As they lay prone, face down before the altar, seminarians Mike Rizzo, Jake Mackowicz and Nam Doan were well on their way to a pivotal moment in their Catholic journeys. Soon all three would be ordained as the newest deacons for the Diocese of Orange.
During the ordination ceremony, prostration is a dramatic and rare sight. According to Augustinian Vocations it carries “the symbolism of death – the death of self that comes before the candidate’s rebirth into priestly service.”
Collectively they had pledged to be charitable, assist the priesthood and embrace celibacy. Individually they had knelt and pledged obedience to Bishop Kevin Vann and his successors.
The trio also received the laying on of hands from the bishop during which the Holy Spirit is conferred. It is “the pivotal and sacramental moment of Holy Orders, when gestures stop being merely symbolic and become powerful and transformative,” according to Augustine Vocations.
The three were then vested in their deacon robes and joined the bishop to assist in presenting the Eucharist at communion.
On Saturday, June 22, at an event attended not only by Vann, but also Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Freyer, members of the Knights of Columbus and Order of Malta, fellow seminarians and about 35 permanent deacons, Rizzo, Mackowicz and Doan reached a significant milestone on their way to priesthood by becoming transitional deacons.
The passage of seminarians into the diaconate is an important nexus.
Bishop Vann spoke of the importance of becoming a deacon and it being more than just transitional.
“It is the next step in your life and ministry,” he said. “There is nothing transitional about these moments or the Word of God, it endures.”
Kevin Welch, a deacon from Oregon, who placed the vestments on Rizzo, reflected on his own ordination, saying until that moment, “I didn’t understand the power of the spirit.”
With ordination, Rizzo, Mackowicz and Doan are now able to conduct baptisms, weddings and funerals and assist at Mass.
In the ordination hierarchy of the Catholic Church, there is the Pope and there are cardinals, bishops, priests and deacons. Within the diaconate, there are transitional and permanent deacons.
Best known are the permanent deacons. These are often elders at churches seeking deeper involvement in the church without becoming a priest. Often they are married or retired.
Describing the work of the deacons, Frank Chavez, director of the Orange County diaconate, said it is encapsulated in three words: altar, word and charity.
In addition to helping with church services, deacons spread God’s Word in the community and engage in charity and social work with the homeless, in jails and ministering.
As Chavez puts it, “Deacons take the grace of the altar to the streets and bring the needs of the streets to the altar.”
Permanent deacons go through a five-year program of study and service. The next group to be ordained will be in October, when 17 will join the ranks of 141 deacons in Orange County in a biennial ceremony.
Rizzo, Mackowicz and Doan tell inspiring stories of their Catholic journeys.
Rizzo, 59, is a widower, who lost his wife, Rosemary, to cancer in 2012, after 27 years of marriage. He has a son, John, who is an engineer with Boeing in Seal Beach.
A former lawyer and executive, he began seriously considering the priesthood after his wife’s passing. After much prayer, soul searching and discussions with his parish priest, he entered the Mt. Angel Seminary in Oregon. He is scheduled to graduate in 2020.
As an older seminarian, “I kind of feel like their father sometimes,” he said of younger students. “That’s OK, sometimes a kid needs a father figure.”
Doan, 33, was born in Vietnam and moved to the United States with his family in 2006. Before leaving Vietnam he was on the road to the priesthood. In the U.S., he went to community college and UC Irvine before seeking priesthood. He attends St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo.
“Slowly God called me to live this life,” he said. “It’s been an interesting journey. I’m just allowing him to lead me.”
Mackowicz moved to the United States from Europe when he was 6, and grew up in Orange County. After graduating from high school in 2006, he wrote in a newsletter for Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in La Habra, that he became more deeply involved in the Church. He attends St. Augustine Seminary in Toronto.
“And so here I am, answering God’s call with that same unconditional ‘Yes, Lord, I come to do your will,’” he wrote.
Rizzo, Mackowicz and Doan became the last class of deacons to be ordained at St. Columban Church in Garden Grove. In the future, ordinations will take place at Christ Cathedral, which formally opened its doors July 17.