Freshly minted as a deacon, Deacon Matthew O’Neail rocked his new vestments — namely, a stole and dalmatic (atop an alb) — that he had received a little earlier in the Rite of Ordination of Deacons.
However, his broad smile was much like the smiles worn by his wife, Bambi, and their children, 17-year-old Lance and 15-year-old Angelina, on the afternoon of June 2 as they gathered outside the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis after the ordination Mass.
On their smiles alone, an observer might have been hard-pressed to identify who was at the center of this joyous occasion. Matthew’s ordination was indeed a family affair.
At 36, Deacon O’Neail is among a handful of men ordained in their late-30s since the archdiocese started ordaining deacons in 1977. From that first class, Deacon Ken Potzman, now 76, remains the youngest deacon ever ordained in the Archdiocese of St. Louis at 35 years, 11 days old. Canon law requires deacons to be at least 35 at ordination.
With a potential 40-year ministry ahead, Deacon O’Neail equated his long-term commitment as a deacon to that of marriage and family, which is appropriate since family played such an important role in his formation.
What impact did your family have on formation?
Matthew: They’re vital. They’re the first calling God gave me. It’s their total support that allowed me to make a commitment to the second calling in the diaconate.
How did they support his calling and formation, which is comprised of classes twice a week over four years?
Angelina: When my Dad was at classes, we would miss time with him, but we were OK with that because we knew he was working up to something that he really was being called for. We were always there for him, like when he wanted to read his Scriptures before he would go up to church to read, giving him advice.
In turn, how has Matthew’s formation and ordination impacted the family?
Bambi: I think the diaconate has brought us closer as a family. We always seem to pray more together; we study together. We talk about Scripture more.
Lance: Those conversations can happen anywhere — at the dinner table, in the living room, on car rides. If we get on the topic, if anything gets brought up about spirituality, like “my prayer life is going in this direction,” we’ve had conversations about the faith. … It’s really been a very good journey. We’re helping each other grow spiritually; we’re open with each other about how things are going. It’s good to have each other there; it’s important as the family to get each other to the goal, which is heaven.
Angelina: (Formation) has brought us closer together. When we’re all together at church, it’s just touching because that’s when we all just calm down and are able to be together and quiet and take it all in. It’s developed and built into something that’s really exciting for us.
Bambi: They were very excited, very happy the whole way through.
How did you receive your calling?
Matthew: In prayer, it was visions of how a deacon ministered to my wife and I; that’s the way God spoke to me and called me to ministry. I fought it somewhat out of fear of not being worthy.
What convinced you otherwise, that formation was the way to go?
Matthew: I began to open up to people I trust, and they told me that my whole life, I’ve been committing to helping people. (O’Neail is an investigator for the Jefferson County circuit attorney and has been a volunteer firefighter.) They said that those are examples “of giving yourself to the community. You already do that.”
So, the diaconate wasn’t much of a leap?
Matthew: I’ve always liked helping people, I enjoy helping people.