A new journey begins for seven new deacons

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Anne Marie Amacher
Seven Deacon Candidates pray during their ordination mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT – Before the Liturgy of Ordination began, the seven deacon candidates huddled in prayer outside the doors of Sacred Heart Cathedral, dressed in albs, heads bowed, attention focused on God’s call to them.

Their five-year journey to ordination as permanent deacons on July 9 included a stretch of virtual formation because of the pandemic which, paradoxically, drew them closer in their preparation to serve the Church, the people of God.

After the Mass at which Bishop Thomas Zinkula ordained Deacons Ryan Burchett, Kent Ferris, Andrew Hardigan, Angel Hernandez, Gary Johnson, Michael Linnenbrink and Andrew Reif, each described their formation as a time of inward and outward growth. They grew to appreciate that ministry isn’t about being elevated in the Church but of going out from the Church to serve people in need.

In the Book of Acts, “the community chose seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom to serve as deacons. We have chosen seven respectable, holy, wise men (guys) to serve as deacons, not in Jerusalem but in the Diocese of Davenport. Their ordination as permanent deacons is the culmination of lives of service,” Bishop Thomas Zinkula said in his homily during the ordination liturgy.

“Just a couple of weeks ago, our diocese began the U.S. Church’s three-year Eucharistic Revival with a Mass here at the cathedral, followed by a procession with the Blessed Sacrament to St. Anthony Church. So it seems timely to preach on the role of the Eucharist in the life of a deacon.”

Bishop Zinkula described the deacon’s “special role in the celebration of the Eucharist. He proclaims the Gospel. He preaches the Word. He announces intentions in the Prayer of the Faithful. He serves at the altar and assists with holy Communion by distributing the precious blood and he assists the priest-celebrant in many other ways. But this isn’t the deacon’s central relationship with the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the origin of his very identity as a deacon.”

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“In his homily for the Jubilee of Deacons in 2016, Pope Francis said, ‘When [the deacon serves] at the table of the Eucharist, there you will find the presence of Jesus, who gives himself to you so that you can give yourselves to others.’ The deacon stands at the door between Church and culture, ready to welcome and serve people who are in need. If we truly understand the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we will see that the whole Eucharist is focused on service.”
“If Christ really is present in the Eucharist, we must go out and minister to all of our brothers and sisters in the community and in the world. Service points to and is nourished by the Eucharist. Church service flows from the altar into life.” Bishop Zinkula quoted Pope Benedict XVI, who said “A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented” ( (in “Deus Caritas Est”).

“In imitation of Christ the servant and impelled by the spirit of charity, deacons are entrusted with the unique responsibility of bringing Christ to every corner of society, especially those most in need of hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ,” the bishop said.

Each of the newly ordained deacons has a diocesan assignment in addition to a parish assignment. They will bring Christ to the people of the diocese through Hispanic ministry, jail ministry, mental health ministry, Catholic Rural Life, Courage/Encourage ministry and evangelization.

The deacon “moves from the sacristy to the secular – with his family, in the workplace and among the members of his community, especially those on the peripheries,” Bishop Zinkula said. “The deacon brings the gift of the Eucharist with him as he loves others with the love of God.”

Father Thom Hennen, the diocese’s vicar general, testified to the seven men’s worthiness for ordination to the diaconate. They promised faithful service and obedience as ordained ministers in the Catholic Church and laid face down at the foot of the altar for the Litany of the Saints.

This “communion of saints – living and nonliving” as Deacon Hardigan described it, was a special moment for him. “I’m glad I wasn’t standing up. People would have seen the tears in my eyes. It was a good time to be laying down.” Deacon Johnson also felt deeply moved “to be laying on the floor, offering myself in service and hearing the litany of prayer connecting the saints present with us and the saints of the past.”

During the laying on of hands and prayer of ordination the deacons-elect, one by one, knelt before Bishop Zinkula. He laid his hands on their heads and prayed for the gift of the Holy Spirit to strengthen the sevenfold gift of God’s grace for the faithful carrying out of their ministry.

The wives of the new deacons presented the stole and dalmatic to the clerics who assisted the new deacons with vesting. Afterward, each new deacon received the Book of the Gospel. The bishop 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 newly ordained shared the sign of peace with Bishop Zinkula and the other 34 deacons present for the liturgy. The ritual symbolized their part as one order in the Church. Deacon Hernandez said he was holding in his emotions until that moment in the liturgy. That’s when he knew he truly belonged to the diaconate. He and the other new deacons saved their biggest bear hugs for Deacon Frank Agnoli, the diocesan director of deacon formation. An exuberant Deacon Hardigan lifted Deacon Frank Agnoli off his feet, to the delight of the gathering.

Every moment of the liturgy moved Deacon Burchett. “It was really emotional to see the community – all of the people from my childhood to the parish to the diocese — and it was so good to hear everyone singing their hearts out. You feel this big hug coming up behind you, all of these voices and prayers. It’s really incredible.”

For Deacon Ferris, the special moments were “every reference to the Holy Spirit, which is what my ears heard and my heart felt.” The Litany of the Saints served as a reminder of humble service for him. “It’s a Holy Spirit-infused continuation of the journey of service.”

Serving at the altar reminded Deacon Reif of Bishop Zinkula’s homily. “We are called to serve at the altar but we are also called to go out to serve others. Just being in the presence of mind of having that role as a deacon put the bishop’s homily into practice for me. It’s going out to serve; it’s not about a place of honor. It’s about seeing God’s grace present in the liturgy but also seeing God’s grace present in the world.”

Seeing his wife, Liz, bringing out his dalmatic and stole during the vesting ritual was a special moment for Deacon Linnenbrink. “I equated it with the wedding feast at Cana when Mary offered Jesus up for service. It was a huge commitment for Mary and “it’s huge for us,” Deacon Linnenbrink said.

Family members express gratitude for new deacons

Maria Hernandez dabbed a tissue to her eyes throughout the Liturgy of Ordination to the Diaconate. Her husband, Angel Hernandez, was one of seven men ordained as permanent deacons on July 9 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport.

“It was beautiful to see how all of them have devoted their time to do everything possible to serve the Lord. “From day one through the five years, the bond they’ve created between them is great. They call themselves brothers. It’s so real. I can see how the Holy Spirit has guided them. We’ve grown individually and we’ve grown together.”

Siblings Miles and Clare Ferris expressed gratitude for the example their dad, Deacon Kent Ferris, has set for them on the journey to the diaconate. “He still teaches us values every day,” among them, the value of perseverance through trial, Miles, 19, said. “I’m so grateful he shared this with us.” Serving as a deacon has been a longtime dream for her father, Clare, 23, said. “He put his foot to the gas and kept going. I’m so proud of him. He’s very humble.”


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