Diaconate class takes key step on faith journey

23 permanent deacon aspirants take part in Rite of Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders

‘A PUBLIC PROCLAMATION’ Bishop Richard F. Stika questions the group of deacon aspirants gathered in front of him at All Saints Church during the Rite of Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders. Photo by Deacon Patrick Murphy-Racey

‘A PUBLIC PROCLAMATION’ Bishop Richard F. Stika questions the group of deacon aspirants gathered in front of him at All Saints Church during the Rite of Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders. Photo by Deacon Patrick Murphy-Racey

Newly admitted deacon candidate David M. Oatney said he and his fellow members of the Diocese of Knoxville’s next diaconate class “are really not at a midpoint” after two and a half years of study “but at a continuing place in our journey.”

Mr. Oatney made his remarks after he and 22 other men in the diocese’s next deacon class took their first major public step Oct. 12 at All Saints Church in Knoxville as they participated in the Rite of Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders.

The men are halfway through their five-year-long studies for the permanent diaconate.

Bishop Richard F. Stika, calling it “a major step in the religious formation” of the future deacons, presided at the candidacy Mass. Concelebrants were Father Charlie Burton, Father Ron Franco, CSP, Father Pontian Kiyimba, and host pastor Father Michael Woods. More than 20 permanent deacons attended as well.

“In a particular way, as my brothers this day make this step in their direction towards eventual ordination to the diaconate, they take what is called candidacy, a public proclamation that, ‘yes, I’m studying for the diaconate, to be of service to God’s people,’” Bishop Stika said.

The new deacon candidates also include Hicks Armor, William D. Bitzer, Gilbert T. Campos II, John F. DeClue, James M. Duncan, Bernard M. Feldhaus, Albert T. Forsythe, Donald R. Griffith, Stephan P. Helmbrecht, Michael Humphreys, Robert H. Ketteringham, Scott Maentz, Durwood Byron Maples, Stephen A. May, Dennis L. Meinert, Peter A. Minneci, Walter D. Otey, Stephen E. Ratterman Sr., Larry R. Rossini, Phillip M. Talmadge, Thomas T. Tidwell Jr., and Fredy T. Vargas. Mr. Armor proclaimed the first reading of the Mass in English, and Mr. Vargas proclaimed the second reading in Spanish.

“The diocese now recognizes where we are and the work that we’ve been doing and that we are taking a public step, that we acknowledge that we’re ready to move forward in discernment,” Mr. Oatney said. “And the bishop also acknowledges that, so that’s really what it meant to me. I was thinking about that coming over here today, and I was praying the office on the way over. The prayers for today really spoke to me because the readings were really appropriate for the occasion.”

Mr. Oatney said the deacon candidates’ studies “for the most part have been quite difficult.”

“They’ve not been lax with us at all. We have had a couple of instructors who I would say have been generous to say the least, but most of the time, very few months go by that we don’t have a paper to write. … It’s been very difficult work but well worth it, and we learn a lot about the Church.”

In his homily, Bishop Stika said, “the thing I most admire about the permanent diaconate, which was restored in the ’70s by Pope Paul VI, of blessed memory, was that these men for the most part are still working.

“They have jobs like everyone else, and yet they gather together on weekends to study over five years to learn about theology, to learn about Scripture, to learn about even canon law, to learn how to preach the word of God, to learn how to be a person of prayer. That’s why I admire them so much. . . .

“You see, that’s what the beauty of the Church is. The Lord calls each and every one of us in our lives by virtue of who we are to build his kingdom, whether you’re single, whether you’re married, whether you’re celibate, whether you’re a bishop or a priest or a deacon or a religious, whether you’re kind of lukewarm in your faith or filled with the vitality and energy and grace of a person who realizes that God loves them.”

The bishop pointed out the dalmatic worn by the deacons.

“It’s a vestment with sleeves because in some ways they’re supposed to roll up their sleeves and do the work of the Church,” he said.

Following the homily, the deacon aspirants were called forward individually. Bishop Stika then questioned the group, and after the recitation of the Creed, invited all present to pray for the newly admitted candidates.

Mr. Armor called it a “milestone” to reach the candidacy stage after two and a half years.

“It’s a long journey, but it’s been very special for all of us,” he said. “We’ve learned a lot about our faith and what God means to us.”

Mr. Armor is a nephew of the late Deacon Thomas Johnson of Chattanooga.

“It’s been especially good for me: my uncle was a deacon, and I got to carry his pyx,” Mr. Armor said. “He passed away about 20 years ago, and this afternoon his wife brought it for me to use tonight, so it was very special. He was one of the first deacons for the Diocese of Knoxville. I think they actually trained with Nashville, but he was a deacon with the Diocese of Knoxville when they began before he passed away.”

The deacon studies have been difficult, Mr. Armor said, “but I think the Lord inspires us, and we’re learning about our faith. Even though you’re reading two or three books a month on theology or ecclesiology, you’re really learning the depth of your faith. It’s really been a blessing for all of us.”

Deacon Tim Elliott, the diocese’s director of deacons, said the Rite of Admission to Candidacy was a “beautiful ceremony, and having the bishop pray with the men was just outstanding.” He said it signifies that “we’re halfway there, but we still have an awful lot of growth to go.”

“The formation isn’t over—this is just the very first step in recognition, the first public recognition of who the men are that are moving forward,” Deacon Elliott said.