Bishop will ordain 17 permanent deacons on Nov. 19
By Mary P. Walker
Bishop Joe Vásquez will ordain 17 men to the permanent diaconate through the sacrament of holy orders Nov. 19 at St. William Parish in Round Rock.
Permanent deacons serve the church in the three-fold ministry of word, liturgy and charity. They proclaim, preach and teach the Gospel and serve at Mass; baptize infants and children under 7 years of age; witness marriages; and conduct wake, funeral and Communion services. In addition, deacons bring the presence of Christ to those in need in homes, parishes, hospitals, jails, nursing homes and homeless shelters.
Men in formation for the permanent diaconate must have strong faith, be at least 30 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 an annual retreat.
The new deacons will be assigned to parishes, but in fact, report to the bishop. All are grateful to their wives, children, fellow parishioners, pastors, priests, religious and friends who helped them on the journey. They also appreciate the guidance of Deacons Dan Lupo and Guadalupe Rodriguez, who served as formation directors, the diaconal formation team, and Philis Esquivel, the formation director for wives.
It is no surprise that Pete Barrera, father of six ranging in age from adult to newborn, found that juggling family responsibilities, his job and the requirements of formation were a big challenge. He and his wife, Misty, are members of St. Joseph Parish in Manor. Barrera is a faculty member at Austin Community College’s Surgical Technology Program.
In 2009, Barrera began learning more about the Catholic faith. Later, he mentioned to his wife that he might want to become a deacon. One Sunday before Mass, he prayed that God would give him a sign. He believes that the sign came after Mass, when a deacon in his parish invited him to an information session about the permanent diaconate.
For Barrera, the weekend “street retreat” during his first year of formation was a profound spiritual experience. On the retreat, the candidates, without money or phone, coexisted with the homeless and experienced the spiritual gift of solidarity.
Barrera praises the support he has received from his children and wife, and the sense of family that developed among the candidates and their wives. As a deacon, he looks forward to serving wherever needed.
“Manor is experiencing rapid growth. With that growth comes an increase in the spiritual needs of the community,” Barrera said.
Mike Beauvais of St. Anthony Parish in Bryan retired from the Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory of Texas A&M University after more than 27 years of service. Presently he is the director of religious education for his parish.
His discernment began when his wife, Marian, invited him to attend diocesan catechetical classes, which ignited his faith.
Inspired by a deacon in his parish, he began to think about the diaconate. His pastor suggested he pursue a graduate degree in theology, which he earned from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. Yet, he sensed that God might be calling him to a greater level of commitment. With the encouragement of his pastor, he began the formation process.
He has enjoyed the bond of brotherhood with fellow candidates, and has been challenged to serve from his heart. “The diaconate ministry is very much about being present to people and less about being able to solve every problem,” Beauvais said. He is grateful for the help of his wife and the sacrifices she will continue to make to support the ministry.
As a deacon, he especially looks forward to baptizing children. Because baptisms are happy events in the life of a family, they are wonderful opportunities to bring the promise of our faith to a troubled world, he said.
Michael Glenn of St. John Neumann Parish in Austin is married to Lisa, and they have three adult children. He works for Travis County in information technology support. Prior to that, he was an insurance agent for the Knights of Columbus.
He began his journey toward ordination in 2001, when Deacon Glen Jenkins asked him if he had ever considered becoming a deacon. Deacon Jenkins asked again in 2005. Glenn considered whether God was calling him, but believed that his family responsibilities would not leave enough time for formation. Lisa then told him that she believed God was calling him, but had not approached the subject because he had never before expressed interest. When their youngest was a senior in high school, at Lisa’s promptings, they attended an information session for the current class. He is grateful for her ongoing support.
Formation made Glenn put aside his preconceived notions about God and his Catholic faith, and be open to a spirit of understanding.
“The God I love now pales in comparison to the one I will come to know as long as I continue to stay awake and open to the mystery,” Glenn said.
After ordination, he hopes to work with couples preparing for marriage, and men and women engaged in the annulment process.
Like a number of the candidates, Robert Gutierrez served in the military, and is a former Marine. Presently, he is an administrator for San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District and a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in San Marcos. Married to Irene, they have two adult sons.
Fifteen years ago, he attended a parish retreat where he had a conversion experience. Recognizing that he had to make Jesus the center of his life, he asked Our Lord to show him how to follow his will. This eventually led to the diaconate.
Submitting himself to the formation process was a leap of faith. “I had to trust that the Holy Spirit and the formation would change and fulfill me. It was not long before I realized that what was happening to me was not of earth,” Gutierrez said.
With this trust came many blessings for him and his wife, and he has been humbled by the prayers and support of his family.
The street retreat changed the way he perceived our marginalized brothers and sisters in Christ. Also, formation has given him a greater appreciation for the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. After ordination, he wants to minister at the Juvenile Detention Center and visit the homebound.
A member of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Cedar Park, Brian Hill is an audiologist and Gulf War veteran who served in the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps for 12 years. He is married to Michelle, and they have two adult daughters.
The example of his parents, his health care career and parish ministries prepared him to answer God’s call to the diaconate. Like his fellow candidates, he expressed gratitude for God’s help, his wife’s support, and his family’s prayers and understanding to manage the time needed for formation.
The process made him want to become more like Christ the Servant by being with the poor on the streets, comforting mourners, ministering to the sick and helping people prepare for marriage and baptism. He described his work in jail ministry, where he offered reflections on the Sunday Mass readings, as a humbling experience. Although he had prepared ahead of time, he believes that the Holy Spirit helped him adjust his reflections to make the messages more meaningful to the men in the county jail.
After ordination, he looks forward to sacramental ministry.
“With great joy and anticipation, I can’t wait to be the minister of the sacrament of baptism!” Hill said.
Also having military experience as an Army paratrooper medic and Air Force medical officer, Gordon Lee is a physician assistant practicing in clinics and hospitals, and a board member of an organization that provides opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
A member of St. Mary Parish in Mexia, he is married to Barbara, and they have two adult children, one of whom has special needs and lives at home. He is especially grateful for the support of his wife, son and in-laws along this journey.
Lee’s discernment began in 2006, while serving as a parish catechist preparing young men and women for the sacrament of confirmation. During formation, he formed strong friendships with the candidates in his distance learning and small groups, and he too treasures the experience of the street retreats.
As a deacon, he looks forward to ministering to youth and those of Hispanic heritage. He also highlights the importance of prayer as the foundation of his faith journey. He paraphrased St. Teresa of Calcutta, saying, “Prayer leads to faith; faith leads to love; love leads to service.”
Javier Maldonado of St. Louis Parish in Austin holds an undergraduate degree in civil engineering from the University of Texas in El Paso, and was an environmental engineer for the state for 33 years. Receiving his certification as a professional engineer, Maldonado was a supervisor for 17 years. Recently retired, he is married to Martha, and they have three adult daughters.
When a friend invited the Maldonados to an information session on the diaconate, his discernment began. Formation offered him an opportunity to learn more about the Catholic faith and better understand “why we do what we do.” He was also amazed at the ways in which God helped him through the challenges, and praised his family, friends and parish for their support and encouragement.
Maldonado too was particularly impressed with the street retreat experience.
“I only got a taste of what living on the street is like, and there is a world of difference between knowing about it and experiencing it,” he said.
As a deacon he wants to promote family life, especially by preparing couples for the sacrament of marriage and the baptism of their children.
A member of St. Thomas More Parish in Austin, Pat O’Beirne is married to Laurie, and they have four children, ranging in age from 24 to 13. Because the children have all attended St. Theresa’s Catholic School, the family is also active in that parish.
O’Beirne has spent all of his working career in the financial services industry, and is currently a commercial banking manager. From a young age, he prayed for vocations and wondered if God was calling him to the priesthood. However, as he got older, he discerned that God was calling him to married life. For years, he considered whether he had a vocation to the diaconate, but his family and busy work life were his focus.
“A number of men, a deacon, and a priest caused me to move forward,” said O’Beirne, who is grateful for the support of his family. Keeping up with the academic preparation of extensive reading and writing papers was a challenge for him. However, this education also offered the rewards of “getting to know the richness and genius of Catholicism!”
Open to wherever he can serve God’s people, O’Beirne is particularly interested in spiritual direction, hospital ministry, ministering to those going through difficult times and helping those seeking annulments.
Mark Olivieri of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in College Station is married to Lisa, and they have three adult sons. With a degree in computer science and an MBA, his career focuses on software development and management.
On a silent retreat more than 12 years ago, Olivieri sensed a call to commit himself more to serving others, perhaps through the diaconate. After seeking spiritual direction, he decided to wait until his sons were older. A few years later, he was a small group leader on a youth confirmation retreat. Deacon Ron Fernandes, then in formation himself, asked him if he had ever considered the diaconate. Olivieri realized that the time had come to take action.
He appreciates the relationships he and his wife have made with other couples during the formation process, and his ability to see more of God’s presence in his life. His wife and sons have supported him in the journey and told him that the process has made him a better man.
During one of the formation internships in 2013, Olivieri was introduced to prison ministry, which he continues to this day. “I have been blessed to participate in many conversations about the Catholic faith. The men are eager to learn about and grow closer to God,” he said.
A retired Army veteran with 21 years of service, Al Ponce is currently the director of information systems for a waste management company. Married to Debbie, they have two adult children and are members of St. Paul Chong Hasang Parish in Harker Heights.
As he progressed through leadership responsibilities in the Army, Ponce was drawn deeper into his faith. When deployed, he would take the Eucharist to the troops in the field.
“Something greater was happening in my life. I decided to retire from the military to pursue this deeper call and also be more with my family,” Ponce said. A dream of the Virgin Mary led him to become more active in his parish through the Knights of Columbus, the Cursillo Movement and other ministries.
With his pastor’s assistance, he participated in the Diocesan Institute for Ecclesial Ministry, where he heard God’s call to the diaconate. He appreciates the understanding and affirmation of his family, friends and parishioners when he answered this call.
Through formation, Ponce grew to understand more about the unconditional love that Jesus has for each of us and that we are all special and cherished by him. As a deacon, he hopes to convey this message when visiting the sick and homebound, and ministering to our homeless brothers and sisters.
Joe Ramos of St. Joseph Parish in Killeen is married to Madonna, and they have four adult children. Much of his career has been spent in law enforcement. He retired after 30 years as an investigator with the state police and is currently a homicide investigator for the Bell County Sheriff’s Department.
His journey to the diaconate came after he turned to Christ in a more prayerful way when his son was a victim of a crime. When praying for protection for his family and for all young people, he also asked God how he could better serve him. He believes God answered by calling him to the diaconate.
He is grateful for the prayers of his wife and the support of his family. Learning about the faith, the marriage retreat for couples, and the street retreat were key elements of his formation. As a deacon, he hopes to get more men involved in their faith and parish life.
“As a young man, I was raised to know God. As a husband and father, I learned to trust in Jesus Christ. But, it’s been during formation that I’ve come to know, love and rely on the Holy Spirit,” Ramos said.
Greg Sudderth began his discernment while away from home. With 20 years of service as an Air Force pilot, he is married to Kathy and they have three adult children. They are members of St. Mary Parish in Wimberley.
After retiring from the military, he joined a commercial airline, which took him away from home four days a week.
“I often found myself in deep thought about the most important parts of my life that I was missing, which gradually led to a deeper interest in Scripture and a renewed devotion to my faith,” Sudderth said.
He credits a retreat with accelerating his faith journey. He briefly considered becoming a deacon, but dismissed the idea because he was away so much. After he retired again, he and his wife attended an informational meeting about the diaconate.
Sudderth characterizes his journey toward ordination as one step at a time, where he developed a deeper awareness of his desire to be with God and a more profound appreciation for his wife and family, and the life they are sharing. After ordination, he looks forward to teaching others about the faith through prison ministry, working with those who are seeking to become Catholic, and adult education.
Married to Denise with three adult children, Thomas Suniga is a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Austin. With a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas, he has been an engineer for 26 years.
A retreat in 2003 revitalized his faith, and Suniga became more active in parish ministries. In 2008, he applied to the diaconate, but postponed formation until his youngest child was out of high school. He reapplied in 2011.
A difficult part of formation was stepping back from parish ministry to focus on coursework.
“I was trying to define what formation was about, instead of trusting my formators and the Holy Spirit to guide me,” Suniga said.
He said he will never forget the hospitality the homeless showed to him during the street retreat. He also expressed appreciation for the support of his family, and the friendships he and his wife made with the other couples in formation. Another memorable event was when a prisoner asked him for a blessing. Although Suniga felt he was unworthy, the Holy Spirit used him as an instrument to pass on a blessing from God.
After ordination, he looks forward to serving wherever God leads, and expects that this means stretching beyond his “comfort zone.”
Geoffrey Unger is a member of St. Martin de Porres Parish in Dripping Springs. Married to Gretchen, they have five children, ages 16 through 6. He holds a law degree from the University of Texas, has been a practicing attorney for 20 years, and is the owner of a Catholic bookstore.
He said his entire adult life has pointed him in the direction of the diaconate, as he hopes to be a visible sign of the church in the community. Praising his wife and children for the sacrifices they have made, he said that the formation process has brought them closer together.
One of experiences that stands out in his mind during formation was being at the deathbed of his best friend’s father.
“Had I not been in formation, I do not believe I could have or would have known how to be ‘church’ to them. It was an incredible and ‘forming’ experience,” Unger said. He has also gained a deeper understanding of the greatness of God, and that in embracing God totally, we have complete freedom. After ordination, he hopes to bring his gift for teaching to any ministry where it is needed.
Ernesto Valenzuela is a licensed master electrician with extensive construction and supervisory experience. He and his wife, Bennie, are members of St. Mary Parish in Caldwell and have three adult children.
In the early and mid-1990s, Valenzuela became aware of an ache in his heart that he could not identify. A profound spiritual experience during a Cursillo retreat in 2000 showed him that this yearning was for a complete union with God. He imagined himself being questioned as Peter was when Jesus asked, “Do you love me?” With the support of his wife and family, the longing to respond with his complete self eventually led to the diaconate.
Because he had always hoped to continue his education, Valenzuela welcomed the academic rigors of formation and the courses at St. Thomas University.
“I found pearls in everything that we have studied,” Valenzuela said. His greatest challenge involved managing the time needed for work, his family, his studies and ministry commitments, and putting time aside to work in solitude. However, he tried to make sure that these challenges did not take away the joy he had found in following the Lord.
After ordination, he hopes to continue in hospital ministry, where he can be a sign of Christ’s caring presence to the sick and their families.
Bob van Til is married to Tricia and they have two sons, one a college student and one a sophomore in high school. They are members of St. Patrick Parish in Hutto. With a graduate degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Texas at Arlington, he has worked in municipal government for almost 30 years, presently with a housing authority.
Although he is not sure when God began calling him to the diaconate, perhaps in early adulthood, van Til began to seriously discern this vocation at the invitation of a deacon in his parish.
“The formation process is a true test of the call to the diaconate. It challenges you to evaluate your response constantly,” van Til said.
He too was challenged with the time requirements of formation and balancing the responsibilities of his studies, job and family. Looking back at the time he spent in formation, van Til indicated that every single minute brought rewards. He is grateful for the friendships he has made, and especially appreciates the support and sacrifice of his family during this process. After ordination, he looks forward to serving God’s people wherever needed.
St. John Vianney Parish in Round Rock is home to Rudy Villarreal and his wife, Katrina. They have four children, ages 8 to 19. In addition, they say that they have more than 50 other children in a Honduran orphanage in a missionary program they started in cooperation with their parish and Friends of Los Niños.
Most of his career has been spent working with people receiving medical assistance and long-term services, and he is employed by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. While attending St. Mary’s University to receive a graduate degree in theology, Villarreal considered joining the Marianists, but felt a stronger call to family life.
Yet, he also received many affirmations that God was calling him to the diaconate, and pursing this call seemed to be a natural progression in his life. He too experienced the challenges of the time commitment of formation, and appreciates the sacrifices his wife and family have made.
After ordination, Villarreal hopes to share the Gospel message through the skills he has developed during the formation process.
“I really enjoy preaching and teaching. I believe that the years of formation as a public speaker have been for a purpose: to enable me to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who can’t come, don’t come, or won’t come, to church,” Villarreal said.
For more information on the permanent diaconate, contact your pastor, or call (512) 949-2459.