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During a Mass on Aug. 22 in Sacred Heart Chapel at the Center for Pastoral Leadership, Bishop Edward Malesic formally accepted five men as candidates for the permanent diaconate. They will continue discernment and formation for the next four years as they prepare for ordination to the diaconate and service to the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland.
The new diaconate candidates, who were presented to the bishop by Deacon David Kushner, director of the program, are Michael Hayes Jr., Richard Anthony Prayson, Dale Carter Shafer, Brian Curtis Steigerwald and Jeffrey Edward Stutzman.
Hayes and his wife Marion are members of St. Christopher Parish in Rocky River. He is the director of young adult ministry for the diocese.
Prayson and his wife Elizabeth have two children and are members of St. Dominic Parish in Shaker Heights. He is a physician, anatomic pathology, with the Cleveland Clinic.
Shafer and his wife Laura have three children and are members of Holy Family Parish in Parma. He is a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician with the Cuyahoga County Public Library.
Steigerwald and his wife Kimberley have two children and are St. Helen, Newbury parishioners. He works for the Mentor Village Exempted School District.
Stutzman and his wife Joyce have two children and are parishioners at St. Thomas More in Brooklyn. He works for the Diocese of Cleveland Communications Department.
“It is good for all of us to be with you tonight: your wives, your children, friends and your spiritual leaders and formators. Today we will celebrate the rite of the Church that will official make you candidates for the permanent diaconate of the Diocese of Cleveland,” Bishop Malesic told them.
“You have experienced the stirring of a vocation to holy orders and now is the time of ongoing discernment. So, thanks for following the voice of God who is speaking to you, heart to heart,” the bishop added.
He used an analogy to marriage when describing the diaconate formation process, referring to the first stage – aspirancy – as akin to casual dating, but with no real expectations. The next stage, candidacy, “is more like going steady,” the bishop said. “We both feel that there is something there,” but there still are no obligations on either side. “Although not yet an engagement, we are both hopeful – you and the diocese. Let’s see how the Lord unfolds this process for all of us.”
Patience will be required, as well as understanding, obedience and growth in pastoral knowledge, experience and practice, the bishop added. “To be honest, I hope that the process of formation is a bit humbling. There must be enough space in you to fill up. There must be enough flexibility in all of you to mold,” he said.
The bishop also reminded the candidates, all of whom are married, that their wives are partners with them in this venture. “Wives, you must be an active participant in our husband’s formation, especially in your support and prayers,” he said.
“This is a serious decision you are making today,” the bishop told the five candidates. He connected the situation to the day’s readings, in which we were asked to make the most important decision of our lives: Should we accept or reject the God who revealed himself to us? Should we make Christ our cornerstone or find another stone upon which to build our lives? Should we trust Jesus, follow Jesus or look elsewhere for salvation?
In the first reading, Joshua brings Israel together to renew the covenant with God. The people decided to stay faithful to the God who had saved them.
But in the Gospel, the conclusion of the Bread of Life discourse, in which Jesus has been telling people he was the bread of life, things were different. Jesus told people he was giving them his flesh to eat and his blood to drink. However, the crowd was disturbed by what Jesus was saying and many left him, including some of the disciples.
“In your formation, put your heart and soul into learning how to be evangelists who bring others to Christ. Share your faith openly with each other. Spend time before the Blessed Sacrament. Let Jesus speak to you – and then let Jesus speak through you to other people. He wants everyone to have a chance to say ‘yes’ to him,” Bishop Malesic said.
He told the candidates they are at the beginning of the process, reminding them God will provide for them. “Come to him often for comfort, strength, guidance and forgiveness. Every day, wake up and say, ‘Lord, I will stay with you today.’ And the Lord will stay with you, too,” he said.
The bishop asked the rest of the congregation to pray for the candidates and be grateful that they have a heart that wants to serve the bread of life and give the Lord “to a people who are hungry for that spiritual food.”
The candidates and their families posed for photos with the bishop after Mass and then enjoyed a reception.
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