Story and photos by Rebecca Drake
SPRINGFIELD – They were ordained to serve the priests and parishes of western Massachusetts. But on one evening each year, the permanent deacons of the Springfield Diocese, along with their wives, are the ones being served as they attend the Annual Diaconate Appreciation Dinner.
The evening, held on Friday, Nov. 9, this year, begins with a Mass celebrated in St. Michael’s Cathedral by Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell. “You are among the strongest stalwarts of the church,” the bishop told the deacons and wives before beginning the Mass. “So many things would not happen if it weren’t for you… So we take a moment to thank God for you.”
Music for the 5:30 p.m. liturgy was provided by “The Diaconotes,” a group of five deacons who were ordained in 2005. They have been playing at liturgies since then and include Deacons George Morrell of St. Agnes Parish, Dalton; Al Mutti of Mary Mother of Hope Parish, Springfield; David Baillargeon of Holy Family Parish, Russell; Paul Mazzariello, chaplain at the Hampden County House of Correction in Ludlow; and Pedro Rivera Moran of St. Mary Parish, Westfield.
Deacon Roger Carrier, who also serves at St. Mary Parish in Westfield, delivered the homily, urging the deacons to continue their efforts to build up the church in their parishes by helping parishioners to find their gifts and share them.
“Few are aware of their gifts,” Deacon Carrier said during his homily. “Deacons are in a great position to help them and the Year of Faith is a great time to start.”
“Your example is an example for all of Christendom,” Bishop McDonnell told the deacons before the closing prayer of the Mass. “You are an embodiment of the St. Francis saying to preach always and use words if you have to.”
Following the Mass, the deacons and their wives, along with the bishop, several diocesan priests and other members of the Diaconate Formation Board enjoyed a dinner in the Bishop Marshall Center adjacent to the cathedral. After the dinner, special Appreciation Awards were presented to deacons and their wives for significant years of service, including five-year, 15-year and 25-year awards. Recently retired Deacons John Reagan, who served at Our Lady of the Hills Parish in Haydenville, and Michael Lingham, who served at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Agawam, also were recognized.
After presenting the awards, Bishop McDonnell spoke to the deacons present, telling them, “You don’t realize what a difference you make. The diaconate is still very new in the church but it has made such a difference.”
While the number of priests and vowed religious has declined in recent years, the bishop noted, “We’ve seen a blossoming of the diaconate ... and with that, new ministries undertaken, new services being offered, new ways of approaching and reaching out to people.”
“God bless you in your efforts, God bless all you undertake, God bless you in being true disciples out there, making Jesus Christ known,” Bishop McDonnell said. “Thank you for all you do and thank you for all that you have yet to undertake,” he said. “I guarantee God goes with you.”
The bishop’s words of thanks, along with the opportunity to visit with their fellow deacons, makes the annual appreciation night especially rewarding for the deacons, said Deacon Leo Coughlin, director of the diocese’s Diaconate Formation Program.
“We all want a pat on the back and I think they walk out of here tonight thinking, ‘My bishop really appreciates me. I know the people in my parish appreciate me,’” said Deacon Coughlin. “And this is a small token of how we can thank them for all they do for us.”
Watch for more on the 11th Annual Diaconate Appreciation Dinner on an upcoming edition of the Springfield Diocese’s weekly newsmagazine program, “Real to Reel,” which airs on Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.