|Tom Samoray, of St. Stephen Catholic Community in Hermitage, is among 29 men who will be ordained as permanent deacons on Monday, June 9, at St. Henry Church. It is the largest ordination class of permanent deacons in the diocese’s history. Photos by Andy Telli
Just as the apostles did in the days of the early church, the Diocese of Nashville nearly five years ago called forth “reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom,” to serve as permanent deacons.
After a year-long selection process and four years of study and formation, on Monday, June 9, at St. Henry Church, 29 men will kneel before Bishop David Choby as he anoints them and lays his hands upon them, ordaining them as permanent deacons and sending them out into the community to serve.
It was the idea of service to the church that drew Michael Catalano to the permanent diaconate program. “If the priests are the shepherds, we deacons are the sheepdogs,” said Catalano, a parishioner at St. Henry Church in Nashville. “We just do what needs to be done. That’s the way I’ve always lived my life.”
Catalano and the rest of the men to be ordained on June 9 make up the largest class of permanent deacons the diocese has ever ordained, said Deacon Ron Deal, the director of the permanent diaconate for the diocese. And as the current roster of permanent deacons grows older, this new class will step in to help carry the load, he said.
In assembling the class through the application process, the diocese was looking for men that could help expand several particular ministries, Deacon Deal said: Spanish speakers who could help minister to the growing Hispanic communities in the diocese and men interested in hospital or prison ministry.
“Two gentlemen in particular have just immersed themselves in prison ministry,” Deacon Deal said. “Prison ministry found them, and they are just head over heels for it.”
The class had little attrition through the four-year formation process, and Deacon Deal attributed that to the selection process, which included written applications and an interview before a panel that included Deacon Deal, a deacon, a deacon’s wife and a priest.
“We interviewed the husband and wife separately,” Deacon Deal said. “Interviewing the wife separately worked well,” allowing her the freedom to speak candidly about any concerns she might have about her husband becoming a permanent deacon and the stresses that might place on their family life.
“The wife has to consent to everything,” Deacon Deal said.
Once the class was selected, they started four years of classes taught twice a week by priests and deacons of the diocese and members of the faculty at Aquinas College. The first year was dedicated predominantly to the study of Scripture; the second year to theology; the third year to church history and the sacraments; and the fourth year to liturgy, counseling, homelitcs and canon law, Deacon Deal said.
“It’s just been very, very good,” Catalano said of the formation program. “The last year in particular I think has been very, very good,” with the opportunity to learn about different types of counseling, such as marital, grief and addiction, he added. “Those are … great tools for our tool belt, so to speak.”
But one of the biggest benefits of the formation program, said Tom Samoray, another member of the class and a parishioner at St. Stephen Catholic Community, has been getting to know and bonding with the other men in the class. “These guys are incredible because they come from all walks of life.”
The class includes lawyers and engineers, firefighters and police officers, chaplains and educators, salesmen and managers. Permanent deacons have opportunities through their careers to bring the Gospel to the world in ways a priest can’t, Samoray said. “He’s not among the laity in ways we can be. … We can bring a different perspective to the pulpit.”
‘He loves ministry’
Samoray spent his professional life in radio, but has always had an interest in ministry. While working as an on-air personality, doing an all-requests and dedications show from 7 p.m. to midnight, Samoray would have regular callers who he got to know through their conversations. Between records they would talk to him about their problems. “I was kind of ministering to them,” he said.
Samoray earned a master’s degree in pastoral studies through the LIMEX program. His pastor at the time, Father Steve Wolf, who was also the diocesan vocations director, knew Samoray wanted to go into ministry full time and brought him to work for the diocesan vocations office as his assistant.
He later was named as the diocese’s vocations promoter and coordinator of the engaged couples retreat program. “It’s two sides of the same coin,” Samoray said. “The priesthood and marriage both are other-centered sacraments.” Couples are called to help get their spouse to heaven, and priests are called to help get their flock to heaven, he explained.
As vocations promoter, he meets with the men who come to the diocese to inquire about becoming a priest. He talks to them about how God is working in their lives, he said. “I really enjoy that.”
When the current class was being assembled, he was contemplating his own vocation and decided to apply. His decision didn’t surprise his wife, Barb. “I was excited for him,” she said. “He loves ministry. I could just see the glow on his face. He loves it.”
