PROVIDENCE — A renowned 13th century deacon once answered Christ’s call to rebuild his church.
“The rest, as they say, is history. The story of St. Francis of Assisi is very well known,” Bishop Thomas J. Tobin said Oct. 24 during the ordination of nine men to the permanent diaconate.
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Just as St. Francis of Assisi, who was a deacon, went about preaching the Gospel and serving the faithful of his day, the men who were recently ordained deacons for the Diocese of Providence have also been tasked with building up the Church of the 21st century, he said.
“My dear brothers, today the Lord is speaking to you once again to say, ‘Rebuild my church,’” the bishop said during his homily at the ordination Mass, which was held at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.
Noting the scaffolding and construction equipment around the cathedral, which is under renovation, Bishop Tobin said the new deacons, who will serve in parishes and diocesan ministries, share in St. Francis’ mission to rebuild and reform the church of their time.
“The church everywhere faces many difficult challenges today,” Bishop Tobin said. “You might say that this church too is in need of renewal and revitalization.”
In January 2016, Bishop Tobin authorized the recruitment, training and ordaining of a new class of permanent deacons for the Diocese of Providence. The Diocesan Diaconate Office and the Theology Department at Providence College prepared the men for their new roles of service in the Church. They went through a four-year formation process that consisted of academic classes, spiritual development and practical pastoral experience.
“It feels like the first class at Providence College was just yesterday,” said Deacon Oscar Manuel Rivas, who was ordained on Oct. 24 and was preparing to preach at his first Mass the next morning at St. Edward Church in Providence, his parish assignment.
Deacon Rivas, 52, a full-time professional engineer who will also serve the diocesan Office of Life and Family, said he was living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, several years ago when a priest asked if he wanted to consider becoming a deacon. At the time, he said no because he did not expect to stay in Pennsylvania.
But when he returned to Rhode Island and was asked again by a Spanish ministry coordinator if he wanted to discern the permanent diaconate, Deacon Rivas said “yes.”
“That was the second time God called me. I wasn’t going to say no this time,” said Deacon Rivas, who was accompanied by his wife, Maria, and their two adult children. His wife’s support was critical to his discernment and formation.
“She’s been wonderful,” Deacon Rivas said. “I could not have made it without her.”
At ordination, a permanent deacon promises obedience to the local bishop and his successors. Restored by the Second Vatican Council, men ordained to the permanent diaconate proclaim the Gospel, oftentimes preaching, assist during the liturgy, and may celebrate baptisms and officiate at marriages.
Permanent deacons — many of whom are married with families and professional secular careers — promise to be men of prayer, and commit themselves to reciting daily the Liturgy of the Hours. They also serve in a variety of ministries at the parish and diocesan levels.
Preaching on the ordination Mass readings, which included a passage from the Book of Numbers, Bishop Tobin said the role of service “has always been an essential part of salvation history from the very beginning.”
“Thank you so much for listening to God’s call, that you responded to the Lord with very open and generous hearts,” Bishop Tobin said. “Your commitment to the formation program has been very admirable, a program that has required many sacrifices of you and your family.”
The Rite of Ordination included the Promises of the Elect and the Litany of Supplication, during which the new permanent deacons prostrated themselves in front of the altar while the congregation invoked the intercession of the saints.
Following ancient Apostolic tradition, Bishop Tobin ordained the men deacons through the laying on of hands and the prayer of ordination. With the assistance of other clergy, they were then vested for the first time in stole, worn over their left shoulders and fastened to the side, and dalmatic.
“I just pray with God’s help that I’m able to serve him worthily. That’s all I want to do,” said Deacon David Edward Gillis, who will be assigned at St. Margaret Church in Rumford and will assist the Project Emmanuel outreach ministry at St. Patrick Church in Providence.
Deacon Gillis, 59, a former journalist and copy editor for the Boston Globe, had a first-class relic of St. Therese of Lisieux that a priest had lent him underneath his white alb. Married with a daughter, Deacon Gillis said he began discerning the permanent diaconate a couple of years after he had a conversion experience that reconciled him to the Church on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in 2010.
“I gave my life back to Jesus, through his Mother Mary,” said Deacon Gillis, who was briefly overcome with emotion in describing himself as a “poster boy” for anyone who is worried about a loved one who is away from the Church.
“I said, ‘No,’ to God for so many years,” Deacon Gillis said. “When I decided to start saying, ‘Yes,’ there was no looking back.”
Deacon Brian Bradford Callahan, 50, who will be assigned to Saints Rose and Clement Church in Warwick, described the experience of being ordained a permanent deacon as a “surreal, Spirit-filled” day.
“But that’s what the Holy Spirit is. He brings life to everything,” said Deacon Callahan, who is married with two teenagers and teaches English at Pilgrim High School in Warwick. He will also be working with the diocesan Office of Catholic Youth Ministry.
Without the support of his wife and children, Deacon Callahan said his ordination would not have been possible.
“They are along with us in this journey,” Deacon Callahan said. “They may not be present in the sanctuary, and they may not be at the cemeteries with us, but they sacrifice all the time that we’re away. So this is a true gift that we’ve been given.”
The other men who were ordained permanent deacons on Oct. 24 also include Joseph John Clossick, Joseph James Day, Jason Albert Gardner, Alexander Joseph Marchetti Jr., John Monarch Regan Jr., and Steven Raymond Valliere.
A tenth candidate who underwent formation in the four-year diocesan diaconate program, Deacon Farid Zaarour, was ordained at St. George Maronite Parish on Oct. 10. Deacon Zaarour was in attendance Saturday at the ordination of deacons.
The Diocese of Providence joyfully announces the ordination of:
Brian Callahan, 50
To serve at SS. Rose and Clement, Warwick; Office of Youth Ministry
Joseph Clossick, 54
To serve at St. Thomas More, Narragansett
Joseph Day, 37
To serve at St. Phillip, Greenville
Jason Gardner, 49
To serve at Holy Trinity,
David Gillis, 59
To serve at St. Margaret Church, Rumford; Project Emmanuel
Alex Marchetti, 57
To serve at St. Anthony Church, West Warwick; Prison Ministry
John Regan, 57
To serve at St. Joseph,
Oscar Rivas, 52
To serve at St. Edward;
Office of Life and Family
Steven Valliere, 59
To serve at Blessed Sacrament Church, Providence