“I’m floating on air. That is something that can only happen once in a lifetime.”
That is how Deacon Mark Tuttle, from St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, Scarborough, describes what it is like to be ordained a deacon of the Catholic Church.
“The interaction with the bishop and the actual bestowing of the holy order, that process was just soul stretching,” he says. “It was really amazing.”
“I feel like I’m walking off the ground,” agrees Deacon Frank Daggett, from St. Joseph Parish, Bridgton. “When the bishop laid his hands on me, it was just like the Holy Spirit, you could just feel it go right through me. It was amazing.”
“It was totally amazing, over the top I guess I would have to say, just over the top. No words can describe it,” says Deacon Rodney Deschaine, from St. Peter Chanel Parish, Van Buren.
Eleven men were ordained to the permanent diaconate by Bishop Robert Deeley on September 16 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland. The bishop called the ordination “a beautiful day in the life of the Diocese of Portland” and “a special moment of grace and joy” for the new deacons, their families, and all present.
“It is a ministry of joy because it is Jesus’ ministry. We, as His ministers, are to be imitators of Christ. He tells us that ‘the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many,’” Bishop Deeley told the men. “You are called to be servants of the mysteries of Christ and, at one and the same time, to be a servant of your brothers and sisters.”
The word "diaconate” comes from the Greek word “diakonia,” which means "service.” Deacons are called to perform charitable works, assist priests at the altar, and preach the word of God.
“In this ordination, we see the connection between these three areas of ministry. The word of God inevitably leads us to the Eucharist at the altar. In turn, this worship leads us to a new way of living which expresses itself in acts of charity. Seeing the mission of the deacon in this threefold way reminds us that the acts of charity are not just token good acts. They are acts which flow from a belief that this is what the Christian life requires of us. Knowing ourselves loved, we serve in love. The acts of charity are the way in which the evangelizing mission of the Church is moved forward,” the bishop said.
The new deacons come from parishes from Aroostook to York County. In addition to Deacons Daggett, Deschaine, and Tuttle, they are Michael Augustino from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland, Thomas Blatz from All Saints Parish in Brunswick, Michael Boggs from the Parish of the Resurrection of the Lord in Old Town, Carl Gallagher from the Parish of the Precious Blood in Caribou, Richard Huot from Good Shepherd Parish in Saco, Lawrence Guertin from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Windham, Rodney Kuhl from Holy Savior Parish in Rumford, and Luis Sanclemente from St. John Vianney Parish in Fort Kent.
“Today is a shower of blessings, first of all from God, and from our bishop, Robert Deeley, and all members here, the members of the community, because we are going to serve them,” says Deacon Augustino.
“What a fantastic celebration, the orchestra, the drums,” says Deacon Gallagher. “It was really emotional. It was fantastic. I couldn’t imagine anything better.”
This was the fifth and largest class of permanent deacons to be ordained in the Diocese of Portland, and it was a moving sight when the 11 men lay side by side on the floor of the cathedral, while the congregation joined in singing the Litany of the Saints. The Litany is a prayer of petition for Christ’s mercy and for the intercession of the saints.
“That was a moment I had looked forward to significantly. It is a moment of offering yourself completely, in a very humble, both physical and spiritual sense to Christ,” says Deacon Sanclemente. “There is an overwhelming sense of humility.”
Rising, the men then knelt before the bishop, who laid his hands on each of them in silence. With outstretched hands, he then prayed the Prayer of Ordination, calling down the Holy Spirit upon them.
“The laying on of hands was very, very powerful, the power of touch, to feel the bishop’s hands on my head and to feel that power really bring to life our ordination and our call,” says Deacon Guertin.
“I felt God’s presence and the Holy Spirit when he did that,” says Deacon Boggs. “I was the only one who almost fell, and the bishop caught me, and then when he laid his hands on me, I felt his presence, God’s presence, the Holy Spirit. I felt that was the most amazing part of the Mass for me.”
“The laying on of hands, when the bishop calls down the Holy Spirit, it was an incredible feeling that the Spirit was truly present in me. I’m also thinking of my mother and father, who are no longer with us, but I know they have the best seat in the house,” says Deacon Blatz.
Following the Prayer of Ordination, the 11 men, now deacons of the Church, were vested with stoles and dalmatics, symbols of the diaconate. The wives of the deacons handed the dalmatics to priests or deacons who had been selected by the newly ordained. Some were the deacons' pastors. Others were deacons or priests who had played important roles in their formation.
“The most moving part, I think, was probably putting on the vestment -- Father (Jean-Paul) Labrie helping me put my vestment on, my wife standing there, because those are the two people who have been with me all the way, from the beginning,” says Deacon Gallagher.
Each deacon was then handed a Book of the Gospels from the bishop, who counseled them to “Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” The Book of the Gospels is denotative of a deacon’s mandate to proclaim the Gospel at Mass.
“When the bishop said ‘teach what you believe and practice what you teach,’ this is the way,” says Deacon Augustino. “We are going to take the Gospel and work with the people.”
The bishop then welcomed each of the newly ordained with the fraternal kiss of peace, and the deacons present did the same. All the deacons then joined the bishop and concelebrating priests in the sanctuary for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
“That is the most moving part of the Mass to begin with, but being so close to that, with all my peers, it was really moving,” says Deacon Kuhl. “I was feeling very spiritual.”
The diaconate dates back to the days of the apostles and is one of three ranks of holy orders in the Catholic Church: deacons, priests, and bishops. Deacons were once considered the right-hand men of bishops, and through the fifth century, the diaconate flourished. Over time, however, it slowly faded away. It was restored as a distinct ministry by the Second Vatican Council. Pope Paul VI wrote at the time, “It is not to be considered as a mere step towards the priesthood, but it is so adorned with its own indelible character and its own special grace so that those who are called to it ‘can permanently serve the mysteries of Christ and the Church’” (Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem 1967).
Deacons are considered bridges between the Church and the secular world because many hold secular jobs, are married, and are raising families. Deacon Augustino, who is a refugee from Sudan, serves as an interpreter for the refugee and immigrant communities. Deacon Blatz is a campaign manager for the Mid Coast United Way. Deacon Boggs worked for many years in the nuclear power industry and is now employed by a natural gas company. Deacon Daggett is pastoral life coordinator for the Parishes of the Western Maine Lakes and Foothills and Catholic chaplain at Bates College. Deacon Deschaine is a special education teacher. Deacon Gallagher is a certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor and also tunes pianos. Retired from the phone company, Deacon Guertin serves as a parish pastoral life coordinator for the Sebago Lakes Region Parishes. Deacon Huot is a respiratory therapist. Deacon Kuhl is a retired physician assistant. Deacon Sanclemente is the vice president of a credit union. And, Deacon Tuttle is an I.T. project manager for a bank.
Four of the deacons also formerly served in the military, Deacon Rodney Kuhl in the U.S. Marines, Deacon Boggs and Deacon Daggett in the U.S. Navy, and Deacon Huot in the U.S. Army.
The deacons have been studying and preparing for their ordination for five years and, in some cases, even longer. They all now hold master’s degrees in theology. For many of them, there were struggles along the way, due to the demands of the program, as well as doubts in themselves.
“In the early phases of this, we all struggled with 'I'm not worthy.' And, of course, we're told, ‘Nobody is worthy of this. You've never met anyone who is worthy for any of this,’” says Deacon Huot.
“Out of all of this, if anything is true, I’ve learned that there is no worthiness. The more I learned in the master’s program, the more I realized what I didn’t know. The more I got called to help with knowledge and assistance, the more I felt, completely, I’m not worthy of this,” says Deacon Sanclemente.
The deacons all credit the support and sacrifices of their wives and families for making their journeys to ordination possible.
“If I have to emphasize anything on the walk, I have to emphasize family. Without the family, without my wife, there is no way I could be here,” says Deacon Deschaine. “You’ve always heard it said, ‘Behind every good man, there is a great woman,’ and that is 100%, absolutely true.”
The deacons say they are also grateful to the support they received from their communities, including the many people who filled the cathedral for the ordination Mass.
“The whole community being here, so many friends and family, and people I worship with, to be here and to feel that love and that prayer at the same time, it’s just overwhelming,” says Deacon Tuttle.
“There is a lot of grace. There are a lot of people praying, and that’s what I kept asking people to do right before is pray for me. And, obviously, that got me through it,” says Deacon Sanclemente.
“We really felt supported by the community and the people that we’re going to serve,” says Deacon Guertin. “God was with us through this whole time, and we give thanks.”
“It was great to see everybody who came and supported us. It tells me that I have work to do. I have people out there who came to support me, and I’m here to support them,” says Deacon Huot.
While all the deacons were already active in their parishes, they say they look forward to seeing where their diaconal ministry now leads them.
"I love people, especially the elderly," says Deacon Kuhl. "I feel I was called to bring Christ to the elderly in any way I can.”
“I’m looking forward to everything,” says Deacon Boggs, who especially feels called to hospital ministry. “I want to get even more actively involved in the parish and the people than what I am now, and everything that comes along with it.”
“I will be a bridge to bring people to the full life of the Church, especially those from the immigrant and refugee communities of the diocese,” says Deacon Augustino.
“I hope that my gifts will be fully used as a deacon - preaching, teaching, writing, singing, facilitating groups, baptizing, comforting the sick, the addicted, and the dying,” says Deacon Gallagher.
“Somebody asked me recently, ‘What’s your favorite thing about being a deacon?’ And, oddly enough, what came to mind right away was distributing Communion, even though lay eucharistic ministers can do that,” says Deacon Daggett. “That kind of encapsulates what the diaconate is all about, bringing Christ to others, wherever that may be.”
“I’m looking forward to preaching, and I’m looking forward to finding where God is really calling me, in what part of the community where I live am I going to make the greatest impact in people’s lives, spiritually,” says Deacon Blatz. “I feel incredibly blessed to be here with my brothers, now deacons, ready to serve God’s Church.”
All the deacons say they are prepared to serve wherever they are needed most, putting their faith and trust in God and drawing strength and guidance from the Holy Spirit.
“We just pray that we can live up to the Gospel, preach the Gospel, practice what we preach, and just be a witness to Christ and His people,” says Deacon Deschaine.
“My feeling is that, every day my job is to wake up as much in a state of grace as I can and put myself at the disposal of the Holy Spirit,” says Deacon Tuttle.
As they go about their ministry, Bishop Deeley counseled them to remain close to the One in whose name they serve.
“Be men who know Jesus. Be men of true prayer which deepens that relationship," the bishop said. "When you come to know Jesus, you will be bringing Him to those you serve.”