Bishop James Ruggieri ordains three men to the transitional diaconate

With hundreds filling the seats of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and many more watching via livestream, the Diocese of Portland celebrated the ordination of three men to the transitional diaconate on Saturday, May 25.

Tien Hoa Nguyen, Thanh Duc Pham, and Erin Michael Donlon were ordained by Bishop James Ruggieri, who thanked them for their response to the Lord’s call and for having the courage to embrace diaconal ministry.

“This has been imprinted on your souls in the mind of God before you were even formed in your mothers’ wombs,” the bishop said. “You have found, really, the secret of happiness in life. It is not through possessing oneself. It is through giving oneself away in love that you become the men of God that you are called to be, that you may be the great saints that you are called to be.”

All three of the newly ordained deacons were raised in strong Catholic families, which they credit for helping them hear God’s call. Deacon Hoa says his house was just 95 steps from the church, and he and his family went there twice a day, in the morning for Mass and in the evening for prayer.

“We have a lot of priests, and sisters, and brothers, a lot of religious in my family,” he says.

He says he first felt the call to the priesthood around age 12 and asked his family if he could go to the rectory to work, study, and learn from the priests.

Deacon Thanh says in his family, Catholicism goes back 10 generations. His parents were devoutly Catholic, and he says he and his nine siblings prayed the Rosary every morning and then attended Mass. He says he first felt a call to the priesthood at age five, when he remembers wondering what the priest was drinking during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

“I talked with my grandmother, and she said, ‘That is the blood of Christ. Actually, it is wine. It is made from grapes.’ And I thought, ‘I love grape. That’s my favorite fruit.’ So, I said, ‘I want to be a priest, so I can drink that.’”

Deacon Thanh says he and his nine siblings were all involved in the church in some way. He was an altar server, a choir member, and an emcee.

Deacon Erin says when he was young, his family regularly prayed the Rosary.  Homeschooled, he remembers studying the Baltimore Catechism, and he says priests would often come to their house.

He says he first felt a call to the priesthood around the time of his first Communion and credits the example of Father Renald Labarre, the pastor at the time.

“We had a very beautiful pastor in Father Labarre and just an incredible witness, an incredible example, just his personality and his intentionality to know people was just really inspiring,” Deacon Erin says.

Deacon Erin is originally from Saco, while Deacon Hoa is from central Vietnam, and Deacon Thanh is from Saigon, Vietnam. Even though Catholics make up a small percentage of that country, the Catholic Church there is blessed to have more vocations than their current seminaries can handle. As a result, the Vietnamese bishops encourage young men to pursue their vocations in other areas in need of priests. That is what brought Deacon Hoa and Deacon Thanh to the Diocese of Portland.

During the ordination rite, the three young men stood before the bishop and resolved to be consecrated for the Church’s ministry by the laying on of hands and the gift of the Holy Spirit, to discharge the office of deacon with humble charity in order to assist the priestly order and to benefit the Christian people, to embrace the celibate state, to deepen their lives of prayer, and to conform their way of life always to the example of Christ.

Each then approach the bishop and, kneeling before him, placed their hands within his and promised respect to him and his successors.

The three ordinands then lie prostrate on the floor while the Litany of Saints was sung, an act of humility and submission to the will of God.

“When I lied down on the floor, I just remembered all the saints especially my religious saint, St. Francis Xavier, and also the 117 Vietnamese Martyrs,” says Deacon Hoa.

“The best moment for me was during the Litany of the Saints. A priest had told me to just clear my mind and to let the Lord fill you with whatever graces that he wants to give you. I was completely nervous walking up there, but once I was down on the ground, it was OK. I thought, the Lord had this. I don’t. And it was just an overwhelming sense of peace and joy. It’s incredible. It’s like, wow, this is happening,” said Deacon Erin.

The bishop then laid hands on each of the three in silence.

“That moment was just so powerful. I felt the Holy Spirit upon me, and I prayed to the Holy Spirit, please, please make me to be a holy, holy deacon and then a holy priest in the future,” says Deacon Thanh.

After the laying on of hands, the bishop prayed the Prayer of Ordination, asking the Lord to “look with favor on these servants of yours who will minister at your holy altar and whom we now humbly dedicate to the office of deacon. Send forth upon them, Lord, we pray, the Holy Spirit that they may be strengthened by the gift of your seven-fold grace for the faithful carrying out of the work of the ministry.”

Now ordained, the three were vested with stoles and dalmatics, symbols of the diaconate. The bishop then handed each of them a Book of the Gospels, counseling them to “Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”

Transitional deacons are men who are discerning for the priesthood, but being ordained to the diaconate, the first of the three levels of holy orders, is nonetheless a life-changing gift. As deacons, the men are called to share the word of God, assist at the altar, and to exercise the ministry of charity. Deacons can bless marriages, baptize children, and preside at funeral rites held outside of Mass.

“I am looking forward to serving the people as a deacon. And I need a lot of prayers so that I can be a good example of Christ, in order to be worthy to sit at the table of the Eucharist,” says Deacon Hoa.

Deacon Thanh says, as a deacon, he wants to share his delight and joy, embracing the words Psalm 43:4: “That I may come to the altar of God, my joy, my delight.”

“Because I received a joyful gift from God, I want to press out that joy to everyone around me. We must be joyful because we are so blessed,” he says.

Deacon Erin says he is looking forward to his first baptism, which is scheduled for next weekend.

“I’m super excited for that and to just assist at the liturgies, being able to hold the chalice. That’s really what I’m looking forward to,” he says. “It’s an absolute blessing!”

Deacon Erin is jointly sponsored by the Diocese of Portland the Archdiocese for the Military Services. If he is ordained a priest, he will first serve here and then spend time as a Catholic military chaplain. In recognition of that, the concelebrants of the Mass included Bishop Joseph Coffey, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Military Services, as well as the vicar general, judicial vicar, and vocation director from the archdiocese. Also serving as principal concelebrants were priests from the Diocese of Portland and from Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, which all three of the newly ordained deacons attend.

Erin Donlon, Tien Hoa Nguyen, and Thanh Duc Pham
Opening procession
Knights of Columbus during opening procession
The sanctuary
Tien Hoa Nguyen and his family.
Thanh Duc Pham and his mother
The three ordinands stand before the bishop.
The three ordinands stand before the bishop.
The three ordinands listen to the homily.
Standing before the bishop
Promises of the Elect
Promises of the Elect
Lying prostrate
Lying prostrate
Bishop Ruggieri lays hands on Erin Donlon
Bishop Ruggieri lays hands on Thanh Duc Pham
Bishop Ruggieri lays hands on Tien Hoa Nguyen
Prayer of ordination
Bishop Ruggieri presents Deacon Donlon with the Book of the Gospels.
Bishop Ruggieri presents Thanh Duc Pham with the Book of the Gospels.
Bishop Ruggieri presents Tien Hoa Nugyen with the Book of the Gospels.
Deacon Guerin gives Deacon Erin Donlon a hug (fraternal kiss of peace)
Deacon Thanh Duc Pham receives a hug.