Archbishop Robert J. Carlson ordained six men as transitional deacons, the final step before becoming a priest, on May 2 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.
Because of the coronavirus outbreak, these men — Charles Archer, Mitchell Baer, Joseph Detwiler, Edward Godefroid, Jonathan Ruzicka and Ryan Truss — received the Sacrament of Holy Orders in a largely empty Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, with only their parents present. Other family, friends and other well-wishers were with them in spirit, as they watched a livestream of the Mass from home.
Baer, who entered the seminary right after graduating from high school, said he and his fellow ordinandi didn’t envision this was how ordination day would look. But he said the circumstances have all the more reinforced what the sacrament is all about.
“Having this in the challenging circumstances that we’re in … we know it’s not about a crowd or a party, but Jesus choosing us to serve, and to serve the Church right now in this time,” Baer said. “It’s an incredible privilege that God is asking me to be a source of hope for people.”
The men have had a variety of seminary experiences. Baer and Ruzicka entered Cardinal Glennon College the same year, both skipping a year because of college-level credits earned while in high school. Detwiler also had planned to enter the seminary right after high school, but suffered severe injuries in a car accident. He recovered and made it to Kenrick-Glennon soon after. Archer and Truss had parallel paths, attending college elsewhere before entering the seminary. And Godefroid was working in the golf industry when he began to hear the calling. He has been studying at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome, but returned to St. Louis recently after the virus began to spread in Italy.
They’ve been meeting weekly as part of a group called “Jesu Caritas,” providing fraternity and support to one another as they prepare for ordination. The meetings have been especially helpful, Baer said, to talk about the challenges as well as where they’ve been finding God’s presence.
“We have all formed a strong brotherhood, and that has been a gift,” Baer said. Like many others, “each of us have had mixed reactions” regarding the pandemic and their upcoming ordination, he added. “There’s sadness for sure and each of us at different times have been challenged with sadness and anxiety. For a while we didn’t know if ordination would be happening (on the scheduled date), but we’ve been supporting and reminding each other what’s most important. The deepest truth is that Jesus is choosing us right now to be a light for people who need hope.”
First Mass preaching as a transitional deacon: 8 a.m. Sunday, May, 3, at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in Oakville. Watch on the parish’s Facebook page. (@smmaparishstl)
Family: Parents: Chris and Theresa Archer; siblings, Patrick, Joe and Claire
Home parish: St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in Oakville
Education: Our Lady of Sorrows (K-2nd); St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (3rd-8th); Saint Louis University High School; University of Dallas; Kenrick School of Theology
The call: I first thought of priesthood in third grade when then-Archbishop Raymond Burke visited my parish, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. As my family was greeting him after Mass, he looked at me and my two brothers and said, “I think one of these boys is called to be a priest.” That was the first time it occurred to me, “This is something I could do.”
I then began praying (with) regularity shortly afterward — Father Mike Giesler (an Opus Dei priest in St. Louis) recommended praying at least 10 minutes of quiet prayer each day before bed, a practice that has helped me immensely over the years. Thoughts of priesthood continued, but I ceased paying much attention to them as I became busy at SLUH. Then, at a retreat my senior year, I was kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament and remembered, “At one point, I had thought of being a priest. Lord, if you really want this, you better make this clear.” Then a story came to mind from my Confirmation saint, St. Philip Neri. When he was uncertain of his vocation as he was traveling to Rome, he felt an answer in the quiet of his heart, “You will know, but not yet.”
The next year, I started at the University of Dallas and studied philosophy there for four years. The first two were stressful, as I was planning to marry and attend law school while knowing I had never honestly returned to the question of priesthood. The summer before my junior year, I reconnected with Father Giesler, who gave me the advice to “Pray for the strength to say ‘yes’ to whatever your vocation is.” Sure enough, within six months I distinctly felt the invitation from the Lord in prayer: “Will you be my priest?” I said yes. I then finished out at UD before entering the seminary.
Since being in the seminary, my desire for spiritual fatherhood has deepened as well as an appreciation for the messiness of parish life. Nevertheless, it is something I am increasingly eager for — to have the chance to freely commit my life to the Lord in this way is itself a great gift — to say to the Lord, “I am yours and give my life to you to serve your people. Use me as you will.”
First Mass preaching as a transitional deacon: 10 a.m. Sunday, May 3, at St. Paul Parish in Fenton. Watch at www.stpaulfenton.org.
Family: Parents, Dave and Suzanne; siblings Lauren, Natalie and Michael
Home parish: St. Paul in Fenton
Education: Bowles Elementary (1st); Uthoff Valley Elementary (2nd-5th); Rockwood South Middle School; Rockwood Summit High School; Cardinal Glennon College; Kenrick School of Theology
The call: My vocation was born in my family. My parents devotedly instilled in me deep desires for faith, self-sacrifice and humility. My siblings were part of our parish’s youth group. As the youngest child does, I looked up to them, and when I was old enough I began attending youth group events myself. By God’s grace, I was struck when a speaker at a Steubenville youth conference mentioned she loved going to daily Mass. I was amazed to hear that Mass even happened outside of Sunday! Soon I was at Mass every day. It was in these dark, quiet mornings with Jesus in the Eucharist where He fed my desire for His priesthood.
At the end of sophomore year of high school, I made a retreat at the seminary and felt an overwhelming sense of peace there. Eventually, one day while praying in the seminary chapel I received confirmation that Jesus wanted me to enter. Seminary formation has been more challenging and painful than I ever imagined it would be. Just as wheat and grapes must first be destroyed to bring about the true manhood of Jesus in the Eucharist, so I have been transformed into the true man God the Father desires me to be. The only way I know to be more joyful is by following Jesus even more closely.
First Mass preaching as a transitional deacon: 10:30 a.m. Sunday, May 3, at Queen of All Saints in Oakville. Watch at qasstl.org/news/mass-streaming.
Family: Parents, Mike and Mary; siblings Elizabeth, Patricia, Cecilia, Tom, John and Kevin
Home Parish: Queen of All Saints in Oakville
Education: Queen of All Saints School; De Smet Jesuit High School; St. Louis Community College-Meramec; Cardinal Glennon College; Kenrick School of Theology
The Call: I was raised in a great Catholic family, and the faith was always a very important part of life. I always attended Catholic schools, and it was in my years in high school at De Smet Jesuit where I became involved in youth ministry. Because I was already involved in my faith, I randomly chose to go on a discernment retreat at the seminary, the whole time not really having a strong desire to be a priest. The Lord encountered me in a very profound way that weekend, especially during the singing of the “Salve Regina” after night prayer. This experience sparked my curiosity, and from that moment on I kept coming back to the seminary over and over again. The Lord worked on my heart in a very gentle way over a period of about a year, and so by the summer before senior year I had an application and had planned on entering college seminary right out of high school.
This plan changed, however, when on July 4, 2010, I was in a horrific car accident with my younger sister Cecilia. I was injured from the waist up, and she had severely injured legs, and it was doubtful we would both survive. When I arrived at the hospital, I had suffered injuries to my ribs, jaw, cheekbones, right eye and right ear. However, the most severe injuries were to my carotid artery, as a result of three strokes, and to my brain, as I had suffered an incredibly severe traumatic brain injury. I was placed in a medically induced coma for about a month, and then it took a few weeks to come out of it. I was unresponsive for 74 days. On day 74, when a priest was staying in my room praying Liturgy of the Hours, I woke up and spoke, miraculously, six hours after my parents were told I may never talk again.
In the months that followed, I had the most profound experience of God’s love for me. From my family who gave me so much support, to all of the nurses and therapists who served me, when in reality there was little to no hope of me ever having much brain function ever again. He also taught me many lessons in the long and grueling hours of therapy where I had to learn how to walk again and other tasks. After I was discharged from the hospital on the feast day of St. Jude (patron saint of lost causes), I graduated from De Smet Jesuit and spent the next year recovering St. Louis Community College. After that year, I entered Cardinal Glennon College. The Lord has been so abundantly generous to me throughout my life, and He is continuing to do so in calling me to be one of His priests.
