Yesterday was the feast of Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr of the Church. He was one of the seven deacons of the church of Rome during the reign and the persecution of the emperor Valerian, and served with the Holy Father, Pope Sixtus II. He was martyred, tradition says, by being roasted on the gridiron or grill, but some think that like so many others, he was beheaded. The roasting account makes for good drama, and it is said that he told to his captors that he was done on the one side and that it was time to turn him over. Whatever is the truth of the manner of his death, the reality is that his courage and bravery strengthened the lifeblood of the Church and brought his life of service to its ultimate completion.
His service as a deacon allows me to reflect upon the gift that the Church possesses in the diaconate and especially the permanent diaconate of more recent years. I served as a deacon for a brief time in my journey toward priesthood, for about a year as I continued my studies and had a number of pastoral experiences. I served a summer at Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale (where I later served as associate and then pastor), part of the summer at Saint Mary in Export, and a semester at the Newman Center at IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania).
The permanent diaconate is relatively new in our Diocese, and the number of deacons are few. When the diaconate was reestablished following the Council, the late Bishop Connare was cautiously watching the programs in other dioceses, and never established a program here. He was followed by the late Bishop Anthony Bosco whose major emphasis was on the role and empowerment of the laity. When Bishop Lawrence Brandt came, he established the diaconate in the Diocese, and set up a formation program that went though many developmental phases and a very thorough and long process. We saw two classes of deacons - first two and then the second class. We look forward to the next class.
The deacons that we have are exceptional men of faith and dedicated service. They and their wives and families are deeply committed to the Church and her people, and they give of themselves unselfishly. One in the first class is a high school classmate of mine, Dr. Bill Hisker, and two of the next class are very good friends, Bill Newhouse and Jeff Cieslewicz (Jeff is a parishioner of our parish and a cousin of mine). During my recent illness, Jeff (with the permission of his pastor) has been a major service to the parish and help to me in providing weekday communion services when I was not available for Mass. Our parish family enjoys his preaching and are grateful for his ministry, as am I.
Finally, on this day following the feast of Saint Lawrence, I offer my thoughts and gratitude to our former bishop, Lawrence Brandt, for his service and for establishing the diaconate program. Happy name's day, Bishop Brandt.