‘Icons of Christ the Servant’: Fourteen men answer the call to serve as permanent deacons

Denver Catholic Staff

On June 22, Bishop Jorge H. Rodriguez ordained 14 men to the permanent diaconate. “To serve is the highest honor in the Church,” Bishop Rodriguez told the men during his homily, and iterated that “deacons are icons of Christ the Servant” in the liturgy. Get to know each of the men and how they received their calls to the diaconate.

Daniel Cook, St. Mary (Breckenridge) and Our Lady of Peace (Silverthorne)

Deacon Cook heard his calling to the diaconate as he prayed with his wife in front of the San Damiano Cross during a pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy. St. Francis of Assisi has played an important role in his walk of faith: “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I received my calling in his hometown,” he said. As deacon, one of his greatest joys is “assisting the priest at the altar and distributing communion to the people.”

A.J. Misiti, Spirit of Christ (Arvada)

In his childhood, Deacon Misiti developed a great love for the Liturgy and the Eucharist as an altar server, and he considers this the beginning of his call to the diaconate. After moving with his family to Denver in 2011, that call became persistent. He thanks his wife, Liz, for being the most important person in this journey, and is “thrilled to get to serve our priests during the celebration of the Eucharist nearly every day.”

Chris Tranchetti, Our Lady of Loreto (Foxfield)

Deacon Tranchetti’s calling came “gradually.” Having served as a husband, father and U.S. Navy officer, he sees that “being ordained a deacon is not simply another manifestation along the continuum of my call to serve, but rather the capstone for a lifetime of service.” As a deacon, he hopes “to help and serve those in the universal church impacting not only human lives, but eternal souls”, and is excited to bring the hope of Christ to all he might encounter.

Pedro Reyes, St. William (Ft. Lupton)

Deacon Reyes had no idea God would call him so clearly to the diaconate during a retreat. While he was praying with his eyes closed, God allowed him to see himself vested as a Deacon at Mass. This led him to serve more as an altar server and eventually to the diaconate. “What brings the most joy and excitement… is that I will be able to show my love to and for God through all those I will be serving,” he said.

Huan Nguyen, Nativity of Our Lord (Broomfield)

Deacon Nguyen converted from Buddhism, after 18 years of marriage with his wife, Vana, who was Catholic. “My conversion began with several personal encounters with the Lord Jesus in the adoration chapel,” he said. After years of service to the Church with his wife, the call to the diaconate intensified. “It brings me joy to see the love of God as I encounter the people who are sick, dying, poor, homeless and less fortunate in our society [as a deacon],” he said.

Thinh Le, Our Lady of Fatima (Lakewood)

When a priest approached him to ask him if he had considered becoming a permanent deacon, Deacon Le didn’t know what that meant, “because there weren’t any in Vietnam,” he said. But after doing research, he felt God calling him. He took a break after his second year of formation to discern this calling further but returned four years later to finish it. “There is nothing more happy and joyful than when I know I’m not worthy of this vocation,” he said.

John Ferraro, St. Gianna Molla (Denver)

Deacon Ferraro first thought about the diaconate as a campus minister at Regis Jesuit High School but decided it was not the right time. Years later, he decided to take the step and see if God confirmed his calling. “God blessed me with graces that made it clear he had called me to this vocation,” he said. “What brings me joy about serving the Church as a deacon is being a conduit of Christ’s presence for the people I will serve.”

David Simonton, St. Thomas More (Centennial)

Six years ago, at the age of 53, Deacon Simonton heard the call to the permanent diaconate while in the adoration chapel at St. Thomas More. “Jesus was telling me, ‘Go, run, don’t walk … submit your request to enter the diaconate … NOW!’” he recalled. As a deacon – and a father of seven – he’s most excited about help people begin their journey of faith through baptism. “It doesn’t get any better than that, my friends,” he said.

Tom Piccone, Risen Christ (Denver)

Born and raised in Denver, Deacon Piccone has been a parishioner at St. Thomas More for the last 30 years. Over the course of many years helping with prison and youth ministry, he found purpose and joy in leading others to an encounter with Christ. While the patron of his home parish is important to him, “no patron is so important as our Blessed Mother,” he said. “We’re always seeking her help in following and growing closer to her son.”

Joseph Vu, All Saints (Denver)

Deacon Vu escaped from Vietnam in 1975 when communists took over Saigon City and came to the U.S. as a refugee. After discerning out of seminary and getting married, he eventually responded to the “fire-voice” that “burned in my heart” to serve God’s people. In addition to Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration, Deacon Vu attributes his vocation to Our Lady of LaVang. “I am humbled and give thanks to God for having called me to serve him daily,” he said.

