Transitional deacons ordained: joyful witnesses to Christ

Newly-ordained Deacon Francis Strong is assisted in the vesting of his dalmatic (deacon’s robe) by Father Paul Carlson, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Oglesby at the transitional diaconate ordination May 18 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria. The Catholic Post Online/Paul Thomas Moore

“God knows, we need you.”

That was the core message delivered by Bishop Louis Tylka to the three new transitional deacons — and by extension to everyone in the diocese — at St. Mary’s Cathedral on May 18.

In his homily at the ordination Mass for transitional deacons Ben Schoonmaker, Francis Strong and Jack Watt, Bishop Louis Tylka outlined the roles of the diaconate.


God willing, a year from now we will return here together again to witness your priestly ordination.” — Bishop Louis Tylka

“As deacons, you will assist your bishop and his priests in the ministry of proclaiming and preaching the Word of God, preparing the sacrifice of the altar, distributing the most precious body and blood of Christ, presiding over public prayer, administering baptisms, assisting at and blessing sacramental marriages, and conducting rites associated with burying the dead.”

However, just as important as these specific tasks, Bishop Tylka said our world needs them as living examples. “Sadly, it is often true that people do not recognize who they are as a beloved son or daughter of God, and even if they do, they often sell themselves short,“ he said.

“They need your witness.”

Deacon to-be Jack Watt smiles during the entrance hymn of his ordination Mass. On his immediate right is Father Alex Millar, assistant chaplain, St. John Catholic Newman Center, U of I, Champaign, and far right is fellow deacon ordinand Ben Schoonmaker. The Catholic Post Online/Paul Thomas Moore

Bishop Tylka alluded to their status as transitional — as opposed to permanent — deacons: “Ben, Francis, Jack . . . God willing, a year from now we will return here together again to witness your priestly ordination.”

The ordination rite proceeded through the stages of the calling and presentation of candidates, followed by a series of solemn promises which included commitments to “embrace the celibate state” and to observe respect and obedience toward Bishop Tylka and his successors.

The ordination rite . . . included a commitment ‘to embrace the celibate state’ and to observe respect and obedience toward Bishop Tylka and his successors.”

Then, as the Litany of Saints rained down upon them, the candidates prostrated themselves on the altar.

This was followed by Bishop Tylka’s laying of hands on the head of each, and the prayer of consecration, after which the newly-ordained stood to be vested in their stoles (a band of cloth running from the left shoulder down across the chest) and dalmatics (deacon’s outer robe).

Now vested, one at a time the deacons knelt in front of Bishop Tylka, whereupon he placed the Book of Gospels in their hands, a sign of the Word of God being entrusted to them. Bishop Tylka then stood and gave each the kiss of peace, followed by their brother deacons who did the same.

Bishop Louis Tylka placed the Book of Gospels into the hands of Deacon Ben Schoonmaker, a sign of the Word of God being entrusted to him as a transitional deacon. The Catholic Post Online/Paul Thomas Moore


Music supporting the liturgy was provided by Director of Sacred Music and organist Jon Kroepel, and the choir was the Choral Seraphique (“angelic choir”), from Christ the Kind Parish in Moline.

Co-cantors were Carmen McCarthy, a pontifical cantor at St. Mary’s Cathedral, and Lewis McAdow of St. Matthew Parish in Champaign, a doctoral student in music at the University of Illinois.

While his uncle Deacon Francis Strong prostrated himself face down on the altar, Elijah Matthews elected to rest in the Lord sunny-side up. Elijah is the son of Deacon Francis’ sister Isabelle and Chris Matthews of St. Mary Parish in Pontiac. The Catholic Post Online/Paul Thomas Moore

Before returning to Mundelein Seminary at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Ill, for their final year of studies, the new deacons have been given summer parish assignments across the diocese.

Deacon Ben Schoonmaker will serve at St. Malachy Parish in Rantoul, Deacon Francis Strong will serve at St. Mary Parish in Moline, and Deacon Jack Watt will serve at St. Patrick Parish in Urbana.



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