Permanent deacons will be ordained April 13

By Mary P. Walker

Senior Correspondent

Bishop Joe Vásquez will ordain 11 men to the permanent diaconate April 13 at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Cedar Park.

Permanent deacons serve the church in the three-fold ministry of word, liturgy and charity. They proclaim, preach and teach the Gospel; baptize infants and witness marriages; and conduct wake, funeral and Communion services.

Men exploring the permanent diaconate must have strong faith, be at least 35 years of age, and feel called by God to serve the church. They and the church test this call through a process of discernment that continues throughout the five years of formation.

Diaconal formation begins with a year of aspirancy, during which the men are evaluated for their potential to develop into bridges between Christ and his followers. Men are then invited into candidacy, a four-year period of intense prayer, rigorous study, pastoral ministry and ongoing evaluation.

During candidacy, the men spend two Saturdays each month in the classroom, seeking to grow in four dimensions: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. Their studies include theology, Scripture, church history, Christology, pastoral care, homiletics and canon law. Wives are vital to their husbands’ formation and are encouraged to attend all the classes too, as well as the annual retreat.

The culmination of this formation program is receiving the sacrament of holy orders. When the bishop lays hands on each man, he prays, "May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment." Although deacons are assigned to parishes, where they are most visible to parishioners, they in fact report to the bishop and help him minister to the people of God throughout the diocese.

All of the candidates eagerly anticipate ordination. They are grateful to their wives, children and those who have helped them take time away from their families, jobs and parish responsibilities for the formation process. In addition, the candidates have expressed appreciation to those who have prepared them and walked with them on the journey toward ordination: their pastors, fellow parishioners, priests, religious sisters and brothers, teachers, deacons and all of those involved in the formation process.

Jeff Cadenhead of St. Anthony Marie de Claret Parish in Kyle has worked as an engineer and manager for 24 years. He is married to Margaret, and they have three children, ages 21 to 14. Raised as a Baptist, he began the process of becoming Catholic in 1997, and felt God urging him to use his gifts to build up the church. In 2007, he served as a director for a men’s retreat, where he experienced God’s call to the diaconate.

Being installed as an acolyte, one of the rites in the formation process, and serving at Mass have been life-changing experiences for him. "I came into the church as an adult, so I never had a chance to be an altar server and to witness the Mass from the altar," Cadenhead said.

During his formation, he joined a prison ministry team, and plans to continue in this service after ordination. He hopes to minister to those considering joining the Catholic Church and help adults become more educated in the faith.

A member of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Lampasas and the father of four adult children, David Cardon also believes God called him to the diaconate during a retreat. When he discussed this experience with his wife, Andrea, she told him that she too had felt God was calling her husband.

Today, Cardon is on the staff of Eagle’s Wings Retreat Center, which provides a Christ-centered retreat environment for Catholic and Christian youth. Retired from the Army after 22 years of service, Cardon was also a high school teacher for 11 years. As an educator himself, he was impressed with the quality of the academic, spiritual and pastoral classes that were part of the formation process. As a deacon, he looks forward to using his educational experience in the areas of adult catechesis and preparing couples for marriage. In addition, he feels a calling to help the poor.

Another candidate with military service and teaching experience is Jim DiSimoni of Holy Family Parish in Copperas Cove. He is a graduate of West Point with 20 years of active duty and reserve service, along with 17 years of public school teaching experience. He and his wife, Liz, are the parents of three adult children.

For him, discerning God’s call was a gradual process, unfolding during service in the parish, through the encouragement of family and friends, and periods of prayer and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

He described the formation process as a time of deepening his relationship with God through a more intense prayer life and the people he encountered. One highlight was his installation as an acolyte. As a deacon, he would like to visit the sick, comfort the bereaved, continue teaching adult religious education classes, and perhaps learn the skills needed to become a spiritual director.

Describing himself as a devout Catholic in love with Christ all of his life, Mike Forbes considered whether God was calling him to the diaconate for more than 10 years during a successful career in public service. He held staff positions with the New York legislature and the U.S. Congress, and was elected to three terms in the House of Representatives. Since 2001, he has been president of his own advocacy, public relations and marketing firm.

He and his wife, Barbara, are members of St. William Parish in Round Rock; they have two adult children and two children at home. Forbes credits the example of the four deacons is his parish with motivating him to begin a serious inquiry about formation.

The "street retreats," in which the candidates spent two days living on the streets with the homeless, and prison ministry were enlightening pastoral experiences. He remains open to ministering wherever God, through the bishop, calls.

The "street retreat" was also a profound pastoral experience for Curt Haffner of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Marble Falls. A retired executive with 25 years of experience in sales, marketing and management, he and his wife Katie have three adult children. The parish bulletin, which had a notice about the permanent diaconate, was the catalyst that got him to consider whether he was being called.

