The June 2 ordination ceremony for Philadelphia’s newest permanent deacons was strikingly similar to the May 19 ordination ceremony for its newest priests.

One noticeable difference was that the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul was much more crowded for the deacons, which is reasonable because there were 13 new deacons as opposed to six new priests, and there were presumably a lot more relatives considering all the deacons are married men and they have 26 children among them.

This would have been unheard of a generation ago and this was underscored by Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Thomas, the ordaining bishop, who told them when he was a seminarian he served on the altar when Cardinal John Krol ordained the very first Philadelphia deacon classes: Hispanic deacons in 1981 and African-American deacons in 1982.

Ceremonial similarities aside, the role of a permanent deacon is quite different than that of a priest, and Bishop Thomas, who was the ordaining bishop because Archbishop Chaput was with the Holy Father in Milan, Italy, spoke of the unique role of the deacon in his homily.

Comparing them to the Levites who assisted the priests in the Old Covenant, Bishop Thomas said, “In a special way orders marks them with a character, an imprint, which cannot be removed and configures them with Christ who made Himself the deacon and servant of all. Today in the New Covenant deacons represent the Church in service with the bishop and the priests.

“Through your diaconate, dear brothers, what Jesus said of His mission, may it continually be realized through you: ‘The Son of Man comes not to be served and to give His life as a ransom for many.’”

Bishop Thomas addressed these 13 spiritual sons of St. Stephen, the first deacon, by name “Michael, John, George, John, Michael, Robert, Patrick, Mark, David, Patrick, Michael, Steven, John, Eric.”

They were officially presented to the Bishop by Msgr. Gregory Parlante, associate to the Vicar for the Clergy.

“Do you know them to be worthy?” Bishop Thomas asked.

“After inquiry among the Christian people and upon recommendation of those responsible, I testify they have been found worthy,” Msgr. Parlante responded.

Finally, through the solemn rite and the laying on of the hands these 13 laymen were transformed into clergy in the rank of deacon. But uniquely, they remain husband and fathers; financial planners, probation officers, retirees, physicians and accountants, with one foot in the secular world and the other in the sacred as deacons assigned to their home parishes, and all have a distinct vocation story.

Deacon Eric Umile, of Assumption B.V.M. Parish in Feasterville, a neuropsychologist and convert to Catholicism, was disenchanted by changes in his religion of birth, and was drawn to Catholicism by the teachings of Pope John Paul II. He had always been drawn to ministry, so the ultimate decision for the diaconate was almost a natural, and now he looks forward to the preaching and teaching and visitation of the sick.

Deacon Michael Pascarella, a supervising probation officer and member of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in Plymouth Meeting, thought about the priesthood all the way back at Roman Catholic High School, but decided against it. He toyed with the idea of the diaconate from time to time, but it was during a retreat at Malvern Retreat House, alone with the Blessed Sacrament, that he came to realize this was God’s call to him. Ultimately he hopes to finish graduate studies in theology and teach on a high school or college level.

Although not all permanent deacons are married men, every member of this class is married, and they would unanimously agree the encouragement and support of their wives has played a major role in their new vocation.

“It’s very emotional and very uplifting and a wonderful experience to be here with our husbands,” said Carla Santoleri, whose husband Steven was ordained and will serve at their parish St. Cornelius in Chadds Ford. “It’s been a roller coaster, but it is very rewarding.”

While 13 newly ordained deacons is a gift to the Church, next year’s class may be even higher.

“We have 17 men in the next class, and God willing, we will have 17 ordinations,” said Deacon James Owens, director of the Department of Permanent Deacons.

It is a six-year formation program, and “we have about 107 men in formation,” Deacon Owens said. “I see deacons are being used in more and more situations in the Church and hopefully they are trained to do whatever is necessary to serve God’s people and God’s Church.”