With his ordination approaching, Samoray admitted he’s a bit anxious about balancing his new ministry and responsibilities with his responsibilities to his wife and their two grown children. But that’s not a concern Barb Samoray shares.
“We’ve been through a lot of changes in life. It’s always been OK,” she said. The fact that their children are grown and on their own should help them find the right balance between church and home, she said. “I’m open to whatever happens here. I think it’s exciting.
‘Joy and fulfillment’
John D’Amico, a parishioner at St. Rose of Lima Church in Murfreesboro, found his vocation to the permanent diaconate gradually.
|Brenda and John D’Amico of St. Rose of Lima Church in Murfreesboro are looking forward to John’s upcoming ordination as a permanent deacon. Brenda often attended classes with her husband during the four-year formation program.
He was transferred to Murfreesboro for his job nine years ago, and he and his wife Brenda quickly became involved at St. Rose. “If there were people who needed a ride to a grocery store, I would call them to make an appointment,” D’Amico said. That led to becoming a Eucharistic minister bringing communion to the homebound.
“When I went to church, it wasn’t just going to a place as an obligation. I was going to a place truly with brothers and sisters,” D’Amico said. “When they were happy, I was happy. When they were sad, I felt their sadness.”
He noticed that the harder he worked and the more successful he was in his job, the less fulfillment he found there. But “every time I did something for the church, I felt joy and fulfillment.”
When D’Amico talked to his friend Deacon Pete Semich about his feelings, “He said, ‘Hey, John, open your eyes. God is asking you to serve him.’”
When he told his wife he was considering applying to become a permanent deacon, D’Amico said, “she was elated because we can do more for the church. She’s been behind me 100 percent.”
Brenda has been walking this journey step for step with her husband, even attending the formation classes with him.
“It’s almost like a calling for both of us, not just one of us,” she said. “A wife can’t be involved in something like this and not be totally on board.”
Brenda, a retired nurse, is involved in the Hope Ministry at St. Rose, which helps homeless women with children, and she and John together visit the homebound. “The one main thing John and I talk about quite a bit is that we pray that people see Christ in us,” she said.
She’s excited about her husband’s upcoming ordination. “It’s definitely John,” Brenda said. “He’s always been strong spiritually.”
The formation process has been “like putting a jigsaw puzzle together,” D’Amico said. “You have a piece that’s theology, a piece that’s psychology. You don’t even know what the puzzle looks like. But here at the end, all the pieces fell into place.”
‘Drew me back’
This is the second time Catalano has been part of the diaconate formation program. He was accepted in the last class in the early 2000s, but it was just as he and his wife, Janet, had adopted their daughters, one of whom had serious health issues.
“I decided it wasn’t the time” and withdrew from the program, Catalano said. “I hadn’t thought much about it one way or another” until he made Cursillo in 2006. “When I came out of that weekend, there was something that rekindled in my heart that drew me back to the diaconate.”
Cursillo, with its emphasis on continual study and “taking that study and turning it into action that brings somebody closer to Christ,” dovetails with the role of the diaconate, Catalano said. After his ordination, he hopes to work with the Cursillo movement in the diocese.
“In my life, I’ve always been a planner,” Catalano said. “But in this instance, my attitude has been the Good Lord will bring me what he wants to and not try to overplan things.”
Catalano, a lawyer for 35 years and currently the clerk for the Appellate Courts in Tennessee, will retire three days before his ordination, freeing him to devote himself full time to his ministry as a deacon. “I’m looking forward to going from a world of laws to a world of grace,” he said.
His wife, Janet, is the director of the RCIA program at St. Henry, and their two daughters are students at St. Henry School. Having the family in close proximity is a benefit, Janet Catalano said. “I think it makes it a little bit easier for us. … It gets him closer to home and he’ll have more time with the girls.”
“He’s very excited” about the upcoming ordination, she said of her husband. “My excitement is a spillover of his. I’m happy for him … and I’m very supportive of him.
“He will be so good at this, so very, very good at this,” Janet said. “Everybody at St. Henry really feels it too.”
Catalano’s excitement about his ordination is a feeling shared by all the men in the class, he said. “We’re just very, very excited. … Everybody is just ramped up.”