Expressing gratitude for their whole-hearted yes to God’s will for their lives, Bishop Ronald Gainer ordained three seminarians to the transitional diaconate on May 21, telling them “The Church and the world need men like you, men willing to do what you are doing – offering yourselves in service to Christ and his Gospel.”
The newly-ordained are Deacon Richard Groff, 60, of Holy Trinity Parish in Columbia; Deacon Kevin Key, 27, of St. Patrick Parish in Carlisle; and Deacon Chiedozie Ononuju, 28, of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Lewisburg.
The three men, who are entering their final year of formation for the priesthood, were ordained to the diaconate at St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg before a congregation of clergy, religious, family members and friends, and to an audience watching a live-stream of the solemn Mass on Diocesan social media. The new deacons will begin their summer assignments on June 20: Deacon Groff at St. Aloysius Parish in Littlestown; Deacon Key at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Lancaster; and Deacon Ononuju at St. Joan of Arc Parish in Hershey.
Their ministry will be to proclaim the Gospel, preach, and assist the priest at Mass; and celebrate baptisms, witness marriages, and officiate at funeral rites. It is anticipated they will be ordained priests for the Diocese of Harrisburg in June of 2023.
In his homily during the Rite of Ordination, Bishop Gainer spoke of the gift of self- donation on the part of Jesus in the Eucharist and on the part of those being ordained.
“In the Eucharist, Jesus gives us the perfect gift; not just some thing. He offers us Himself,” he said. “The bread and the wine of the Eucharist do not merely symbolize His love for us. The Eucharist is Jesus in his total and self-giving love. The Eucharist is everything that a real gift should be, because it carries with it the real presence of the giver, Christ Himself.”
“Today, we celebrate together yet another mysterious gift,” the bishop continued. “God, in His goodness, has called Richard, Kevin and Chiedozie to begin to share in the sacrament of Holy Orders through Ordination to the Diaconate.”
“In response to God’s gift of vocation, His sons, our brothers, give to God and to us the Church the perfect gift; not some symbol of their desire to serve God and the Church, but the total gift of themselves,” he said.
Bishop Gainer told the men that although they are being ordained transitional deacons, they must “always remember that there is nothing transitional about the humble, self-forgetting service to which you commit yourselves today. Genuine diakonia must characterize the rest of your lives.”
The New Deacons
Deacon Richard Groff is from Columbia, Pa. He is a graduate of Columbia High School and Franklin & Marshall College. Prior to entering the seminary, he taught psychology courses at both Lebanon Valley and Harrisburg Area Community colleges, worked in youth and adult ministry, and was a Catholic high school teacher. Deacon Groff attends Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.
“I am humbled to be ordained to the diaconate in order to serve the people of the Diocese of Harrisburg and to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Even more humbling is the realization that in one year I will be ordained to the priesthood and serve as God’s instrument, bringing His grace to others through the celebration of the sacraments.”
Deacon Kevin Key is from Carlisle, Pa. He graduated from the University of Dallas prior to entering the seminary. Deacon Key attends St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia.
“One of my favorite parts of formation has been learning how to pray and being able to go to spiritual direction with a priest and talking to them about my prayer life,” Deacon Key said.
“I am grateful that God has called me and blessed me in this order of the Diaconate. I am looking forward to serving the people and priests of our Diocese in the Gospel and at the altar,” he said.
Deacon Chiedozie Ononuju is originally from Nigeria. After moving to the United States, he attended and graduated Bucknell University with a master’s degree in electrical engineering. After graduation, he entered the seminary. Deacon Ononuju attends Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.
“I’m very grateful to God that he gave me the grace to make the decision to enter seminary,” Deacon Chiedozie said. “It’s been a beautiful experience just getting to meet parishioners and being part of the Church family.
“It is such a beautiful thing to be in love with Christ and his Church. And it is a stupendous honor to be tasked with sharing Christ’s love with others, through the grace of Holy Orders,” he said.
See video interviews with the three deacons and all of the Diocese’s seminarians on the Diocesan YouTube channel, and learn more about religious vocations in the Diocese of Harrisburg at www.hbgdiocese.org/vocations.
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness