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Bishop Fisher Clergy Assignments Features

Diocese welcomes ‘Magnificent seven’ new deacons


They’ve been called the Magnificent Seven. The diaconate class of 2023 is comprised of men who will collaborate with the bishop and the priests in ministry to parishioners and others to spread the Word of God, calling all to conversion and holiness.

John Rhein, John Phillips, Thomas LaBelle, Martin Hackford, James Cantella, Todd Bowman and Kevin Barron line up in front of the altar at St. Joseph Cathedral as their ordination Mass begins on May 20. (Photo by Nicole Dzimira)

The May 20 ordination saw St. Joseph Cathedral filled with family and friends witnessing these seven men promising to proclaim the faith in word and deed.

Bishop Michael W. Fisher gave a brief history of the permanent diaconate, which traces its roots to the Apostles appointing seven men to serve the poor, and later serve their bishops. Around the fourth century, deacons began assisting the priests. As their role changed, deacons were seen as one step to becoming priests. By the Middle Ages, the permanent diaconate had all but died out. The Second Vatican Council reinstated the diaconate to enrich the Church, strengthen the role of those already serving in the function, and to provide sacred ministers to areas without priests.

“The Vatican Council, in fact, considered the restoration of the ministry of the permanent diaconate as one of its most significant achievements,” Bishop Fisher said. “I believe that in the coming years, we will come to understand and appreciate more deeply this special calling. My prayer is that more and more candidates will present themselves for this ministry in response to the call of the Lord.”

In addressing the new deacons, the bishop outlined their role.

“My dear brothers, my dear candidates, ministry in the Church is not about power, but about calling and witness,” the bishop said. “Your call to the diaconate today is a call to be configured in a special way to Jesus who serves, and to represent in a special way in the life of the Church, witnessing and representing Jesus.”

The bishop concluded his homily by saying, “The gift of your faith has been nourished and nurtured by the people who belong to the church communities out of which you have sprung, in which you have been formed, in which you have been loved. …God’s people have been instrumental in bringing you to the life of faith. Now you are called to serve that people by unassuming authority, self-discipline, and humility of life. You take up your cross. We have to remember, we are also resurrection people. We are people of hope. We’re people of joy. Bring that to your ministry, your calling. … May joy always be found in your ministry and in your relationship with your families, and those who you are called to serve.”

Congratulations and photos continued long after Mass had ended. Excitement was in the air for the new deacons and their families. Deacon Todd Bowman said he “can’t wait to get out there and spread the word of God.”

He felt the Holy Spirit calling him for some time. 

“It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. And I finally just said yes and met six other wonderful men along the journey who started out as strangers and then became brothers to me,” he said.

Deacon John Phillips, who felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as the bishop laid hands on him in blessing, began looking into the diaconate 10 years ago. 

“I was looking for what I was going to do next in life. I was praying quite a bit and finally I asked God, ‘What do you want me to do for the rest of my life?’ And I was quiet. I listened and I heard, ‘Become a deacon.’ And I thought it was really odd because I never gave it any thought of becoming a deacon before in my life. But shortly thereafter, I went to an informational meeting about a diaconate, and it was interesting, but I was nowhere ready to enter it,” he said.

He had concerns about going back to school after 20 years in the engineering field. And he considered himself an “ignorant Catholic’ who didn’t know his faith.

“I went through five years of still discerning and took some continuing ed classes. And then about five years ago, I entered the formation. I thought God was still calling me to become a deacon. The formation process was a really awesome process. I think that my fellow brothers that went through formation with me were just as much a part of my formation as the academics.”

Deacon Kevin Barron feels an invitation to attend a meeting was his calling from the Holy Spirit.

“Well, a lot of times people get asked if they were called to the diaconate. And I definitely didn’t get that specific calling, but I was invited many times by a deacon who’s a dear friend, and he kept inviting me to the diaconate. And I answered that call, and maybe that was my calling. But it was just a beautiful process in the five years of formation that has been life changing.”

Deacon Martin Hackford said it was a slow process for him to understand his call.

“I never had that Aha! moment. I think just every day that went by, I felt better. I prayed a lot, learned how to pray, and it just felt like it was the right thing to do and I felt God calling me. If you have any inkling that you want to serve the Lord, I think you’ve got to go forward, move forward with it, and not do the easy thing, which is nothing.”

Each new deacon received his parish assignment and an assignment of charity.

Kevin Barron, Family #20 in North Buffalo, and assist in the Formation Office of Diaconate

Todd Bowman, Family #12 in Batavia, will serve at the New York State Veterans Home

Thomas LaBelle, Family #22 in Downtown Buffalo, will serve the Burning Bush Ministries

James Cantella, Family #10 in Central Niagara, will serve at Roswell Park Cancer Institute

Martin Hackford, Family #6 in East Aurora, Elma, Holland,  outreach to the families

John Phillips, Family #34 in Lewiston and Niagara Falls, will also serve at Roswell Park Cancer Institute

John Rhein, Family #28 in Orchard Park, will assist in spiritual direction at the Ignatian Spiritual Director’s Institute at Canisius.


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