Prayer, encouragement and communication with family and friends helped him to further discern the call. As with all candidates, Haffner was challenged by the academic requirements of formation, especially writing papers. He particularly enjoyed the pastoral internship, and looks forward to serving God and God’s people as a deacon. He is drawn to the charitable acts of ministering to the sick, dying and grieving, and is a strong proponent of quality adult and youth catechesis.

Lee Jan is a doctor of veterinary medicine whose rich career history includes the Air Force and reserves, private practice and work in the public sector. Presently, he is a manager in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection-Veterinary Service. He and his wife, Vicki, are the parents of two adult children and are members of St. Paul Parish in Austin.

Jan has always loved being Catholic, and membership in the Knights of Columbus drew him into greater service for the church and community. While often wondering whether God wanted him to become a deacon, he finally heard the call clearly when he was asked by a deacon to consider the possibility.

Out of school for 30 years, Jan is especially appreciative of his wife, an English teacher, who critiqued the many papers he wrote for the formation classes. He too was moved by the street retreat, and has a particular love for helping the poor. Knowing that God often takes one’s life in unexpected, but rewarding, directions, he is open to serving wherever needed.

Also challenged by the academic requirements, John McCardle of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Cedar Park jokes that at first he spent as much time "googling" the meaning of words as he did reading. Delving into theological text requires different skills than those provided by his degree in math and career experience in diagnosing system hardware problems. However, the courses that "twisted his brain" were often the most rewarding.

Trying to ignore God’s call for many years, he and his wife, Mary, were busy with their two children, now adults. He characterizes his decision to listen as "probably the toughest choice" he has ever made. Because he has experienced great joy from that decision, he is grateful that God was so persistent.

With 26 years of experience as a catechist, McCardle hopes to share the blessings of his theological education with families. During formation, the pastoral experience of ministering to those in jail was particularly inspiring.

The pastoral experience of prison ministry also inspired Patrick Moran of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in College Station. He first heard God’s call to a life of service during a college mission trip to Peru. Following this call led him to become a youth minister in Houston and to work for Habitat for Humanity International. The seed planted on that mission trip eventually grew into a call to the diaconate.

Moran and his wife, Katy, have three young children, and he characterized the Saturdays away from home as the toughest part of formation. His parents took on childcare duties early in the morning so the couple could drive across the diocese together to attend classes. He is especially grateful for the spiritual direction he received during formation and the retreats.

Having recently completed a master’s in theology degree from St. Mary’s University, Moran feels called to be a witness and leader in the church’s mission of charity, and looks forward to serving as a deacon in any way God wills.

With degrees in chemical engineering and business administration, David Ochoa is an executive for a company that offers automation products and services to manufacturers all over the world. A "cradle Catholic," he is a charter member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Austin. His wife is Karen Rhodes-Ochoa, and they have three adult children.

Active in several ministries, Ochoa also served on the finance council for more than 10 years. He heard his call to the diaconate while engaged in retreat ministry, and explained that he and his family have received many blessings affirming the call. Although he found balancing the requirements of formation and the needs of his family and career challenging, the process allowed him to grow closer to God, who gives him the confidence and ability to serve others.

One of the most profound experiences during his formation was serving at a long-time friend’s wake and funeral Mass. After ordination, because he has already worked with parents preparing for the baptism of their children, he looks forward to administering the sacrament.

Ronnie Sykora of Church of the Assumption Parish in West has worked at his family’s car dealership for more than 30 years, and has a degree in business management and computer information systems. He and his wife, Sandra, have two adult children and a daughter who died as a child. Feeling that God was calling him to a deeper commitment, he became involved in retreat ministry and joined the Central Texas Fellowship of Catholic Men.

People started telling Sykora that he would make a good deacon, but he felt unworthy. When his pastor brought up the subject, he knew that God was indeed calling him. After broaching the idea with Sandra, she told him that she had known for a year that he was being called, but he had to figure that out for himself.

Saturdays in the auto business are busy, and Sykora is grateful that his family covered for him so that he could attend the classes. Because he loves every aspect of parish life, he enthusiastically anticipates serving God’s people after ordination.

With a degree and graduate work in geography, Tim Vande Vorde has worked for the Hays County Transportation Department for 15 years. Married to Teresa, they are members of St. Michael Parish in Uhland, and have three children, ages 13 through five months. While he was serving his parish as a lector and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, a parish deacon encouraged him to explore whether God was calling him. With his wife’s support and encouragement, he began the discernment process.

He too found the requirements of formation challenging. However, the friendship of his classmates and their spouses, developed over five years of classes, seminars, retreats and meetings, is a great blessing, he said. After ordination, in addition to helping couples prepare for the sacraments, he looks forward to witnessing marriages and baptizing infants. He also encourages other men, who might feel a calling to the diaconate or priesthood, to follow this inclination to see if that is God’s will for them.

All are welcome to pray for and support these newest members of the Catholic clergy at the April 13 ordination Mass at 10:30 a.m. at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Cedar Park. For more information about becoming a deacon, contact Deacon Dan Lupo at (512) 949-2411 or dan-lupo@austindiocese.org.