

As the candidates knelt before the Bishop for the second time, he placed his hands on their heads, conferring the Holy Spirit upon them and silently praying the words of consecration.

The newly-ordained deacons, 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.”

Life-changing Experience

The new deacons commented on what they found most meaningful about the Ordination Rite as well as what they look forward to in terms of service in their parishes and the Diocese.

“The most moving part was the Bishop’s homily,” said Deacon Turro. “His words were amazing. I didn’t miss one word,” he said. He noted that what resonated most was “that we are to be Christ’s servants to our world, to our Church, to our neighborhood and to our family.”

Deacon Sbarra said he is looking forward to serving both the Anglo and Hispanic communities in St. Anthony of Padua Parish.

“The Ordination is special,” he said. “It was very meaningful, the visible sign of the Bishop laying his hands and the invisible graces of the Holy Spirit was heavily felt.

“The Holy Spirit has been leading and guiding me throughout the whole process,” Deacon Sbarra said.

Rev. Mr. Bridges said he was particularly moved to hear the names of all the saints who were praying for him during the Litany of the Saints. He also found it to be a powerful experience when Bishop O’Connell imposed hands on him, ordaining him a deacon.

Bishop O'Connell presents the Book of the Gospels to newly ordained Deacon Joseph Stillo. Mike Ehrmann photo

 Looking ahead to next year when he will return to the Cathedral for his priestly Ordination, Rev. Mr. Bridges said the idea “excites me more than anything in the world.

“I can’t wait to be ordained a priest,” he said.

Joyful Witnesses

Following the Mass, each of the 13 new deacons were positioned throughout the Cathedral and its dining hall where they were greeted by loved ones and well-wishers.

Jennifer Huegi and daughters, Emma and Olivia, expressed how joyful they were to witness their husband and father’s diaconate Ordination.

Jennifer noted that Richard had been raised Protestant but became Catholic and “ever since has been on fire” with the faith, she said, adding that Richard became involved in various ministries in St. Mary Parish.

“It’s been a busy five years,” Jennifer said, then noted that as he pursued his studies and formation, she not only noticed her husband growing stronger in his faith but their faith life as a married couple has also been strengthened.

Parish pastors Father Jeff Lee, St. Mary, Colts Neck; Father Daniel Swift, St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford, and Divine Word Father Miguel Virella, St. Mark, Sea Girt, wholeheartedly welcome new deacons serving in their respective communities.

Father Lee asserted that the restoration of the diaconate following the Second Vatican Council “further strengthened the Church’s teaching regarding the threefold aspect of the Sacrament of Holy Orders – bishop, presbyter (priest) and deacon.”

“The ministry of deacon is connected to that of the diocesan bishop; the priest, especially the pastor, is a collaborator with the Bishop,” Father Lee said, then added that the Diocese of Trenton has greatly benefited from the presence of ordained deacons during the past 50 years since Vatican II.

Father Lee noted that Deacon Gerbino, will serve with the Parish Outreach and Charitable Appeals Ministry and will be welcomed by the St. Mary Parish community.

Father Swift reflected on the connection of Pentecost, which the universal Church celebrated that weekend, and the deacon Ordination.  He said, “We are reminded that the Church is comprised of many members who bring with them variety and talent.”

He added that with Deacon McDonald’s Ordination, “St. Mary of the Lakes now has a pastor, parochial vicar, two deacons and one retired deacon, in addition to other lay leaders. The greater the variety of leaders/staff, the greater the opportunity for deacons to provide pastoral ministry in addition to their sacramental ministry.”

Father Virella said he is very happy to have Deacon Stillo serving in St. Mark Parish, adding that Deacon Stillo is “passionate about serving in ministry.”

“We’ll make a good team,” he said. “I look forward to working together with him.”

St. Paul School, Princeton, chartered a bus to transport students as well as chaperones and their principal to the Cathedral to see Deacon John Italia ordained, according to Kim Clauss principal.

“I had never seen an Ordination and I thought it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to see” a man that we know and who has been so involved in the life of the school and parish ordained a deacon.

St. Paul School sixth grader Liam Kenney said he wanted to attend the Mass because he wanted to experience an Ordination and learn more about the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

“I found the rite of passage from a regular helper to a deacon to be fascinating,” Kenney said. “I thought the part where the deacons laid prostrate on the floor was very interesting.

The experience of going to the Cathedral and seeing so many priests was really cool,” he added.

Fourth grader Aoife Boland said he was happy to “go and see the Ordination.”

“It was much more exciting than just hearing about the event,” he said.

The Church needs quality Catholic journalism now more than ever. Please consider supporting this work by signing up for a SUBSCRIPTION (click HERE) or making a DONATION to The Monitor (click HERE). Thank you for your support.


Related Stories

Before a cathedral filled with loved ones, supporters and clergy, Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., ordained 13 men as deacons during a Mass May 18 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.

“We come for a holy purpose: to ordain these 13 men to the Holy Order of deacon,” Bishop O’Connell said in his homily. “They have prayed and listened and learned what that order and rank means and what it requires of them. The order that they seek was born out of the needs of those first Apostles to serve the community of faith in very practical ways.”

PHOTO GALLERY: 2024 Diaconate Ordination



Of the 13 deacon candidates, one, Rev. Mr. Alan Bridges, is a transitional deacon who will continue his formation and is expected to be ordained a priest next year. The remaining 12 will serve as permanent deacons. The ordinands and the parishes in which they will serve are: Deacon Nelson Abreu, Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony, Hamilton; Deacon Stuart T. Altschuler, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Moorestown; Deacon Mark F. Degenhart, Sr., St. James, Red Bank; Deacon Vincent P. Delle Grotti, Jr., St. Gregory the Great, Hamilton Square; Deacon Richard A. Gerbino, St. Mary, Colts Neck; Deacon Richard J. Huegi, St. Mary, Barnegat; Deacon John C. Italia, St. Paul, Princeton; Deacon Thomas W. McDonald, St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford; Deacon Joseph L. Sbarra, St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Hightstown; Deacon Michael F. Shuflat, St. Pius X, Forked River; Deacon Joseph V. Stillo, St. Mark, Sea Girt; Deacon James J. Turro, Sacred Heart, Bay Head, and St. Pio of Pietrelcina, Lavallette.

Ministry of Service

In his homily, which preceded the Ordination Rite, the Bishop preached on the ministry of the diaconate saying that the “Order of Deacon is not primarily about doing things.

“The deacon responds to a call to be deeply, personally united to Jesus Christ who serves; to deeply, personally represent in a visible way Jesus Christ who serves. The deacon’s ministry comes from the hands of the bishop, today from my hands. He will serve God’s people in all the significant moments of their lives; this ministry strengthens the hands, the minds, the hearts and souls of the faithful,” the Bishop said.

Bishop O’Connell explained that a deacon shares in the ministry of the Word – “the Word of truth that is the origin and the goal of all who believe.

“The deacon shares in the ministry of the altar – helping others lift their  minds and hearts to God. The deacon shares in the ministry of charity, which is the only thing that endures,” he said. “Love the Word. Read it. Study it. Know it. Let it speak to your heart and let your heart speak to God’s people.

“Love the Church and its teachings; don’t stray from them. Love the altar. Love your prayer. Love the people of God, especially his beloved poor,” the Bishop said. “Be for all what the deacon is intended to be: servants of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Ordination Rite

Msgr. Thomas Mullelly, diocesan episcopal vicar for clergy and consecrated life, began the Ordination Rite by calling the candidates forward and testifying 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 by applauding.

Each candidate then knelt before the Bishop, placing their hands in his and making a Promise of Obedience to him and his successors. In an act signifying their complete dependence on God, the 13 men prostrated themselves on the Cathedral floor, covering the full length of the center aisle, while the Diocesan Festival Choir led the singing of the Litany of Saints.

As the candidates knelt before the Bishop for the second time, he placed his hands on their heads, conferring the Holy Spirit upon them and silently praying the words of consecration.

The newly-ordained deacons, 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.”

Life-changing Experience

The new deacons commented on what they found most meaningful about the Ordination Rite as well as what they look forward to in terms of service in their parishes and the Diocese.

“The most moving part was the Bishop’s homily,” said Deacon Turro. “His words were amazing. I didn’t miss one word,” he said. He noted that what resonated most was “that we are to be Christ’s servants to our world, to our Church, to our neighborhood and to our family.”

Deacon Sbarra said he is looking forward to serving both the Anglo and Hispanic communities in St. Anthony of Padua Parish.

“The Ordination is special,” he said. “It was very meaningful, the visible sign of the Bishop laying his hands and the invisible graces of the Holy Spirit was heavily felt.

“The Holy Spirit has been leading and guiding me throughout the whole process,” Deacon Sbarra said.

Rev. Mr. Bridges said he was particularly moved to hear the names of all the saints who were praying for him during the Litany of the Saints. He also found it to be a powerful experience when Bishop O’Connell imposed hands on him, ordaining him a deacon.

Bishop O'Connell presents the Book of the Gospels to newly ordained Deacon Joseph Stillo. Mike Ehrmann photo

 Looking ahead to next year when he will return to the Cathedral for his priestly Ordination, Rev. Mr. Bridges said the idea “excites me more than anything in the world.

“I can’t wait to be ordained a priest,” he said.

Joyful Witnesses

Following the Mass, each of the 13 new deacons were positioned throughout the Cathedral and its dining hall where they were greeted by loved ones and well-wishers.

Jennifer Huegi and daughters, Emma and Olivia, expressed how joyful they were to witness their husband and father’s diaconate Ordination.

Jennifer noted that Richard had been raised Protestant but became Catholic and “ever since has been on fire” with the faith, she said, adding that Richard became involved in various ministries in St. Mary Parish.

“It’s been a busy five years,” Jennifer said, then noted that as he pursued his studies and formation, she not only noticed her husband growing stronger in his faith but their faith life as a married couple has also been strengthened.

Parish pastors Father Jeff Lee, St. Mary, Colts Neck; Father Daniel Swift, St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford, and Divine Word Father Miguel Virella, St. Mark, Sea Girt, wholeheartedly welcome new deacons serving in their respective communities.

Father Lee asserted that the restoration of the diaconate following the Second Vatican Council “further strengthened the Church’s teaching regarding the threefold aspect of the Sacrament of Holy Orders – bishop, presbyter (priest) and deacon.”

“The ministry of deacon is connected to that of the diocesan bishop; the priest, especially the pastor, is a collaborator with the Bishop,” Father Lee said, then added that the Diocese of Trenton has greatly benefited from the presence of ordained deacons during the past 50 years since Vatican II.

Father Lee noted that Deacon Gerbino, will serve with the Parish Outreach and Charitable Appeals Ministry and will be welcomed by the St. Mary Parish community.

Father Swift reflected on the connection of Pentecost, which the universal Church celebrated that weekend, and the deacon Ordination.  He said, “We are reminded that the Church is comprised of many members who bring with them variety and talent.”

He added that with Deacon McDonald’s Ordination, “St. Mary of the Lakes now has a pastor, parochial vicar, two deacons and one retired deacon, in addition to other lay leaders. The greater the variety of leaders/staff, the greater the opportunity for deacons to provide pastoral ministry in addition to their sacramental ministry.”

Father Virella said he is very happy to have Deacon Stillo serving in St. Mark Parish, adding that Deacon Stillo is “passionate about serving in ministry.”

“We’ll make a good team,” he said. “I look forward to working together with him.”

St. Paul School, Princeton, chartered a bus to transport students as well as chaperones and their principal to the Cathedral to see Deacon John Italia ordained, according to Kim Clauss principal.

“I had never seen an Ordination and I thought it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to see” a man that we know and who has been so involved in the life of the school and parish ordained a deacon.

St. Paul School sixth grader Liam Kenney said he wanted to attend the Mass because he wanted to experience an Ordination and learn more about the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

“I found the rite of passage from a regular helper to a deacon to be fascinating,” Kenney said. “I thought the part where the deacons laid prostrate on the floor was very interesting.

The experience of going to the Cathedral and seeing so many priests was really cool,” he added.

Fourth grader Aoife Boland said he was happy to “go and see the Ordination.”

“It was much more exciting than just hearing about the event,” he said.

The Church needs quality Catholic journalism now more than ever. Please consider supporting this work by signing up for a SUBSCRIPTION (click HERE) or making a DONATION to The Monitor (click HERE). Thank you for your support.

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