Tuesday, December 19, 2017
Ana Rodriguez Soto - Florida Catholic newspaper
Photography: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC
MIAMI | When Alba married David Bowen, he was Methodist and she was Catholic. But they married in the Catholic Church and sent their two daughters to Catholic school. “That was never a problem,” said Alba. “He let me be.”
About 15 years ago, she said, unbeknownst to her, he began reading the Bible. In 2003, he became a Catholic. Last Saturday, he was ordained a permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of Miami, one of six members of the class of 2017.
“God is a God of surprises. I didn’t see this one coming,” said Alba, who admits she prayed for years for her husband’s conversion to Catholicism. The couple, parishioners at St. Bartholomew in Miramar, have been married for 40 years.
“Through the word of God, I think he discovered his calling,” said Alba, adding that participating in their daughters’ school activities and interacting with Father Paul Vuturo, St. Bartholomew’s former pastor, probably helped as well.
“As he started participating with the kids, at the festival, going to games. I feel Father Paul was a big instrument in this through his preaching and feeling welcome in the Church,” Alba said.
“The Lord had been calling me all my life and I just ignored him,” said Deacon Bowen, 62, a 30-year veteran of the aviation industry who works at Miami International Airport. He said he considered a vocation to ministry as a child, but described this call, about seven years ago, as “more of a lifechanging experience for me… I found this is truly where I belong.”
Those ordained with him Dec. 16, who range in age from 45 to 65, told similar stories of youthful vocations set aside until they found their place in the diaconate. Three of the new deacons are Miami natives. Bowen was born in Nebraska. One was born in Cuba and another in Venezuela. They bring to 149 the number of permanent deacons currently working in the archdiocese.
“It’s sort of a lifelong journey,” said John Ermer Sr., 57, a member of St. Joseph Parish on Miami Beach who works as a financial advisor. He has been married to Lourdes for 37 years. They have a son and a granddaughter.
He recalled the first time he was “moved by the Holy Spirit”: His son was sick in the neonatal intensive care unit. After he was baptized, he began to get better. His son is now 35.
“I had a lot of things to take care of and to get out of my system,” Deacon Ermer said. As for the five-and-a-half years of study and formation for the diaconate: “I feel grateful. It has been a wonderful experience. And now the real work will begin.”
William “Billy” Bertot, 50, said he has been doing deacons’ work for a long time. A member of Gesu Church in downtown Miami, he has been taking Communion to an assisted living facility for 10 years. He works with recovering alcoholics and addicts. He said he considered other religious vocations, from priesthood to brotherhood over the years, “and what I was left with was the diaconate.”
“The call to take care of the widow, the orphan, to give hospitality to the stranger, that resounds in me greatly,” said Deacon Bertot, a payroll specialist who works in human resources. “I’ve always been inspired by Holy Mother Church to go out and carry the Lord, literally, to the people that can’t come to him. I’ve been embodying (the diaconate) all along before I identified it as such.”
Deacon Bertot is one of two members of the class of 2017 who are unmarried. They took a vow of celibacy in addition to the promises of obedience, service and faithfulness to the Gospel.
Jorge Reyes, 50, is the other unmarried deacon. A native of Cuba who works as a mechanical engineer, he is a member of Nativity Parish in Hollywood, where he received the sacrament of confirmation.
“The call’s been coming for a long time, and probably the last 10 years has been very strong,” Deacon Reyes said. The father of two grown children, he added that “they were extremely happy for me.”
Newly-ordained Sergio Rodicio, 45, a father of five married for 18 years, said he always “kind of wanted” to pursue the diaconate “but never had the courage to do so.” A certified public accountant who works as business operations manager at St. Mary Cathedral, he has always been involved in the Church. In fact, he and his wife, Lenore, met through a parish youth group.
Seven years ago, he got up the courage to speak with Father Christopher Marino, rector of the cathedral, about applying to the permanent diaconate. Father Marino told him to wait. But one Sunday a year later, he gave him the okay to speak with Deacon Victor Pimentel, director of the Office of the Permanent Diaconate.
Deacon Rodicio said the wait was probably “to make sure that this vocation was true.”
Nancy Rauseo said her husband of 40 years, Ricardo, first heard a call while attending a parochial high school in his native Venezuela. “It came again 10 years ago and he finally paid attention to it.”
Now retired from his work as an agronomist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Our Lady of Lourdes parishioner is “just going to dedicate his time to serving God,” she said. “I think this strengthens our marriage even more. I’m looking forward to giving him as much support as I can so he can accomplish God’s will.”
The class of 2017 is the first to undergo the diaconate formation program under a mandate issued by Archbishop Thomas Wenski. Previously, deacons spent four years in formation, taking all the same classes as the men studying for the priesthood at St. St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach. The archbishop’s mandate requires five years of formation, but also means the deacons graduate with a master’s degree in theology.
“They’re doing the coursework. They might as well get the degree,” said Deacon Pimentel, noting that the deacons graduated from St. Vincent’s in May, at the same time as those who were ordained priests. The only reason they were not receiving the academic degree before is because of the academic hours requirement. Seminarians go to school fulltime. Deacons have fulltime jobs.
“These men have to do all that same work on one Saturday a month, and 32 Wednesday nights for eight months (from late August to early May) while they work and they have families,” Deacon Pimentel said. That schedule was multiplied by four years before, five years now. They also attend one weekend retreat each year.
“It’s very, very difficult to balance at the beginning and to integrate at the end,” Deacon Pimentel said, since permanent deacons also retain their fulltime jobs while fulfilling their duties as deacons. All the members of this year’s class have been assigned to ministry in their parishes.
The duties of deacons include ministering at the altar, preaching, singing the Gospel at high Mass and assisting the celebrant in general. Deacons can also baptize, witness marriages and administer Communion, though they cannot consecrate the Eucharist, hear confessions, or give absolution.