By Tony DeGol
“Welcome to the new world order of ordination to the diaconate,” Bishop Mark said to a group of mask-wearing guests at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.
His greeting came during a private Mass on May 30 during which he ordained two diocesan seminarians as transitional deacons.
“Who would have imagined that we would have been celebrating under these circumstances?,” the Bishop posed.
Even with the masks, social distancing, and other safety precautions, it was, indeed, a celebration as a very small group of invited family and friends joyfully witnessed Mark Groeger and Michael Pleva take the next formal step in their formation for the priesthood.
In his homily, Bishop Mark reminded the seminarians of the importance of the Order of Deacon.
“God-willing, Mark and Michael, you will be called to ordination to the priesthood hopefully next year,” he reminded. “Your ministry as deacon may be a transitional experience in anticipation of that ordination as priest in the future, but don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Ordination to priesthood does not take away from the sacramental character that you receive when you are ordained deacon.”
The Bishop stated that Pope Francis, in his prayer intention for deacons during the month of May, said that deacons are dedicated to the service of the poor, are the guardians of service in the Church, and are to be faithful in their service to the Word.
“These three elements have one thing for sure in common: they all have something to do with service,” noted Bishop Mark.
There is perhaps no better example of service than Jesus washing the feet of his Apostles at the Last Supper, the Bishop continued.
“By word and action, Jesus was teaching his disciples that diaconia (biblical Greek word for service) is at the heart of ministry and the mission of the entire Church,” he said. “If service is at the heart of the mission and ministry of the Son of God, and it is never diminished by His superior status of Lord of heaven and earth, and as High Priest, it will always be a part of the fundamental character of perhaps a future priest and a present deacon.”
Following the homily, Bishop Mark proceeded with the Rite of Ordination, which included the Promise of Obedience, the Laying on of Hands, and the Handing on of the Book of the Gospels.
During the Investiture with Stole and Dalmatic, social distancing was observed as priests assisted the newly-ordained, and the fraternal embrace was replaced with applause from everyone in the Cathedral.
“The ordination was simple and profound,” observed Deacon Pleva. “Although the number of people that could have attended was limited, everyone who has supported me was there in spirit. I am looking forward to serving the people of this diocese.”
The ordination brought a great sense of peace to Deacon Groeger.
“It was extremely reassuring to me – like the peace and calm one experiences when you know you’re doing something right and doing it well,” he explained. “For me, the past five years have not only been a growth of knowledge of the faith but the true focus has been and will continue to be on growing deeper in union and in love with our Lord. Every day for the past five years (since the beginning of formation), I’ve been praying and surrendering to our Lord. My goal has been, and will continue to be, to live His will and not mine.”
Deacons Groeger and Pleva will continue their priestly formation at Saint Vincent Seminary in Latrobe in the fall. Beginning this summer and throughout their diaconal year, Deacon Groeger will serve at Sacred Heart and Saint Mary Parishes in Altoona; Deacon Pleva is assigned to Saint Benedict Parish in Johnstown.
“It will be a great first assignment filled with many graces,” predicted Deacon Pleva. “I am looking forward to meeting the people, serving, and learning.”
As he looks to the future, Deacon Groeger pledged to be a reflection of the Lord to all he meets.
“The only way we can truly live the will He has for us is for us to abandon ourselves and give our lives to him. That has been my daily goal, and the peace that I experienced during ordination was an affirmation that I am following the path He has called me to.”
Deacon Groeger is a member of Saint Peter Parish in Somerset; Deacon Pleva belongs to Holy Rosary Parish in Altoona.
Click HERE to watch the Ordination Mass
Among the handful of priests present at the ordination was Father Peter Crowe, Administrator of Saint Andrew Parish in Johnstown. Father Crowe assumed the duty of Diocesan Director of Vocations on June 1, and he offered the following thoughts on the recent ordination.
As I sat in the sanctuary during the ordination, I kept thinking, “what a strange experience! This Cathedral is usually packed with people!” Then I began to think, “Mother Church truly rejoices because two men have said yes to our Lord.” These men have said no to so many wonderful possibilities in their lives to say yes to our Lord’s call to the diaconate and God willing next year the priesthood.
They are in good company with many other men who undoubtedly throughout the ages also have had ordinations that would have been subdued or maybe even covert for fear of persecution. I thought of Blessed Karl Leisner who was ordained a priest at Dachau or Pope St John Paul II who was ordained in the archbishop’s private chapel. I have two classmates from seminary who are Chinese – I thought of all the secret ordinations that have most definitely taken place in China due to the severe persecution there. What wonderful examples to us to ponder. In a time when there is so much terrible violence and disobedience of just civil laws, these men are showing us the path to Heaven is obedience to Christ, laying down one’s life at our Lord’s beckoning. They show us that to live is to die to self. It’s awesome to read through the Gospels and see how simple the evangelists describe the call of the Apostles and how simply they responded. Friendship with Christ is so powerful that a man forgets about his own desires and plans in order to lead others to Christ.
I was recently given an image of the Good Shepherd, but this Good Shepherd is not sitting quietly with some peaceful lambs. He’s leaning over a cliff, risking his life to reach down to grab a lamb who has started to slide down. Meanwhile a hawk approaches from the sky. Talk about real peril to the shepherd! He’s doing it to save one sheep. That’s the kind of shepherds we need: men who are willing to lay down their lives at the cost of their own comfort or desires. Men who are going to do whatever it takes for the salvation of souls. Men who love God and stand up for the truth. When men are ordained, that’s the kind of selfless service our Lord calls them to live. It’s not naturally possible, but with the help of God it is. Let’s pray a lot for these two men as they prepare for priestly ordination.
So many young people today are truly hungering to know the truth, to see an authentic life. Obedience, celibacy, prayer are powerful antidotes to a culture that is so lost due to rebellion, relativism, and hedonism.
On Saturday in Altoona, two men lay prostrate while we invoked the heavenly army. They arose, were vested with the battle gear that St Paul describes in Ephesians 6. May they go out to lead us in spiritual battle, fighting full of Faith, Hope, and Love. The Cathedral may have been quieter than usual on Saturday May 30 for the ordination of Deacon Michael Pleva and Deacon Mark Groeger, but Heaven thundered with joy as it does at every ordination!
Mary, Queen of Clergy, pray for us!
[Photos: (Top) Deacon Michael Pleva, Bishop Mark, Deacon Mark Groeger; (First Inset) Bishop Mark lays hands on the head of Michael Pleva; (Second Inset) Bishop Mark presents the Book of the Gospels to Mark Groeger; (Third Inset) Father George Jakopac assists Deacon Pleva in vesting; (Fourth Inset) Deacon Groeger prepares the Altar after being ordained as Deacon Michael Russo looks on; (Fifth Inset) Father Peter Crowe, Diocesan Director of Vocations.]