Richard Hamilton, Our Lady of the Pines (Conifer)

Deacon Hamilton was called to the Church at 21 years old after a difficult time in his life. Happily married with three children, he said that he has “witnessed the Risen Christ” in the restoration of his marriage. After a 31-year career as an elementary school teacher, he now coordinates children’s ministries at St. Mary Parish in Littleton. As a deacon, his desire “is to help people, especially those who are suffering, to have a true meeting with Jesus Christ in their lives.”

Tim McCann, Guardian Angels (Mead)

After three separate invitations to consider the permanent diaconate within a two-week span, Deacon McCann decided to discern whether God was calling him to it. Turns out, he was. As a deacon, he is challenged to do ordinary things extraordinary well. “I can serve ordinarily, and the work may be done, but if I serve in love of God maybe that same service can be something more,” he said.

John Doubrava, Our Lady of the Plains (Byers)

On the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, Deacon Doubrava had a charismatic encounter with the Holy Spirit that planted the seed of his vocation. “After the encounter, I was left with a question: ’Now that I KNOW he is, now what?’” he said. Through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, it became clear that the permanent diaconate was what was next. He looks forward to joyfully serving others in Word, Liturgy and Charity.

Scott Ditch, Sts. Peter and Paul (Wheatridge)

After an invitation from the pastor at Spirit of Christ Parish, Deacon Ditch decided to look into the permanent diaconate and see what it was all about. Now, as a deacon, he’s grown to understand his prayer life better with the help of St. Teresa of Avila, and he looks forward to serving the people of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Wheatridge – all while retaining his job as Director of Information Technology at Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Foxfield.

Featured image by Brandon Young

COMING UP: Why stay in the Church?

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There are many people who have either left the Church or are currently considering leaving because of the scandals of recent decades. We have felt pain and righteous anger at our leaders and have suffered scandal from their betrayal. For some, the grand jury reports and lack of accountability for bishops have been the last straw. It’s hard to blame people for feeling this way, but we have to ask with Peter, “to whom, Lord, shall we go?” (John 6:68).

Significantly, this question comes after many disciples walked out on Jesus for his teaching on the Eucharist, and it is the Eucharist that should be at the center of any response to the crisis. Peter answers his own question: “you have the words of everlasting life” (John 6:68). The Church is Jesus’ own body in the world, and we are members of his mystical body, given eternal life by consuming his own flesh at Mass. Without the Eucharist, Jesus’ presence in the flesh, the very heart of the Church, where would we be?

Bishop Robert Barron echoes Peter’s question in a recent pamphlet-style book, with over a million copies in print, Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis (Word on Fire, 2019). He turns to the Bible and Church history to look for perspective on the crisis. Because of the centrality of the Eucharist in the Church, the betrayal of some of our priests and bishops takes on greater significance. They act in persona Christi at Mass, offering the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross to the Father, and we depend on them for our sacramental life.

Fortunately, the validity of the sacraments does not depend upon the sinlessness of priests, but rather the holiness of God. Barron points out, however, that priests will not get off easy, given the extremely harsh words that Jesus offers to those who lead children astray: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me;  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,  it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!” (Mt 18:7-9). Barron also references the punishment of Eli, in 1 Samuel 2-4, who as priest and judge of Israel watched his own sons, who were also priests, abuse the people. Barron argues that this scene gives us the best example of God’s retribution for allowing abuse to happen and not correcting it.

Barron also looks at the tumultuous story of Church history for context on the current crisis. Although the Church is the mystical body of Christ, he references St. Paul assertion that we bear our treasure in earthen vessels, as evidenced by the human weakness of Christians throughout history. In fact, this weakness manifests the Lord’s grace guiding and preserving the Church in spite of us. Barron quotes Belloc that a proof of the Church’s divine foundation “might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight” (43). Heresies, sinful popes, and sexual perversity have not fundamentally destroyed the Lord’s work, even if they have turned many people away. God has promised to remain with his Church and his providence will guide us especially through dark moments.

The crisis challenges us and raises the question of why we are Catholic. Most of us have been born Catholic and may take our faith for granted as something we’ve inherited from our parents. We may view belonging to the Church like membership in a voluntary organization. Rather, our life as members of Christ’s Body is a gift from God that changes our identity and unites us to God and our fellow Christians. As we experience challenges to faith, it is an opportunity to embrace this identity even more strongly — not as something that depends upon myself or anyone else in the Church, but on God. We go to Church to honor and thank him and to receive his grace, not to be a part of a human organization.

The Church is a family, called together by God, but, like any family, we experience pain from our own and each other’s sinfulness. As family, we can’t give up on each other, but have to “stay and fight” as Barron exhorts us, helping each other to be faithful to the mission that Jesus gave us: to love one another as he has loved us and to share the Good News of his salvation.

Featured Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash