By Bill Brewer
The Diocese of Knoxville now has 23 new acolytes to serve at parishes throughout East Tennessee.
Bishop Richard Stika instituted the ministry of acolyte on candidates for the permanent diaconate at a special Sept. 26 Mass at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The designation means the 23 men, who are in their last year of study to become permanent deacons, can now serve at the altar, assisting priests and deacons with elements of the Mass.
The installation Mass took on an especially inspirational tone when one of the candidates, Ken Conklin, who has cancer, was ordained a deacon more than eight months early on Sept. 25.
As he made his introductory remarks, Bishop Stika wished Deacon Conklin of All Saints Parish in Knoxville and candidate Salvador Soriano, also of All Saints, well. Mr. Soriano was hospitalized and recuperating from COVID-19.
As the installation Mass began, Deacon Tim Elliott, diocesan director of the Diaconate and Deacon Formation, called the candidates for installation.
“My dear bishop, these men have been studying now for four and a half years. They began inquiring in August 2016. They actually began formal classes in September 2017. I present to you these men,” Deacon Elliott said.
When the candidates’ names were called, each responded, “present” and proceeded to stand in front of Bishop Stika and the altar, where Bishop Stika addressed them briefly prior to his homily.
The candidates are David Anderson of Holy Cross Parish in Pigeon Forge, Shawn Ballard of St. John Neumann in Farragut, James Bello of the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga, Peter Chiaro of St. Therese in Clinton, Humberto Collazo of St. Dominic in Kingsport, Roberto Cortes of St. Thomas the Apostle in Lenoir City, Eric Dadey of Good Shepherd in Newport, Gianfranco Dellasantina of Holy Cross, Robert Denne of All Saints, Leon Dodd of Our Lady of Fatima in Alcoa, David Duhamel of St. Mary in Oak Ridge, Wade Eckler of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Chattanooga, Michael Gray of St. Elizabeth in Elizabethton, James Haselsteiner of St. Mary in Johnson City, Joseph Herman of St. Anthony of Padua in Mountain City, Robert Hunt of All Saints, Henning Landa of Blessed Sacrament in Harriman, Gregory Larson of St. John Neumann, Patrick Nakagawa of All Saints, Augustin Ortega of All Saints, Rafael Pubillones of St. Thomas the Apostle, Chad Shields of Christ the King in Tazewell, and David Venesky of Immaculate Conception in Knoxville.
Bishop Stika welcomed the candidates and their families.
“In the name of the Catholic Church in East Tennessee, I accept your petition to be instituted as acolytes. And in the name of your family and friends, I just want to thank you for all this work. All the driving time and all the things you’ve already been doing in your parishes. Thank you for that witness,” Bishop Stika said.
The congregation gave the candidates an ovation in acknowledgement and appreciation for their service. The men range in age from their late 30s to early 60s.
Witness was the theme of the bishop’s homily, in which he preached the importance of being a witness for Christ and His Church.
He singled out one of the acolytes brother candidates.
“As I was doing my holy hour, studying the readings and preparing for Masses the coming week, the one word that kept standing out to me was ‘witness.’ And then I thought about the ordination (of Ken Conklin) and to see the photographs from that Mass that were stunning, from the deck of the Conklins’ home overlooking Douglas Lake and the mountains, and the blue sky. You could not have a more magnificent cathedral, giving glory to God,” Bishop Stika said.
“And the witness who stood before me, a man in great pain and discomfort, surrounded in love by his classmates, by his family, his wife, his children, who was willing to stand, even though it was so painful for him. That was witness. The witness of responding to God because he is prepared, and to witness the faith,” he continued.
In preparing the acolytes for their new ministry, Bishop Stika emphasized the beauty of serving at the altar, but he also acknowledged the challenging times the world is facing.
The bishop wondered if the current climate of controversy and a “culture of divisiveness” will continue. “Who knows?” he said.
“We live in a world that so often has forgotten the beauty of witness. We live in a very troubled moment in the history of this world. Perhaps we have forgotten how to witness to the power of Jesus and the heart of Christ, that most magnificent part of Christ that represents love,” he further said. “That’s the world I will be sending you forth next year. That’s the world in which we all live in today.”
But he pointed out that the ministry of acolyte, and then the permanent diaconate, can help counter that climate because of the power of witness.
“If we, by our witness, allow others to recapture God, present in our society, then we celebrate as Catholics the faith of the Apostles, to truly know the Eucharist is the summit of everything we do. The ministry of acolyte is so very much connected to that,” the bishop said.
Deacon Elliott pointed out that the installation of acolytes is the last significant step before ordination.
“They begin to participate directly at the altar. From this point on all of their pastors will begin incorporating them into their liturgies within their parish at the altar, not just at the ambo and not just as an usher or a greeter. They will be helping prepare the gifts for the people. They are in the home stretch, with less than a year to go,” Deacon Elliott said.
The ordination of the permanent deacons is scheduled for June 11 at the cathedral.
In May, just prior to the ordination, the deacon candidates will spend five days on retreat with Bishop Stika getting prepared for the ordination.
New acolyte Rafael Pubillones said Deacon Conklin’s ordination set the tone for the acolyte installation Mass.
“This was awesome. And what made it even more awesome was what we experienced (Sept. 25). It was very emotional. Just looking at Ken was an inspiration,” Mr. Pubillones said.