Five years of discernment, formation, and study culminated with the May 18 ordination of Alaskans as permanent deacons for the Archdiocese of Anchorage. Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne ordained the men at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral in Anchorage. They now join dozens of other deacons who serve across the 138,000 square mile archdiocese.
Daniel Winters, the first deacon to be ordained from St. Christopher by the Sea in Unalaska (Dutch Harbor), was joined by Jorge Gustavo Azpilcueta from Holy Family Cathedral, Scott Gunnell from Sacred Heart in Wasilla, Michael Hawker from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Anchorage, and Gabriel Ruiz of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
As the time of the sacred liturgy approached, a sense of joy permeated the packed cathedral as worshippers greeted one another, dozens of musicians tuned their instruments and voices, and a grand procession took form in the vestibule.
The strains of “Lift High the Cross” silenced the din as hundreds of voices joined the choir and accompanied several Knights of Columbus, altar servers, most of the priests and deacons of the archdiocese, and Archbishop Etienne. The candidates for ordination, vested in simple white albs, took their places among family and friends in the pews.
Archbishop Etienne welcomed those assembled with prayers for the universal church, a blessing of water, and a sprinkling of 600 faithful gathered together. He noted that the holy water signified a new birth and a renewal of holiness.
The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles and proclaimed in Spanish, by Christina Azpilcueta, recalled the choosing and ordaining of seven men by the disciples in the earliest days of the church, to assist them in serving those being neglected. Roxanna Winters proclaimed the second reading from Ephesians, which instructs the faithful to keep the unity of the Holy Spirit through the bond of peace, and to be equipped for works of service for the building up of the body of Christ.
The Gospel of John, proclaimed by Deacon David Van Tuyl, urged the faithful to remain in Jesus’ love, to love God and one another. It also highlighted that God chooses the faithful to bear fruit that will last.
The ordination began as candidates were called forward by Father Tom Lilly, vicar general for the archdiocese, who declared that through the help of God they had been chosen for the Order of the Diaconate.
Archbishop Etienne’s homily recalled the role of the deacon in the church.
“The deacon’s service is fulfilled in various ways, from their practical ministry of charity to those in need,” he said. “But also in their service of prayer, particularly the liturgy of hours, in their service at the altar and their service of the word, as well as through practical service of day-to-day fidelity and love within their families.”
Archbishop Etienne spoke of how people are hungering for a closer relationship with Jesus Christ, and how deacons are equipped for the work and ministry to empower that relationship.
“We draw from today’s Gospel our final instruction, and the most important — love,” Archbishop Etienne said, adding, “Each of you has learned the demands of love, of marriage, of family. This is perhaps the best training and preparation you have received to serve the church well as deacons … As your love is always at the center of your service to your wife and family, you too must be willing to serve the members of the Body of Christ with the same love.”
Following the homily, each candidate knelt before the archbishop and was asked to declare his fidelity to the duties of the diaconate, and to promise respect and obedience to Archbishop Etienne and his successors. Then each of the men lay prostrate on the floor while the choir and assembly sang the Litany of the Saints.
Archbishop Etienne then laid his hands on each man and said the prayer of ordination. As they turned to face the congregation, their faces beamed with joy and some eyes brimmed with tears.
The newly ordained returned briefly to their family members who vested them in the liturgical garments of the diaconate. A bit of fumbling with the cumbersome dalmatics made for touching moments as family members and friends embraced and shared their joy.
The five men then returned to the archbishop and each was presented a Book of the Gospels with these words, “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.” He then embraced each of them, as did the other deacons in attendance.
The solemn Mass continued with each of the newly ordained assuming roles they will perform throughout their ministry.
A reception honoring the men was held in the Lunney Center.
Deacon Winters reflected on the momentous day that was five years in the working.
“I can’t believe God has graced me and blessed me as much as he has,” he said. His wife, Roxanna added, “I’m very excited, very pleased. Now we’re going to be together — holding hands and walking together. I am excited to see what Christ has in store for us.”
Deacon Ruiz shared that the journey “had its moments…its highs and lows, though the prayer life and family kept me on the right path.”
For Christina Azpilcueta, the occasion of her husband’s ordination left her blessed by God and ready to serve the community and “to be a support with my husband for the Hispanic community.”
Her husband concluded: “I feel the Holy Spirit in my soul, trying to get out from my body — a little contact with eternity.”