Matthew Donahue ordained to the transitional diaconate

Bishop Stika elevates the seminarian to holy orders, calling him a ‘gift from God’ for the diocese                 

By Dan McWilliams

As Bishop Richard F. Stika said in his homily, the name Matthew means “gift from God,” and he added that’s what the Diocese of Knoxville is receiving in newly ordained transitional deacon Matthew Donahue.

The bishop ordained the student at Pontifical North American College in Rome to the diaconate July 21 at his home church of St. John Neumann in Farragut.

“Matthew, I don’t know what you’re going to feel like as you leave this church and go on to your destiny, but you do so touched by God, not because you have earned it, but because it is a gift,” Bishop Stika told Deacon Donahue. “God gives to the Church this day, the universal Church, the eternal Church—God gives to the Church of the Diocese of Knoxville, which covers all of East Tennessee, the gift of Matthew.”

Newly ordained Deacon Matthew Donahue is vested by Father Christopher Floersh.

The bishop presided at the ordination Mass. Concelebrating were host pastor Father Joe Reed, new director of vocations and seminarians Father Christopher Floersh, and Monsignor Pat Garrity. Cardinal Justin Rigali attended in choir. Deacon Zach Griffith was deacon of the Word.

Newly ordained Deacon Donahue soon found himself on the altar alone, preparing the table for the bishop to lead the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

“It’s such a wonderful gift,” the new deacon said of the experience. “It’s sort of the first step in what we look for when preparing for seminary—serving at the altar, and today I got to take a very real part in that. It’s such a beautiful experience, such a beautiful gift, and something that I look forward to doing, hopefully with fewer mistakes next time.”

Bishop Stika greeted the socially distanced assembly of priests, deacons, parishioners, guests, and Evangelizing Sisters of Mary by calling the occasion “a great day.”

“It just seems like Matthew has been in the seminary for 27 years, like he’s been there forever,” the bishop said.

Actually, the transitional deacon attended Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis for four years and is going into his fourth year at PNAC.

Diocesan chancellor Deacon Sean Smith called Mr. Donahue forward at the beginning of the ceremony, to which the future deacon answered, “Present.” Father Floersh then declared to the bishop that Mr. Donahue had been found worthy of ordination.

“We now choose this man, our brother, Matthew, for the order of the diaconate,” Bishop Stika said.

In his homily, the bishop reflected on a particular event in his life that shares the same date as Deacon Donahue’s ordination.

“Matthew, you and I share something very special on this day,” Bishop Stika said. “Sixty-three years ago today I was baptized by Monsignor Aloysius Wempe in the Church of St. Francis de Sales in St. Louis. But without that simple moment in my life . . . I would not be a deacon. I would not be a priest. I would not be a bishop.”

The bishop spoke of the simplicity of two Catholic rites.

“Confirmation—chrism on the forehead, and at an ordination—the laying on of hands. The simplicity of the laying on of hands,” he said. “Very simple, ritualistic things, combined with words, yield something for now and all time.”

That something has another term for it, Bishop Stika said.

The new deacon receives the Book of the Gospels from Bishop Richard F. Stika, with Cardinal Justin Rigali and Deacon Sean Smith looking on.

“Now if you’re an official kind of person, we call it an ontological change,” he said. “When you’re baptized, something changes in the very essence of a person. You can never be un-baptized, and in the Catholic Church really you can’t be re-baptized. You’re baptized for all time, confirmed for all time, and ordained a deacon or a priest or a bishop for all time.

“The simplicity of what we do today, Matthew, is something very profound, something very sacred, something very special. . . . When a person is ordained to the diaconate, to the priesthood, or to the episcopacy, whenever that happens, the lives that are touched, the sacraments that are celebrated, the moments of grace, continue on and on and on.”

The bishop spoke of the importance of celibacy and the Liturgy of the Hours in a transitional deacon’s life, “and my favorite: ‘do you promise respect and obedience to me and to my successors?’”

Afterward, Deacon Donahue reflected on his home parish.

“When we moved to Tennessee when I was a kid, this was the parish we came to,” he said. “I’ve grown up here since I was like 11 years old.”

Having the ordination at his home parish was special, he said.

“It’s a beautiful church to begin with, so I really appreciate that, and then just having the familiarity of the people and the comfort of being in my home, in a way, is a beautiful thing,” he said.

The ordination, when it finally came for him, was altogether “beautiful, nervous, exciting, anxiety-inducing—it’s  just a lovely, beautiful grace in the end and something like the bishop said: a gift, and then I have the gift of myself and the beautiful gift given to me,” Deacon Donahue said.

His ordination was delayed from June 29 after Bishop Stika was potentially exposed to someone with the coronavirus days before (the bishop tested negative for the virus). Without the virus, the ordination would have taken place in Italy in September, the new deacon said.

The bishop gives the Precious Blood to Deacon Donahue.

Deacon Donahue said he will be specializing in moral theology as he returns to PNAC. Studying in Rome is “a great blessing,” he said.

“There are so many ways in which it’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “It can be a challenge in many respects, but it’s a gift that God has blessed me with and something that I thoroughly enjoy.”

He was set to give his first homily on the day after his ordination.

“There’s a thanksgiving Mass here at St. John Neumann at 10:30, so I’ll be doing that homily there,” he said, adding that he would be a little nervous preaching for the first time. “But I’ve been practicing it, so I think I’m confident it’ll be good—I hope.”

At the ordination, parents Neil and Lydia Donahue and three younger sisters were among the ordinand’s family helping to fill up one pew. His oldest sister, Brianna, was unable to attend; she is a religious in Alton, Ill., with the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George.

“I’ve always had a big family growing up,” Deacon Donahue said. “We’ve always been very close to each other, and so to have them all here was a wonderful blessing. I’m so appreciative of everything they’ve done and sacrificed to help me get to where I am. I know [Brianna] was praying for me, but unfortunately in the circumstances she couldn’t make it down.

Next up for Deacon Donahue, if the coronavirus situation allows, is a return to his studies.

“We expect right now to return to seminary in September, but obviously COVID can make that kind of difficult, but we’re hopeful that things will be as normal as possible and that the seminary will be able to function and that school will be open, even if it’s online,” he said.

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