Diocesan seminarians Thomas Meinert, Matthew Smith and Damon Tritle were ordained to the order of the diaconate on Saturday, May 15, in a significant step toward ordination to the priesthood.
The deacons were ordained at St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg by Bishop Ronald Gainer, through the Laying on of Hands and the Prayer of Ordination.
“By giving your whole-hearted yes to God’s will for your lives, you bring great joy to your families and to the Church in the Diocese of Harrisburg,” the bishop told the men during his homily. “The Church and the world need men like you, and your offering yourselves in service to Christ and His Gospel inspires all of us to a greater hope and personal sacrifice.”
Having received the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the three new deacons will begin their ministry in parish assignments this summer.
Deacon Thomas Meinert will serve at St. Leo the Great Parish in Rohrerstown; Deacon Matthew Smith at St. Joseph Parish in Mechanicsburg; and Deacon Damon Tritle at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Gettysburg.
A fourth seminarian, Jerome Kleponis, was to have been ordained to the diaconate during the solemn Mass, but was hospitalized due to an infection. Bishop Gainer asked the congregation attending the ordination in-person and via livestream to keep Kleponis in their prayers “for a swift and complete recovery, so that we can hold his ordination sometime very soon.”
Heralds of the Good News
As ordained ministers of the Church, deacons are called to a threefold service of Ministry of the Word, Ministry of the Altar, and Ministry of Charity. As Ministers of the Word, they proclaim the Gospel, preach and teach in the name of the Church. As Ministers of the Altar, they baptize, lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages, and conduct wake and funeral services. As Ministers of Charity, deacons are leaders in identifying the needs of others and working to match the Church’s resources to meet those needs.
As transitional deacons, the three newly-ordained will serve in these capacities as they enter their final year of formation.
“There are so many aspects to my ministry as a deacon that I am looking forward to that it is difficult to only pick one. But if I had to just pick one it would probably be the responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel at Mass and preaching,” said Deacon Meinert. “It is a great privilege to be able to allow the Holy Spirit to work through me and be able to bring Christ’s message to those who need it.”
Deacon Meinert, 25, is a native of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Hershey. He is studying at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia.
“I am very blessed to have been sent to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary,” he told The Catholic Witness. “The entire formation team is filled with incredibly holy priests who dedicate their lives to helping us seminarians to grow in holiness. They do this every day, not just in what they teach us in the classroom, but they give us a model of how to live it out every day by their example.”
He said seminarians were not immune to the challenges of the pandemic this past year, and forged ahead as seminaries made necessary adjustments for in-person formation.
“One of the biggest lessons that I learned over this past year as a direct result of the pandemic was the importance of the mission of the priest,” Deacon Meinert said. “I remember a priest telling me that the priest is like a ship. While it is true that the safest place for a ship to be is in the harbor, that is not the mission of the ship. The ship exists to go out, and in the same way the priest must always be focused on his mission, to go out and minister to his people. This is even more essential today because many people during this pandemic have become home bound and need people to bring Christ to them.”
Deacon Smith said one of the lessons he learned in this past year of formation is “to pray regularly for a healthy sense of detachment and docility.”
“Different activities or means of assistance can still be effective – sometimes even more effective – under different formats or circumstances. Things like a global pandemic can pop up to force these changes,” he said. “Detachment and docility are essential to have. Asking God for these gifts in times of stability and peace helps one to be more perceptive and receptive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit during times where the normal way of doing things must change.”
Deacon Smith, 27, is a native of St. Patrick Parish in York, and is studying at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.
He said priesthood was on his mind as early as third grade, and he wrestled with discernment through high school and college.
“In college, I committed to praying a Holy Hour every day. Through this regular prayer, I realized I progressed as much as I could with a spiritual director in my discernment progress. I realized that, to make any more progress on discerning what God wanted to do with my life, I had to hand more of the discernment process over to the Church by applying and entering seminary,” Deacon Smith said.
“My time in seminary made it clear that priesthood is what God is calling me to,” he said.
Deacon Tritle, a seminarian at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., said “There is an unofficial, but very true saying around seminaries: Formation works if you let it.”
“The seminarian learns docility, humility, cooperation, and many other great traits as well. But it isn’t magic,” he said. “You have to trust the faculty in charge of your formation, and work at it. These lessons are not just helpful on the ‘human’ side of things, but are deeply beneficial spiritually.”
Deacon Tritle, 35, is a native of Corpus Christi Parish in Chambersburg. As a convert to the Catholic Church, he said he never would have expected to be in formation for the priesthood.
“I think there was a distinct advantage to being a convert, as well,” he said. “I came to the Church with a spiritual hunger and curiosity that led me to read voraciously about the faith, the saints, Church history, etc. I had a lot of catching up to do, because I did not grow up in the Church. Through this, and seeking the counsel and direction of some wonderful priests, I came to hear God whispering to me that I ought to give seminary a chance. Five years later, I am so blessed and grateful to be here.”
Deacon Tritle said he is most looking forward to sacramental ministry as a deacon, “particularly baptizing and welcoming Christians into the life of grace. I am thrilled, quite honestly!”
In his homily during the Mass, Bishop Gainer reminded the seminarians and the congregation that the deacon’s ministry is a reminder that Christ came to serve, not to be served.
“By the grace of this sacrament, the deacon is empowered to incarnate that Christ-like service in his own life, and to challenge all of us to serve more authentically, to be enthusiastic heralds of the Good News of Jesus Christ,” he said.
“It is true that you are being ordained ‘transitional’ deacons, but know well that there is nothing transitional about the humble, self-forgetting service to which you commit yourselves today,” the bishop told the men. “That must permanently characterize the rest of your life.
“Through the power of the Holy Spirit, in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, you will become ordained heralds of the joy of our faith, ambassadors 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