By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — Students at Assumption High School witnessed a lesson in faith in real time, up close and personal, when religion teacher Chris Young was ordained a Roman Catholic deacon March 25 at school.
Bishop Martin Amos ordained Young, a married, former Episcopal priest, on the Feast of the Annunciation — which recalls Mary’s assent to become the mother of the Son of God.
The high school where Deacon Young teaches religion classes, such as Sacraments and Marriage and Holy Orders/Senior Ethics, seemed a logical setting for students to witness what they’re learning about.
“It’s something Chris and I had talked about as a way to model his calling for young people,” Assumption Principal Bridget Murphy said. They talked with Bishop Amos, who thought it was a good idea. The ordination provides students with a unique opportunity to see “what the sacrament looks like,” added Murphy. “I don’t think most Catholics have seen an ordination.”
Deacon Young said just one of his Assumption students had witnessed an ordination take place — “in of all places, China.”
Less than three months from now, the newly ordained deacon will be ordained to the priesthood with two other deacons — Kevin Anstey and Bob Cloos. For Deacon Young, it’s been an especially long process. His acceptance for ordination to the priesthood required permission from Pope Francis, based on a 1980 pastoral provision granting admission to Catholic ministry of married, former Episcopal priests.
Deacon Young said he had explained the difference between transitional and permanent deacons to juniors in his Sacraments class last semester. In addition, he went over what would happen at the Mass with his classes in the days leading up to it.
Preparing the entire school for what to expect required additional catechesis.
Marianne Agnoli, who also teaches religion at Assumption, noted: “After discussing the matter of school-wide catechesis on both the pastoral provision and the ordination rite with Bishop Amos, it was decided that the most accurate and consistent way to educate everyone on these topics was for Father Thom (Hennen, the Davenport Diocese’s vocations director) to take a few minutes prior to the ordination to address the whole assembly. This way, everyone present would have benefit of this information.”
As vocations director, Fr. Hennen also had the role of testifying to Bishop Amos that Young was a worthy candidate for ordination to the transitional diaconate. The bishop then declared: “We choose this man, our brother, for the Order of the Diaconate.”
The audience, which included the entire Assumption student body, as well as faculty and staff members, Deacon Young’s wife, Jody, and two of their three children, applauded exuberantly.
In his homily, Bishop Amos reflected on the Blessed Virgin Mary’s “yes” to God and the yeses that Deacon Young, Jody, and all of the faithful must consider in their walk with the Lord. The bishop said that transitional deacons (those preparing for priesthood) have a threefold function or duty of office, as do permanent deacons: “They have a ministry of Word, Worship and Service.”
“… Christopher, your very name means ‘Christ-bearer.’ We thank you for your ‘yes’ as we now ordain you to the diaconate.”
Assumption students had the privilege of serving many ministerial roles during the Liturgy of Ordination to the Diaconate: lectors, cantors, choir members and altar servers, among them.
Deacon Dan Huber, a former Assumption teacher and fellow parishioner at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, vested Deacon-elect Young with stole and dalmatic.
Bishop Amos handed the Book of the Gospels to Young and prayed, “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”
The new deacon shared the Sign of Peace — and hugs — with the other 10 deacons present. He admitted to being a bit nervous “being on stage” in the high school auditorium.
“It was a joy to be surrounded by all my brother clergy and to see all my students gathered so reverently, and the choir sang so beautifully,” Deacon Young said after the Mass. It will be good to be a deacon, he said, serving the needs of others in the world on behalf of the Church for the sake of Christ.
The new deacon beamed at his son Colin and daughter Sarah as they presented the gifts for the Eucharist. Daughter Erin was unable to attend the Mass.
The siblings and their mother were thrilled to witness Deacon Young’s ordination because he has put his heart and soul into this vocation.
For Jody, the Mass was especially moving. “My father passed away last night. I was thinking of all the Masses said for him.” She expressed gratitude for her husband’s ordination and for March 25 being “Mary’s day.” “It was a wonderful day in every aspect.”
Colin, 23, came in from Chicago to witness his dad’s ordination. “It was good to see him back up there (ministering). It just felt right.” Even the vestments reminded Colin of when his father served as an Episcopal priest.
Sarah, 19, who came in from Peoria, said of her father, “He’s been waiting forever for this. I’m just happy.”
Principal Murphy thanked Deacon Young and his family for “allowing us to be a part of this.” And she thanked Bishop Amos and all who made the Mass possible for a beautiful, educational and happy celebration.
“It was awesome!” said junior Aly Coiner, a student of Deacon Young.
“I think it was interesting and exciting,” said junior Gabriel Rangel, also a student of Deacon Young. “I’m used to seeing him as my teacher. He set an example for all of the students by being ordained.”
Questions about the pastoral provision
Assumption High School students had plenty of questions about teacher Chris Young receiving a pastoral provision from Pope Francis to become a priest in the Diocese of Davenport. Young, a married former Episcopal priest, was ordained to the diaconate March 25 at Assumption and will be ordained to the priesthood June 7 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport.
He is one of about 100 priests to have been granted the pastoral provision in the United States.
The provision does not require that priests abstain from conjugal relations with their wives.
Young and fellow religion teacher Marianne Agnoli share some questions their students asked prior to the March 25 ordination ceremony:
Questions asked of Young
“How many have gone through this?” “Do all who do, make it through?” “If I had been in a Catholic seminary, left to get married, and then gone to Episcopal seminary, and become a priest, could I still be ordained a Catholic priest now?”
“Since you taught us that consecrated women religious are spiritually ‘married’ as brides of Christ, that priests ‘marry’ their parishes; bishops are ‘married’ to their dioceses, and those who they bring to the faith, baptize at the font, are their sons and daughters … will you now be married to two people?”
Questions asked of Agnoli
Why is he allowed to be married and other priests cannot?
Does he have to divorce his wife?
How long is an ordination Mass?
Will the bishop be there?
Why will he (Young) lie prostrate?
What does prostrate mean?
Why does he have to be a deacon first?
How long did the process take?
Agnoli said she has had the opportunity to educate her students about the pastoral provision. “We had recently studied Church unity, which included the history of Church division. I was able to explain the Anglican split, so (students) understood a bit about the denomination Chris came from originally. I then gave a brief explanation of the provision and the process Chris had gone through. They thought it was really exciting that Pope Francis had Mr. Young’s paperwork in Rome. They were surprised to find out that the pope was so closely involved in the process.”
Asked what she hoped students would take away their experience witnessing the ordination Mass, Agnoli said: “Since I am currently teaching the sophomore Ecclesiology class, I am hoping that my students will gain a greater understanding of the different roles each of us are called to in service of the Church. I hope that as they discover and develop their unique God-given gifts and discern their own vocations that they will realize how important they are to the life of the Church.”