First Mass preaching as a transitional deacon: 5 p.m. Saturday, May 2, St. Catherine Laboure in Sappington; watch the parish's Facebook page (@SCL.STL)
Family: Parents, Bill and Mary Godefroid; siblings, Marla, Bill, Maria, Marissa and Marcia
Home Parish: St. Catherine Laboure in Sappington
Education: St. Catherine Laboure; St. Mary’s High School; Kenrick-Glennon; currently studying theology with the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome
The Call: As a young professional working in the golf industry in Atlanta, I felt a gnawing and persisting question eating at my mind, “Is this all there is to life?” It was then that I began reading and learning more about the riches of the Catholic faith that I had always believed blindly as a faithful Catholic but never took seriously. A desire for truth and true happiness began to pierce my heart, and it is then that I began to dive deeper into my faith and tried to live it out in my daily life. At that time God providentially put three faithful and joyful priests in my life which made me for the first time ask what first appeared as a daunting question, “Is God calling me to be a priest?” After a few years of discernment, talking with faithful priests, and immeasurable amounts of prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I was finally free enough to say “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
After seven years of seminary formation, I am still struck by how God continues to call me closer to His Most Sacred Heart. The countless prayers of many faithful people have been a true blessing and support to me that have not gone unnoticed; and it is the love of Christ that impels me in my journey to conform my life ever more to His holy priesthood. The one desire that I have carried through since the first time that I thought God was calling me till now, is to bring Jesus and His teaching to His people.
First Mass preaching as a transitional deacon: 10 a.m. Sunday, May 3, at St. Joseph Parish in Imperial; Watch on the parish's Facebook page. (@stjosephimperial)
Family: Parents, John and Jeanne; siblings Emily, Dan and Will
Home parish: Immaculate Heart of Mary in St. Louis
Education: Immaculate Heart of Mary; Saint Mary’s High School; Cardinal Glennon College Seminary; Kenrick School of Theology
The Call: On Oct. 24, 2010, I went to confession after a youth Mass at St. Mary Magdalen Church in St. Louis. I was 16 years old at the time and a sophomore in high school. During that confession, I was inspired by the personal zeal and holiness of the priest who heard my confession. As I prayed my penance, I felt a “still, small voice” inviting me to do the same for others. I was invigorated by the thought of being a conduit of God’s mercy for those who are suffering and doubt their worth in God’s eyes. Whenever I visited the seminary, I felt at home and the desire only continued to grow. I received an application during my senior year of high school — and the rest is history.
First Mass preaching as a transitional deacon: 8 a.m. Sunday, May 3, at St. Gerard Majella in Kirkwood. Watch at youtube.com/frdavidskillman.
Family: Parents, Will and Barb; siblings, Phillip, Anna, Claire and Amelia
Home parish: St. Gianna in Wentzville
Education: St. Francis Borgia, Cedarburg, Wisconsin (K-2nd); St. Joseph, Josephville (6th); Mother of Divine Grace Homeschool (3rd-5th and 7th-12th); Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula, California; Kenrick School of Theology
The call: I began to feel the call to the priesthood when I was very young. I can still remember how, on the day of my First Holy Communion, I longed to become a priest so that I could bring Jesus to others. This desire ebbed and flowed as I grew up, but deep down it remained. Throughout grade school and high school, I thought of the priesthood often as I served Mass, and I had a blast each summer at Kenrick-Glennon Days, a camp at the seminary where boys have fun and learn about the priesthood. After high school, I went to California to attend Thomas Aquinas College. Here I grew in my knowledge and love for God through our daily discussion of the great books and through the sacraments, which were readily available and were celebrated with reverence. At college, I was also surrounded by friends, teachers and chaplains whose faith inspired me to continue discerning my vocation. I entered the seminary soon after graduation and have been truly blessed by my time here.
>> Transitional deacons
The term “deacon” comes from the Greek word diakonia, which means “service.” A deacon is someone who serves Christ and His Church. Through the sacrament of Holy Orders, he participates in the ministry of Christ, who came “to serve and not to be served.” The diaconate is considered the first rank of “orders,” of ordained ministers in the Church: deacons, priests and bishops.
A transitional deacon is a man who, God willing, will eventually be ordained to the priesthood. As a priest, he will not cease to be a deacon through his service to others. He is distinguished from a man who is ordained as a permanent deacon — those who are not planning to be ordained priests. The Second Vatican Council in the 1960s authorized the restoration of the diaconate as a permanent order of ministry. There is no difference in the sacramental character of the transitional and permanent diaconate.
>> Transitional diaconate ordination
WHEN: 10 a.m., Saturday, May 2
WHERE: Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis (the Mass will not be open to the public)
WHO: Charles Archer, Mitchell Baer, Joseph Detwiler, Edward Godefroid, Jonathan Ruzicka and Ryan Truss; Archbishop Robert J. Carlson will confer the Sacrament of Holy Orders
MORE INFO: A livestream of the Mass will be aired at cathedralstl.org.