Two hundred miles apart, 40 men were joined together during two separate, similar bilingual Masses in Rogers and Little Rock.
The Diocese of Little Rock's largest diaconate class was ordained by Bishop Anthony B. Taylor in two groups in order to accommodate the number of deacons as well as their wives, family and friends who wanted to attend. First Bishop Taylor ordained 18 men Nov. 17 in the diocese's largest church building, St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers. Then Nov. 24 he ordained the remaining 22 men at Christ the King Church in Little Rock, the largest Catholic church building in Little Rock.
More than 1,500 parishioners, family and friends came together in Rogers. The occasion did not go unnoticed for the congregation and staff of St. Vincent de Paul Church as three of their own, Silvestre Duran, Ronald Hoyt and Arturo Castrejon, were ordained in a worship space that was standing-room only.
Joined by the two current deacons, Msgr. David LeSieur, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul, admitted that having five deacons on staff will be new for him, and he considers it a significant blessing given the size of the parish.
"It will certainly help to have our Spanish-speaking deacons," Msgr. LeSieur said. "It was such an honor for our parish to host such an event."
Duran said the day was "extraordinary." His daughter, Magdalena, agreed.
"Since he has gone through this program, it has changed his life, his marriage and his family," she said. "He has helped change a lot of people's lives since he has been in the program."
For the parishioners of Sacred Heart Church in Charleston, it was a chance to witness a first as well.
"We have not had a deacon at our parish in over 20 years," said Tracy Verkamp, wife of Deacon Mark Verkamp. "That is why so many from our parish have come today; everyone has been so supportive and encouraging."
As friends and family swarmed around him requesting photos, Verkamp acknowledged the day's special significance.
Click to see many more photos of the ordinations in Rogers and Little Rock.
Deacon Norm DeBriyn, former coach of the Razorback baseball team, noted this was a first chance for him in many ways.
"I have always had a tugging and have respected religious life, but coaching for 33 years was 24/7 and it was hard to do both while coaching," said DeBriyn, who was assigned to St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
The liturgies, celebrated in two languages, helped bridge the language barrier. Marcelino Vazquez of Fayetteville, one of the 17 Spanish-speaking deacons, said he wants to continue building bridges for Hispanics.
"I want to encourage those that have left to come back to the Church," Vazquez said.
"To know your faith really makes a difference," he added. "Now that I know my faith better, I think I can separate what is human from what is of God."
The liturgy was emotional for Father Josh Stengel, associate pastor at Christ the King Church in Little Rock, who had the honor of vesting his own father, Kenneth Stengel, with the diaconal stole.
"He has always inspired me with his love of the Lord and especially the Eucharist," Father Stengel said. "That's always been important to him, and I think today you can see his peace in becoming a deacon."
Stengel, who will be dividing his time as administrator of St. Anthony Church in Ratcliff and as a deacon at Our Lady of Assumption in Booneville, said he has drawn from the inspiration of his family. "But I felt I was personally called by God," he said.
Two other new deacons have ties to the Catholic clergy in Arkansas. Deacon Danny Hartnedy from St. Edward Church in Little Rock is the son of Deacon John Hartnedy of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in North Little Rock. Deacon Ricardo Puello from St. Mary Church in Paragould is the father is Father Alejandro Puello, associate pastor of St. Raphael Church in Springdale.
Deacon Danny Hartnedy, a junior high religion teacher at Christ the King School in Little Rock, said it was helpful for him to have a father who has been through the diaconate formation and he could seek his advice.
"He was a real great resource kind of emotionally and spiritually," he said. "I could talk to him in the joyful times and the challenging times with my studies."
Hartnedy's children, Catherine and John Paul, got an up-close look at the ordination because they were altar servers for the Little Rock Mass.
Rosario Puello, Deacon Puello's wife and stepmother to Father Puello, said, "All of us have been through ups and downs. Everything happened during these four years. I think we have grown together in love and our spirituality, not only the couple but it has extended to our entire family."
Seeing several members in one family having religious vocations is not unusual, Bishop Taylor said after the Rogers ordination.
"You see that there is cross-pollination between the priesthood and the diaconate. The diaconate program promotes the vocations in many ways," he said.
Bishop Taylor said the wives were very important to the success of the diaconate formation program.
"Their support is what got them through, and I think some of them did their homework for them," he said. "Although we aren't ordaining the wives, by participating in the four years and three months of formation they have become empowered to live their baptismal commitment to Christ more fully. In that way, this call to the diaconate is greater empowerment of living their baptismal promises and enriches their marriages as well."
About 1,200 people attended the Little Rock Mass. The 18 deacons ordained the week before sat in the front pews to watch the remaining classmates get ordained. During the sign of peace, the men greeted each other with hugs and tears as they celebrated the completion of four years and three months of training.
In his homily, Bishop Taylor reminded the ordinands of the importance of their vocation.
"You did not complete four years because you love the Church and worry about the shortage of priests," he said. "You are here because you are called by God. This ordination sets you apart for a special task," Bishop Taylor said.
Deacon Butch King of Immaculate Conception Church in North Little Rock said the sign of peace during the Little Rock Mass was meaningful because it was one last moment when the 40 men were together.
"It is awesome to see so many men answer the call at one time," he said. "We are blessed as a diocese as we go forward. Even through the formation portion has ended, the work has just begun."
Alesia Schaefer and Malea Hargett contributed to this article.
The new deacons ordained for the Diocese of Little Rock are:
After ordination, deacons become part of the clergy; they are no longer considered laymen. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, deacons are "ordained primarily for charitable service to others on behalf of the Church," Deacons are commissioned by the Church to preach the Word of God, minister at the altar and assist the bishop and priests in the pastoral care of the community.
They can celebrate the sacraments of baptism and marriage, preside at funerals, administer viaticum to the sick, lead Communion services, preach the Gospel, give homilies, distribute Communion and assist during liturgies. They can't celebrate Mass or hear confessions.
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