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Deacon of the Year Awarded at Annual Deacon Assembly

A deacon candidate was instituted as an acolyte, and the Deacon of the Year Award was presented during the annual Deacon Assembly held at Saint Joseph Church in Brewer on Saturday, September 24.

The assembly was an opportunity for deacons, deacon candidates, and their wives to come together to learn, to share, and to bond.

“It’s important that we, as a diaconate community, remain connected and bonded together, that we share our common vocation,” said Deacon Peter Bernier, the Portland Diocese's director of ministerial services, which includes oversight of the Office of the Diaconate. “When we come together as a community, we share our identity, we share our faith, and we share the experiences that we all, individually and collectively, gain through ministry and our work with God’s people.”

In his homily, during Mass at the Assembly, Bishop Robert Deeley emphasized the importance of that community in the deacons’ work.

“Jesus shows the disciples that they are to find in one another the strength to carry his good news to the world,” the bishop said. “Living the commandment of love is the way Jesus gives us, and it is a path which brings us great joy. You have discovered the truth of that statement. You would not be here and actively engaged in the diaconate if you had not discovered that sharing your gifts with one another, and with those you serve in the Church, is not just the fulfillment of a command but a source of joy.”

During the Mass, Dan Mahoney of Holy Spirit Parish in Wells, was instituted as an acolyte by the bishop. The Ministry of Acolyte is an important step in the formation of those preparing for Holy Orders.

A deacon’s ministry is threefold: the ministry of the word, the altar, and charity.  Mahoney was previously instituted as a lector, which is centered on sharing the Word of God.   The ministry of the acolyte is focused on the altar.

An acolyte’s service includes the duties of a sacristan, an altar server, and an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, as well as some of the duties of a deacon when a deacon is not present at Mass. That includes receiving the gifts at the offertory, placing the gifts on the altar, and preparing for the altar for the priest.

“With this ceremony, we focus our attention and our prayer on what we do when we gather around the altar of the Lord.  There we find, in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the chalice, the source of life,” the bishop said. “For each of us, when we gather at Eucharist, our prayer should be that Jesus might join us more closely to him so that we, too, can serve as he served.   As you draw closer to ordination to diaconate, and all of you consider your own commitment to the diaconate, the Church asks you to connect your service at the altar to your ministry of service to God’s people which is such a central part of the vocation of the deacon. As, in prayer, you deepen your appreciation of the gifts we receive at the altar, you are reminded that those gifts make us one with our brothers and sisters.  We truly become the Body of Christ at the service of each other.”

During the rite, Mahoney received from the bishop a paten containing bread, reflecting an acolyte’s responsibilities in preparing the altar and caring for and purifying the sacred vessels.

“Being made an acolyte and serving at the altar with the bishop just was very moving,” Mahoney said after the Mass. “It’s just a little bit closer to belonging to the bishop as a deacon, at some point, and being sent out to serve the world in the ministry of charity.”

Following the celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the bishop and Deacon Bernier presented the Monsignor Charles Murphy Deacon of the Year Award to Deacon Al Burleigh from Saint Mary of the Visitation Parish in Houlton.

“This year’s recipient is a person of deep faith, a person of integrity, and a person who exercises his diaconal ministry in a spirit of humility, evidenced by the compassion and selfless service that he offers time and again to those who are in need.  His ministry is one that embodies the meaning of charity, as he strives to champion the cause of the poor, the marginalized, and the elderly,” Deacon Bernier said.

Since 2013, Deacon Burleigh has worked as an outreach specialist for Catholic Charities Maine Parish Social Ministry, serving northern and central parts of the state.  He has worked with parishes on nearly 30 direct service ministries and has started five new ministries, training more than 900 parishioners. He also assists those in immediate need, either through direct aid or connecting them with available services.

“His dedication to the social mission of the Church through his service in Catholic Charities and its parish social ministry program is a true living out of the deacon vocation to a ministry of service,” Bishop Deeley said.

“He is truly an example of being neighbor to those in need,” said Michael Smith, director of missions for Catholic Charities Maine.

Deacon Burleigh also assists Father Dave Raymond and works in baptismal preparation at St. Mary of the Visitation.

He called the award very humbling.

“I really don’t think that I deserve it,” he said. “I think there are a lot of wonderful deacons out there who are doing much more than I am and who really deserve it much more than I do.”

With the election nearing, the Deacon Assembly also included a presentation on Faithful Citizenship by Suzanne Lafreniere, director of the diocese’s Office of Public Policy.

Following Mass, there was also a question and answer session with the bishop, aimed at helping the deacons, deacon candidates, and wives get to know him better and at helping the bishop learn more about them.  The deacons and candidates serve in all corners of the state and are active in many different ministries.