Deacon Jerome Kleponis, a seminarian of the Diocese of Harrisburg, was ordained the order of the diaconate on Saturday, July 3 in a significant step toward ordination to the priesthood.
The ordination, through the hands of Bishop Ronald Gainer, took place at St. Theresa of the Infant Jesus Church in New Cumberland, where Deacon Kleponis has been serving in his summer assignment. He will begin his diaconal ministry at St. Theresa’s before returning to Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass., in the fall for his final year of formation.
Deacon Kleponis, 65, became a seminarian after a long and successful career as a dentist.
“I am an example of the fact that God can call you at any time in your life to become a priest,” he told The Catholic Witness.
“In my case, I happened to read an article about men who were called to the priesthood after the age of 60, and who had studied at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary, which specializes in the priestly formation of men over the age of 35 who had other careers. I felt that God was reaching out to me to further explore this possibility,” he said.
Deacon Kleponis is a native of St. Columba Parish in Bloomsburg. He was to have been ordained to the diaconate on May 15 with Deacons Thomas Meinert, Matthew Smith and Damon Tritle, but was unable to attend due to an infection in his leg that required hospitalization.
“I would like to thank the priests, religious, seminarians and laity of the Diocese for all the Masses and prayers that I have received since the time of my hospitalization,” he remarked. “I believe that the prayerful works of these good people have allowed me to recover ahead of the original time frame that was outlined when I was discharged from the hospital.”
The devotion of the people of the Diocese, he said, was also a reassuring lesson he learned throughout the pandemic, as his studies and formation continued despite the challenges and trials it presented.
“They were eager to return to Mass and the sacraments as soon as it was safely able to do so, and despite all the pandemic precautions that had to be followed. This is very reassuring to anyone entering ministry in the Church,” Deacon Kleponis said.
As a deacon, that ministry involves the Ministry of the Word, the Ministry of the Altar, and the Ministry of Charity. As a Minister of the Word, he will proclaim the Gospel, and preach and teach in the name of the Church. As a Minister of the Altar, he will baptize, lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages, and conduct wake and funeral services. As a Minister of Charity, he will identify the needs of others and work to match the Church’s resources to meet those needs.
“This is a good time to be ordained as a transitional deacon, as it is a transitional time for many Catholics in returning to regular Mass attendance following the pandemic,” Deacon Kleponis said. “I look forward to ministering to these people and sharing the joy they exhibit as they return to participation in the Church as it was prior to the pandemic.”
A number of Deacon Kleponis’ family members, friends and fellow seminarians were joined by parishioners and clergy at the Mass of Ordination. Others joined in the livestream of the Mass presented on St. Theresa’s and the Diocese’s YouTube channels.
In his homily, Bishop Gainer connected Deacon Kleponis’ profession as a dentist to that of his ministry as a deacon.
“Imagine how many times you said to patients, ‘Open wide for me,’” he addressed Kleponis before the Rite of Ordination. “Today, as a deacon, you are telling all of us to ‘Open wide’ – not our mouths, of course – but to ‘Open wide’ our hearts, our minds, our very souls, to ‘Open wide’ to God’s will and to the grace that God gives us to know His will and to do it.”
The bishop thanked Kleponis for saying yes to God’s will, and reminded him and the congregation that the deacon’s ministry is a reminder that Christ came to serve, not to be served.
“It is true that you are being ordained to the transitional diaconate, but know well that there is nothing transitional about the humble, self-forgetting service to which you commit yourself today,” Bishop Gainer told Kleponis prior to the Rites. “That must permanently characterize the rest of your life.”
“Through the power of God the Holy Spirit, in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, you become an ordained herald of the joy of our faith, an ambassador of the supernatural mystery of God’s own life and our life in God through word, sacrament and charity.”
Learn more about vocations in the Diocese of Harrisburg at www.hbgdiocese.org/vocations.
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness