On March 19, three seminarians from the Diocese of Nashville – Dillon Barker, Andrew Forsythe, and Rodolfo Rivera – will take a major step in their vocational journey as they are ordained transitional deacons at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville.
The three men are eagerly anticipating this next step as they prepare for priesthood.
“Ordination to the diaconate affirms the calling that God has given me because it gives me the opportunity to serve him and his people in a very special way,” said Rivera, a student at Assumption Seminary in San Antonio who will be ordained a priest this summer.
The ordination is “one more step on the path toward the life I am called to,” said Forsythe. “It’s a great honor and privilege for me to be able to live out this individual call to holiness.”
Ordination to the transitional diaconate “really is a big, life changing moment,” said Barker, who, like Forsythe, is a seminarian at the Pontifical College Josephenum, and on track to be ordained a priest in the summer of 2017.
A transitional deacon is an ordained minister of the Church who is preparing for priesthood, while permanent deacons are men who are not planning to be priests. Both transitional and permanent deacons exercise various ministries including proclaiming the Gospel and preaching; they can also baptize, witness marriages and conduct funerals.
Barker, Forsythe and Rivera will have the opportunity to exercise the ministries of the diaconate in parishes in the Diocese of Nashville and in parishes assigned by their seminary. “The seminary is helping me transition to a new a life, community, and ways to practice what I have learned from my studies and ministerial experiences,” said Rivera.
Rivera is one of four seminarians from the Diocese of Nashville studying for the priesthood at Assumption Seminary. Like many seminarians studying there, all four are originally from other countries. Assumption serves a high percentage of men from outside the United States who plan to serve American dioceses. The seminary also has a strong program for those who will be working in Hispanic ministry once they are ordained.
“My experience at Assumption Seminary has been a blessing because its multi-culturalistic formation is the reality of our Church. I have come to know about different cultures from North America, South America, Africa and Asia. These encounters have better prepared me to serve the universal Church,” Rivera wrote via e-mail.
Rivera, who is originally from Mexico, was baptized, but not catechized in the Catholic Church. A youth retreat he initially did not want to attend ended up being a “turning point in my spiritual life,” he said. He came to the United States with plans to stay only temporarily, but “God had different plans for me.”
As a parishioner at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Nashville, Rivera’s vocation was nurtured and he was invited to discern the diocesan priesthood. “I want to share how grateful I am with the Diocese of Nashville. It is very encouraging to hear and feel cared for and supported from our priests, religious, parishes, and especially, our bishop,” Rivera said. “Bishop Choby’s care and attention towards my vocation have been a tremendous help. His paternal figure made me feel understood and welcomed to my diocese.”
Barker and Forsythe also count Bishop David Choby as a strong influence and supporter of their vocations. Each of them converted to Catholicism from Protestant faiths and received the sacraments from Bishop Choby. Barker’s upcoming ordination to the transitional diaconate “is so special for me because I received all the sacraments except baptism through his ministry,” he said of Bishop Choby.
Barker, who was raised Southern Baptist, attended Vanderbilt University and earned his law degree at Samford University, entered the Catholic Church in 2009 and initially tried to fight the calling to the priesthood, but soon “realized it was my purpose in life so I quit my job and got ready to go to the seminary.”
The last five years he has spent in the seminary “is all for this step I’m about to take,” to be ordained a transitional deacon, Barker said. “I’m trying to get ready so the Holy Spirit can come and do the work.”
Barker, who has worked in various parishes around the Diocese of Nashville during his time in the seminary, will spend Holy Week at Sacred Heart Church in Loretto. He will soon receive a summer assignment as well. “It’s exciting to get my first assignment to serve the people of the diocese as a deacon. I’m committed to service for the rest of my life.”
Forsythe, who was raised in the Nazarene church, is a former teacher, and an accomplished vocalist. His ordination to the diaconate “seems like the convergence of many paths of my past.” His foundation in the Nazarene faith, and the experience of singing in great cathedrals of the world like St. Patrick’s in New York and St. Peter’s in Rome “exposed me to the beauty of what the Church has to offer.”
Over the years, Forsythe had an intellectual conversion and “a conversion of the heart” and decided to join the Catholic Church after much thought and prayer. Catholicism, he said, “is a fulfillment of what I was taught” in the Nazarene Church. “All my questions were answered in the Catholic Church.” The Church’s teaching on the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist especially resonated with him.
Forsythe’s ordination to the transitional diaconate comes on his 10th anniversary of joining the Catholic Church at the hands of Bishop Choby at the Cathedral. “He’s the only bishop I’ve ever had,” and one who has always been encouraging of his vocation, Forsythe said.
Being ordained to the transitional diaconate, Forsythe said, “orients the mind of the person preparing for the priesthood to the heart of Jesus’ ministry … which is a life of love and service.
“I know there’s a beautiful life waiting on the other side of the door” of ordained ministry, Forsythe said.