‘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: The priesthood is more than just a job

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In October, the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region will be held at the Vatican. On the agenda: a discussion on the possibility of ordaining married men to the priesthood in that region, due to a particularly dire lack of vocations. The news has reawakened discussion on priestly celibacy in general, and whether the time has come to relax the requirement on a wider level. And so, I figured it was time to revisit the subject here, as well.

To set the tone, I’d like to begin my discussion with a very short quiz:

Q: Why does the Roman Catholic Church require lifelong celibacy for ordained priests?

  1. Because sex is bad, dirty and evil, and our priests should not defile themselves;
  2. Because we don’t want to have to support priests’ families out of collection funds;
  3. None of the above; or
  4. Both of the above.

The correct answer would be C, none of the above.

So why, then? Why on earth would these men have to give up the possibility of marriage and children, just because they want to serve God as priests?

Priestly celibacy is a discipline of the Church, not a doctrine. It could change. The rule has already been relaxed in relation to married Episcopalian priests who convert to Catholicism. In this era of widespread priest shortages, and even wider-spread scandals, should we consider expanding that exemption, and remove the requirement of priestly celibacy entirely? Wouldn’t a married priesthood encourage more men, and perhaps healthier men, to respond to the call of God?

Perhaps. But at what cost?

Discussions about the elimination of priestly celibacy are not new. They’ve been around as long as priestly celibacy itself. One of the periods of particularly spirited discussion on the subject was in the late 1960’s. In response, Pope Paul VI wrote an encyclical entitled Sacerdotalis Caelibatus. In it, he explained the reasons for the Church’s long history of priestly celibacy, and he enumerated three “significances,” or reasons, for the tradition:

Christological: The priesthood isn’t just a job. It is a state of being. It encompasses his entire existence. It places a mark on his soul — a mark that will follow him into eternity. The priest is ordained by a bishop, who was ordained by a bishop, who was ordained by another bishop, in an unbroken chain that goes clear back to the apostles. And through that sacramental ordination, and the power and grace it conveys, the priest stands in persona Christi —  in the person of Christ. He has the power to consecrate the Eucharist — to turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. He can forgive sins.  And so, standing in the person of Christ, the priest seeks to be like him in all things. He imitates Christ’s life, which includes Christ’s celibacy.

But, you say, Christ also had a beard. Does the priest have to imitate that, too? How far do we have to take this whole imitation thing? Well, the question we must ask is: What was integral to Christ’s ministry? Was celibacy integral? What would it look like if Christ had married and had children? He would have had to work to support them. He would have had to provide them a home.  No iterate preaching, moving from town to town. Jesus was not going to be an absentee husband and father. It was the freedom of celibacy that allowed him to give himself totally to the service of the Father and the Father’s children. So yes, I’d say it was integral. The beard, not so much.

Ecclesiological:  This basically means it is about the Church. Our understanding of a priest is not that he’s a single guy, a bachelor. He, like Christ, is in fact “married” to the Church. You’ve heard all that talk about how the Church is the “bride of Christ.” We really believe that. And the priest, standing in persona Christi, likewise becomes the Bridegroom, giving his life for the Church, and especially for the part of the Church he serves. He doesn’t just offer his “workday” to us, the flock.  He offers his life. He serves us as a husband serves his wife. (And we the faithful, as good “wives”, should likewise be going out of our way to love and care for our priests.)  His attention and affections are not divided between his bride, the Church, and an earthly bride and family. He has far greater freedom than a married man — freedom to not only serve his flock, but to pray and meditate and to grow closer to the Christ whom he represents on this earth. Which then prepares him for further service to the flock.

Eschatological: This means it’s about the next life. Remember my last column, about the Poor Clare Sisters who make the radical choice to live this life as if were already eternal life, focusing only on Christ? Well, priests participate in that too. Scripture says that, in Heaven, we will neither marry nor be given in marriage. (Mt 22:30) Priests and consecrated religious foreshadow that here, reminding us that everything that happens in this life is just a prelude to the life to come.

And so, for all of these reasons, I oppose the wholesale elimination of the requirement of priestly celibacy. I realize that we already have exceptions. I know several of those “exceptions,” and I think they are wonderful people and wonderful priests. But I think they would acknowledge the difference between the exception and the rule, and that the loss of priestly celibacy would change our understanding of the character and charism of the priesthood. The priesthood would be increasingly perceived as just another career choice — one to be entered and left at will.

And whatever the priesthood may be, it is definitely not just another job.

Featured image by Josh Applegate on Unsplash