First deacon ordained in new cathedral

Deacon Mark Schuster made diocesan history June 2 as the seminarian became the first man to be ordained in the new Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

By Dan McWilliams

“What a great joy it is for us all to gather together with Mark and with his mom and dad and with his family as we celebrate again as the family of the Diocese of Knoxville another ordination, this day to the transitional diaconate,” Bishop Richard F. Stika said in his welcoming remarks. “Mark marks history today because he’s the first person to be ordained in this new cathedral — the first, we pray, of hundreds.

“So as we gather together this day we give thanks to almighty God, and we pray for Mark and for his willingness to say ‘yes’ to the Lord.”

Bishop Stika was the principal celebrant of the ordination Mass. With him were Cardinal Justin Rigali, vicar for priests Monsignor Patrick Garrity, three diocesan deans — Father Michael Cummins, Father Doug Owens, and Father Ron Franco, CSP — and more than 30 priests and more than 20 deacons overall. Among the priests was Father Bede Cisco, OSB, director of spiritual formation at St. Meinrad School of Theology, which Deacon Schuster attends. Women religious and members of the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem also attended the ordination Mass. Plus, it took three pews to hold all of the ordinand’s family members who attended, including parents Maureen and William Schuster.

The election of the candidate took place after the readings were concluded. When called forward, Mr. Schuster answered, “Present.”

Father Joe Reed, diocesan director of vocations, testified of Mr. Schuster “that he has been found worthy” to be ordained to the responsibility of the diaconate.

Bishop Stika then replied, “Relying on the help of the Lord God and our savior, Jesus Christ, we choose him, our brother, for the order of the diaconate.”

A long applause followed the bishop’s words.

“I want to give thanks to almighty God for [the ordinand’s] family: his mom and dad, his brother …” Bishop Stika said as he began his homily. “I want to thank you and the family and all of you who are here today who have helped Mark come to this moment in his life but also in the life of the Church.”

The bishop then asked, “Who is he?” about Mr. Schuster.

“He was born Sept. 29, 1977 — I feel kind of old. The feast of the Archangels. He was baptized by Father Weigel on Oct. 23, 1977. On May 29, 1994, he was confirmed by Bishop John Smith. And on April 26, I forgot to write down the year, he received Jesus for the first time. And now on this June day, he will receive a gift from the Church, because he has accepted the call of Jesus, although he fought it a bit, to be of service to the Catholic Church of East Tennessee.”

Mr. Schuster, the bishop reported, “…graduated from UT with a degree in history and geology. Apparently he didn’t want a job, but ‘upon this rock I will build my Church,’” the bishop said. “And he really understands that. He traveled around the world. He has a special relationship to St. Faustina.

“He fought the vocation. He probably didn’t fight it; he’s probably like most men who are called to the ordination. He had some doubts. He took different journeys, but he was always connected to the Church. Throughout his whole life, he’s been connected to the Church. Whether it’s singing in choirs or playing the bass, or participating in young-adult groups. He’s always been connected to the Church. So to Mom and Dad and the family, I’ve just got to compliment you.”

The bishop asked another question: “What does it mean to be a deacon?”

“As you know, there are two facets of the diaconate,” he said. “One is called transitional and the other permanent. Permanent deacons are men who have been called forth by Jesus to be of service to the Church but for the most part are in the married state. We’ve got a bunch here today, and I thank them for being here on this Saturday in June. They serve the Church in a particular way.

“But we also have the transitional deacons. … He’s moving from one part of holy orders to another. … The Church reminds us that the diaconate is a very particular ministry dating back to the early Church. In fact, the first ministers of the Church besides the apostles were deacons. And in this day and age some people wonder, who is a deacon? That’s a good question to ask, for a deacon to ask. ‘Who am I as a deacon?’”

A deacon “is called by God to be of service to the people in charity, in serving at the altar, to being the face of Jesus. It’s as simple as that,” Bishop Stika said. “Now that involves different aspects of our Christian faith, because all of us are called to be of service to each other, and all of us are called to gather around the altar. But the deacon does it as a public person acting in the person of Jesus in a particular way.”

The bishop referred to the promises the future deacon would make to him after the homily.

“You’re going to make promises to follow Jesus and to be Jesus to others,” he said. “Remember in the Scriptures there’s a passage: ‘Sir, I wish to see Jesus.’ Allow that to be something that’s part of your life, that when someone is searching, searching for truth or understanding of the sacred Scriptures or for who we are as Catholics, as Christians — be open to them as they come to you. And also be open to them as they teach you, because your seminary days are really never over.”

The ordinand would later “resolve to maintain and deepen the spirit of prayer that is proper to your way of life.”

“And you’ve been a man of prayer,” the bishop said. “I’ve read all the reports that came from St. Meinrad, and it seems like over these years you really have fallen in love with Jesus and the Church. In his evaluations at the seminary — I’m not giving away any secrets — he’s an outgoing person, but he’s also drawn to an introspection in his prayer life. His devotion to the saints like St. Francis de Sales, St. Bonaventure, and Teresa of Avila were important to him in his faith journey that brings him here today.”

Bishop Stika said that Mr. Schuster is also “to pray for the Church in a very particular way, in the Liturgy of the Hours.

“My advice to you is don’t read those prayers every day. Don’t read the Liturgy of the Hours every day, the Office of Readings, morning prayer, midday prayer, evening prayer. Don’t read them — pray them. Pray them with the Church universal. … But there’s also one consolation I have always believed in. I know that any time I’ve prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, I’ve prayed with the Church. In a very symbolic way, I’ve prayed for the Church and with the Church, but also as we share and pray the Liturgy of the Hours, I know that there’s somebody else in this world, in another place, maybe on a base in Germany or in Mobile, Ala., or in Colorado or in wherever, there’s somebody praying with me.

“Now the Liturgy of the Hours isn’t your only prayer, and if it is, then there’s something missing. But it’s time for the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, holy hours, saying the rosary, spiritual reading, and reflection on the Scriptures — all of them will always make you not only a better deacon but a better person.”

The bishop said that the newly ordained man would also “give your life to the Church in the gift of celibacy. Celibacy is one of those things sometimes people are confused about. They think, ‘Celibacy is chastity.’ They’re two different things. We’re all called to be chaste, to respect our sexuality and our relationships, but celibacy is freedom. And boy, I know it when I visit a house with a bunch of kids and then I go home at night. … Celibacy is giving yourself to the Church. … The difference between a celibate and a bachelor is that a celibate is open to love all. … It’s an openness and a willingness to be one with the people that God calls you to serve. … Celibacy allows us that freedom to go and to serve.”

And in moments of doubt, the bishop advised, “Just give it to Jesus. You have a special relationship with St. Faustina. Just practice what she said: ‘Jesus, I trust in you.’”

After the ordination rites, Bishop Stika said, “Eventually you’ll leave this cathedral as a public person but also as a person who has undergone an ontological change, something in the very depths of who you are. Be a good deacon. Love the people of God, and people of God, love Mark. Continue on the journey with him, as he has journeyed to this moment, as he opens the door to new potentials and possibilities as a deacon of holy mother Church.

“God bless you. Thank you for the answer given to Jesus and the Church when you just said a few moments ago: ‘Present.’”

Following the homily, the ordinand made several promises to Bishop Stika, including “to discharge the office of deacon with humble charity” and “to conform your life always to the example of Christ.” Mr. Schuster promised to be obedient to Bishop Stika and his successors. The elect then prostrated himself as the assembly kneeled for the Litany of the Saints.

The bishop then prayed the prayer of ordination.

Afterward, Father Chris Michelson vested Deacon Schuster with his diaconal stole and dalmatic. Bishop Stika handed the Book of the Gospels to Deacon Schuster, urging him to “receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become.”

In his closing remarks, the bishop thanked Deacon Schuster’s family again, as well as the seminarians present.

“I was ordained a deacon on May 1, 1985,” Bishop Stika said. “So the only things left over from that ordination are myself and this pectoral cross that belonged to John Cardinal Carberry, who ordained me a deacon, which I wear with pride this day. He was known for his kindness. Mark reminds me of the cardinal that way with his kindness. The ring I wear belonged to St. John Neumann. He worked for the faith. Now, he died from exhaustion, so don’t do that.”

Father Cisco of St. Meinrad said that “Mark’s an inspiring leader for the seminarians at St. Meinrad.

“He’s actively involved in drawing other guys into the fullness of the life of the seminary. This coming year he’ll be one of the prefects, which is a leader of one of the groups. That’s the second in one of the formation houses, after the priest who’s in charge, so he’ll be working with one of the priests in the formation process.”

After the Mass, the newly ordained man was asked how “Deacon Mark” sounds.

“It sounds great. I’ll have to get used to it,” he replied.

Deacon Schuster called the day “just a wonderful occasion to offer myself to God and to the Church, with all my family and friends around and the presbyterate, the bishop, and the cardinal. It was just a wonderful occasion.”

The ordination day was a long time coming.

“I’ve done five years up at St. Meinrad, and I think I’ve really benefited from the opportunities they offer me in formation: spiritual, human, intellectual, communal,” Deacon Schuster said. “It’s been a good five years and just one more, thanks be to God.”

Father Michelson, Deacon Schuster’s vestor, is pastor of St. Albert the Great in Knoxville, the new deacon’s home parish.

“He’s been my pastor for many years like at All Saints, and I really wanted him to vest me,” Deacon Schuster said.

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