By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
On Saturday, June 5, Cardinal Justin Rigali conferred the sacrament of Holy Orders on five men at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, ordaining them deacons. The liturgy was strikingly similar to that of May 15, when Cardinal Rigali ordained six priests.
The five, Deacons Michael J. Alexander, William A. Cella, Edward E. Duess, John H. Farrell and David N. Fosbenner, will serve as permanent deacons, assisting pastors in various parishes of the Archdiocese. Four are married, one is not; all are mature men drawn from various walks of life and are typical of the permanent diaconate (deacons who are not in a transitional stage before priesthood), an ordained ministry revived in the Roman Catholic Church after Vatican II.
In his homily the Cardinal stressed the ministry of service which is at the heart of the diaconate, beginning with Stephen, “a man filled with spirit and wisdom” and six companions, who in the Acts of the Apostles were chosen to assist the 12 by dispensing the corporal works of mercy.
“Their identity as deacons is linked to the Church’s role of service which in turn is linked to the servanthood of Jesus Christ the Son of God and Savior of the World,” the Cardinal said.
After the ceremony the Cardinal gave each of the deacons his parochial assignment, most to their parish of residence.
For all of the new deacons, the ordination was the culmination of approximately six years of formation.
Deacon Alexander, 51, a member of St. Madeline Parish in Ridley Park where he will minister, is originally from Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Secane. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Villanova University and a master’s degree in information science from Penn State. He’s a technology analyst with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.
“There was a time in my life I couldn’t see myself doing this,” he said. “Around 2002 I began to feel the call, and after prayer and discernment I was accepted into the program in 2004. At St. Madeline I’ll do whatever the pastor wants me to do. It’s hard to describe how I feel today, there is a mystical aspect to it.”
Deacon Cella, 63, originally from Holy Child Parish Philadelphia, resides with his wife Barbara Jean in St. Cecilia Parish, Philadelphia. He has been assigned to ministry at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Bensalem. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and is employed by Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital in security. He traces his vocation back eight years ago when he was living in St. Katharine of Siena Parish in Philadelphia. There Msgr. James McBride asked him to take an hour a week in Perpetual Adoration. Through reflection at Adoration, “I felt that God wanted me to look at the diaconate,” he said. Now that it is realized, “It’s wonderful, I don’t know how to put it into words,” he said.
Deacon Duess, 58, is originally from North Jersey and along with his wife Marie he is a member of St. Andrew Parish, Newtown. They have two children, Mai-Ann and Edward Peter. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Siena University, and he is a self-employed reinsurance consultant. He will minister at St. Andrew Parish.
“I first thought about this about 25 years ago (but) just recently all of the obstacles were removed and it fell into place,” he said. “The ceremony was so magnificent and I’m really looking forward to my ministry, but it will take a few days for it to all sink in.”
Marie Duess probably spoke for all of the wives when she said, “I’m absolutely joyful. This was a long time coming; it’s the culmination of all of our dreams.”
Deacon Farrell, 60, a member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Drexel Hill, where he will minister, is originally from Holy Cross Parish, Springfield. He and his wife Lori Ann have four children, Colleen, Sean, David and Andrew. He holds a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in history and is a geography teacher in Haddonfield School District in New Jersey.
“I was working in the parish and several people suggested I do this, so I did, and seven years later, here I am,” he said. “It’s absolutely wonderful, fantastic. I’ll be helping and serving Mass, also helping with RCIA and visitations; anything Father (Roland) Slobogin wants me to do.”
Deacon Fosbenner, 65, is a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Morton, where he will minister, is originally from St. Philomena Parish in Lansdowne and a graduate of Lansdowne-Aldan High School. He and his wife Jo-Ann have four children, Jodi Evert, David, Casey and Kevin. He is the owner of DNF Trucking LLC in Sharon Hill.
The idea of the diaconate first came to him about 10 years ago. A daily Mass attendee, he said, “It was the power of the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist.”
With his ordination, “I feel wonderful. It is one of the best days of my life, and I am truly, truly blessed. Now as a deacon I’ll do whatever Msgr. (Savinski) wants me to do.”
Concelebrating at the ordination liturgy was Bishop Daniel E. Thomas along with Msgr. Gregory Parlante and more than 20 other priests. Also present were approximately 60 permanent deacons and many family members, friends and fellow parishioners of the newly ordained.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.