It was a day for the diocesan history books as this represented the largest class of new deacons this century, and it is the last class to be ordained by Bishop Gerald Barnes, who retires next June.
The new deacons are Jose Bonilla, Lucio Espinoza, John Gabriele, Donald Hitzeman, Roberto Jara, Jeronimo Lechuga, Jose Lopez, Gustavo Morales, Martin Quintero, Humberto Rocha, Juan Rodriguez and Carlos Viveros. This large class follows the 11 men ordained to the permanent diaconate last year.
As clergy, deacons’ duties include proclaiming the Gospel, giving homilies at Mass, administering some Sacraments (baptisms, weddings), and performing acts of charity.
Bishop Barnes celebrated the morning liturgy in English and Spanish. Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Rutilio del Riego, Monsignor Gerard Lopez. S.T.L., V.G., and Very Reverend Romeo Seleccion, MS, were principal concelebrants of the Mass along with priests from nearly every parish in the Diocese. Deacons and their wives were also present to welcome their new brothers to the ministry.
Bishop Barnes opened his homily with words of gratitude for their service and hope for the future of the Church.
“This is a great day. Twelve new deacons from eight parishes. The largest in years,” said Bishop Barnes. “We have great hope when we see so many coming forth and responding to God’s call.”
During the Rite, each candidate was called to the sanctuary to be presented to Bishop Barnes for Ordination. Their wives were also called on to give consent for their husbands to serve as deacons for the Church.
In the Promise of the Elect, Bishop Barnes asked each candidate, “Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?” And all of the men promised obedience as they knelt before the Bishop.
This Ordination was particularly special for Bishop Barnes.
“This is my last Ordination of deacons as the Bishop of the Diocese,” he said. “That’s why the promise of obedience was key….’and to my successors.’ It doesn’t stop with me. It goes on.”
The Investiture with Stole and Dalmatic was an emotional moment for all of the men. The wives and pastors or mentors helped each deacon put on his new garments.
“The moment when I first put on the stole and the [dalmatic] and went back up on the altar, it was a moment of peace and a moment I felt I put on the armor of God,” said Deacon John Gabriele. “Now we serve God’s people. It was an incredible, incredible moment.”
“I came to tears of joy,” said Deacon Humberto Rocha. “It was overwhelming. It’s like when you have your first child or the moment when you first get married. Its little bit of a greater moment than that.”
His wife, Rita Rocha, was also overwhelmed with emotions.
“I feel so very happy, very peaceful, and very excited. All those at once,” she said. “I helped him put on his stole and [dalmatic] along with his pastoral coordinator and his mentor. We all helped. I was humbled and felt I needed to stand back and allow him to be with the clergy. It just felt like he needed to be with them and I felt like I was letting him go. It was an emotional moment because I’m letting him go to the Church.”
Deacon Donald Hitzeman defined the moment in a single word.
“I think the one word is joy but then beyond that was just a real feeling of responsibility. Taking on new responsibility,” he said.
“It’s a gift to give him for service. To give him to God,” said his wife, Mary. Their son, Donald, witnessed his father’s journey from the beginning to the moment of Ordination.
“I think its been a long time coming,” Donald said. “It’s been a really long but worth it journey for everyone. I’m filled with a lot of pride and I’m filled with a lot of love for him and for what he’s going to do.”
Throughout the Mass, spouses of the new deacons participated in every part, from the readings to the offertory. The wives were honored at the end of the Mass with a certificate and a bouquet of flowers.
Before the closing song, Bishop Barnes asked all the deacons to stand if they were ordained by him. Nearly all of the deacons present stood up and the congregation erupted in applause.
“We ordained 12 deacons and three priests this year. We need to raise the number of priests and deacons and those entering consecrated life,” said Bishop Barnes.
Addressing the congregation he said, “So all of our homework is to do that. Pray for vocations, for perseverance of our priests and deacons and religious and to call forth others.”
Malie Hudson is a freelance writer based in Riverside.