New Deacons for Orange
With the hymn “One in Christ” as a musical backdrop, Bishop Kevin W. Vann entered St. Columban Church in Garden Grove earlier this morning to ordain 15 new permanent deacons to serve in the Diocese of Orange. (Click here for the complete list.)
“We are blessed to welcome so many new deacons into the permanent diaconate within our diocese,” Bishop Vann said in a statement prior to the ordination. “These unique individuals will assist in serving the ever growing and important needs of our flock, with particular focus on the acute needs of the poor and marginalized in our community,”
The diaconate is the first of three ranks in ordained ministry. Deacons preparing for the priesthood are transitional deacons, while those not planning to be ordained priests are permanent deacons. Today’s ordination brought the number of active permanent deacons in the diocese to 120.
A deacon may assist and preach during the liturgy and may officiate at baptisms, marriages, funeral services, and various community devotions. Married men may be ordained permanent deacons and single men may be ordained with a commitment to celibacy. Thirteen of the new deacons, who range in age from 42 to 66, are married. All are able to continue their current employment.
The formal formation process for all 15 candidates began in 2008—a very important commonality. But the paths that carried them to formation, and now to ordination, varied widely. Here we present a few of their stories.
The faith journey of Orange County firefighter Christopher Ciraulo, 51, and his wife, Kathy, of Our Lady of Fatima in San Clemente, was one of Catholicism to evangelical Christianity and back again. While both were once heavily involved in Bible studies and Christian apologetics, Ciraulo’s research of early church writings led him to rethink his religion.
“I wanted [my religion] to be based on that historic church that has always been there, not something that came along later on,” he said in a phone interview. “That started me on the road to look back at Catholicism and that rich and beautiful spiritual tradition.”
Ciraulo credits his mother – “a very faithful Catholic” – with helping lead him back to his faith. He also acknowledged Kathy’s role of encouragement, service, and study alongside him during his formation.
Following ordination, Ciraulo will continue working on ecumenical materials for hospital ministry, in conjunction with the chaplain from St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton. He credits his experience with evangelical Christianity with giving him a broad viewpoint of other religions. A registered nurse, Kathy will add valuable insight on that project.
“I love ecumenical and interfaith work – it is one of my passions,” said Ciraulo. The guidebook will offer insight into Christian and non-Christian beliefs to enable ministers to promote the healing process “beyond the physical, and there will be some spiritual healing as well,” he added.
In 2006, at age 35, St. Joseph (Santa Ana) parishioner Joe Garza applied to the diaconate program, but following an initial period of discernment he did not move forward in the process. He was invited back in 2008. Now, at age 42, he is one of the youngest permanent deacons in the diocese.
“I felt this was the time,” Garza said in a recent telephone interview. “I needed to mature and grow a little bit more. I would tell others [who are interested in the diaconate] not to get discouraged if it doesn’t happen the first time.”
An associate case manager for Meals on Wheels, Garza and his wife, Roberta, a social worker for the County of Orange, found formation to be a “wonderful blessing.” Garza is interested in detention ministry and hopes to work with previously incarcerated children to help them stay out of jail. He will minister to both English- and Spanish-speaking communities.
A parishioner of St. Joseph in Placentia, Ken Kleckner, 62, was invited by his pastor in 2004 to consider the diaconate. A full-time business manager who was poised to serve as chairman of the board of Homeless Intervention Shelter (H.I.S.) House, a transitional living facility in Placentia, he delayed exploration of the diaconate.
After three or four years of discernment, he said in a recent interview, “I decided, ‘Okay, I need to do this and I need to figure out if this is really where God wants me to be.’”
During his faith journey, he said, “The Holy Spirit keeps bugging you and keeps knocking at your door and puts bumps in the road to make you think about what is asked of you.”
Five and half years of formal training “very much awakened in me a lot about my faith that I didn’t know,” he said, including the history and workings of the church.
“I have a better understanding of what it means to be Catholic,” he said, through his formation experiences in service to others in detention and hospital ministries. He and his wife, Teri, a former religious education coordinator, look forward to working at St. Joseph. One area of interest is bereavement ministry and grief counseling.
Peter Truong Nguyen
A religious retreat sparked interest in the diaconate for Peter Truong Nguyen, 48, and his wife, Kim-Leiloni “Loni” Nguyen of St. Anne in Seal Beach. A call for diaconate couples called to them, Nguyen said, because their pastor knew they both “had a heart for service.”
“We were intrigued since the diaconate exemplifies the gospel lifestyle we are called to live by,” Nguyen said in a recent email. As a married couple, he said, they were challenged by the dedication required of the regimen of academic studies combined with spiritual formation, “wrapped up in the service to the community.”
A computer systems analyst for the County of Los Angeles Public Library, Nguyen looks forward to retiring in a few years and devoting his time to service. Loni is a biology professor at a local community college.
Reflecting on his new role as a deacon, Nguyen said: “To serve is Christ-like, to love is to see Christ, to serve with love is … to be a deacon.”
In 1975, Minh Tong was imprisoned in a Communist concentration camp in Vietnam. During his three-year incarceration (resulting from his position as a South Vietnamese naval officer), he was able to practice his lifelong Catholicism only in secret. Now a U.S. resident since the age of 28, Tong speaks of his ordination in poignant terms.
“I was not quite prepared for this call from God,” he said via email. “I prayed to God and especially the Holy Spirit, with Mary our mother, with St. Joseph, my patron saint, for guidance for what I need to do to find meaning.”
Nguyen calls the diaconate formation his “most precious possession” because of the impact it has made in his life. The training led him to recognize himself in relation to God.
“Through the formation, God helped me to find humanity in myself and others,” he said.
A parishioner at St. Boniface in Anaheim, Tong was born in Vietnam and is a 27-year veteran of a photofinishing company. He is one of two single candidates in the diaconate class. He will serve the Vietnamese- and English-speaking communities.
“I thank Bishop Vann for this wonderful and challenging assignment,” he said. “I pray to God that all in this parish may draw closer to Christ our Lord, and carry out the will of God in their daily lives and in the world.”