‘Some people ask, “Why be ordained deacon?”. I think the answer has to come from deep within at the core of our being, as a calling to serve and walk with God’s people in the name of the Church.’
The above words come from John Power, the new deacon at St Oswald’s and St Sebastian’s in Old Swan, who this summer was one of four men ordained to that ministry in the Archdiocese of Liverpool. The quartet of ordinations took place across eight days between 19 and 26 July and marked a change from the normal practice of each year’s crop being ordained together at the Metropolitan Cathedral.
Father Chris Fallon, director of the diaconal programme for Liverpool Archdiocese, said: ‘The diaconate ordinations were quite different this year. Usually we have a big celebration in the cathedral but because of the coronavirus we had to have small individual celebrations in the parishes of the four men being ordained.’
The first ordination – of John McCarthy – took place at St Jerome’s, Formby on Sunday 19 July, with Archbishop Malcolm McMahon the celebrant and Father John Poland assisting. This was the case too for the ordinations the following weekend of John Power, at St Oswald’s on Friday 24 July, and Mike Bennett at St James’s, Bootle, on the 26th. In between Anthony Cave was ordained at his home parish of St Anthony’s, Scotland Road on Saturday 25th, with Bishop Tom Williams the celebrant this time.
Owing to the current restrictions there were differences to the service. For example, each ordinand was vested with the stole and dalmatic by his wife only, and there was no kiss of peace from the deacons present. Yet for Anthony Cave this did not diminish the joy of the day. ‘I feel the ordination was made extra special as I was ordained in my local church,’ he said. ‘It was a true blessing to have a celebration in the parish. Even though not all the parishioners could make it, they felt part of it through prayer.’
There was a similar reflection from John McCarthy who, while sorry he ‘couldn’t share this time with all of my family and with all the community of St Jerome’s and St Anne’s’ still found it ‘a truly inspiring day’. He elaborated: ‘My ordination was a very intimate and personal affair not only between Archbishop Malcolm, myself and my family but with God Our Father also.’
Father Chris added: ‘The celebrations were subject to the precautions we’re all having to take at the moment and one sadness was that the new deacons could not be welcomed with the sign of peace by their brother deacons, but we’re hoping to provide an opportunity for that to happen at the next annual retreat.
‘Different gifts and experiences’
When it comes to the four new deacons, Father Chris observes that ‘they each bring different gifts and experiences to their ministry’. In John McCarthy’s case, he brings the experience of a professional life as a police officer.
He explains that after retiring from Merseyside Police in 2015 he sought ways to ‘continue to serve in my community’ and one way was to help with ‘the administration of St Jerome’s at the request of our parish priest, Monsignor John Walsh. Having specialised in the area of Protecting Vulnerable People while serving with Merseyside Police, I felt it only right that I take on the duties of parish safeguarding representative. Even so, I felt there was more I could do and often while praying asked what the Lord wanted of me. During one of the many conversations I had with Mgr John, he asked if I’d ever considered the diaconate. I hadn’t, and so he asked me if I’d consider it. Now here I am.’
He added: ‘The five years spent first discerning, then in formation for the diaconate, have been a very enlightening and fulfilling part of my life so much so that I believe for many years I must have been going about with my eyes and ears shut.’
For John Power, this process has taken time too. ‘It’s been a long journey of discernment involving close family and prayer and listening to what the still small voice is asking of us,’ he reflected. ‘My journey towards ordination has been varied. I’ve been a catechist for many years in the parish of St James in Bootle, been the sacristan in the Cathedral Crypt and now serve in the parishes where I live in Old Swan.’
John’s professional life has been varied also and includes a spell working as an IT consultant in Bangalore, India and, most recently, teaching Computing and ICT at Merchant Taylors’ Girls’ School, Crosby – a role he left this summer to focus entirely on his new ministry. ‘I had 12 very happy years there and the biggest personal achievement was developing a charity link with schools in Sierra Leone and fundraising with the kids to build two schools out there. I actually founded my own charity, Orphan Child Sierra Leone, which will continue working out there now I’ve left.’
‘Support my local community’
Anthony Cave, the new deacon at St Anthony’s Scotland Road, has his own experience of working in education as chaplain to St Mary’s Catholic High School, Leyland. ‘I’ve always felt called to be of service to God and His Church,’ he said, and the permanent diaconate offers an opportunity to be more deeply involved in the life of the parish in which he grew up.
‘When I felt called to become a deacon, it was mostly a calling to support my local community,’ he said. ‘I felt I wanted to give something back to the community that supported me when I was a young boy, and I felt there was a pastoral need in my parish – especially with looking after the elderly and the sick. We’re quite close to the hospitals so I’d like to get involved as much as possible with supporting families, and especially bereaved families – I think there’s a real need, not just in the lead-up to a funeral but afterwards.’
The last-ordained of the four, Mike Bennett, will serve at St James’s, Bootle. It is a Salesian parish and Mike, now deputy head at De La Salle Academy in Croxteth, has a deep connection with the order. ‘The Salesians have been a big part of my formation ever since I did my teaching practice at St John Bosco 23 years ago and then taught at Savio Salesian College for nine years.’
It is an order, he notes, which works through education to ‘serve the poor’ and this has been the central purpose in his calling to become a deacon. ‘The primary reason is that Pope Francis is very clear that the Church is a field hospital and it’s a field hospital primarily for the poor. I was inspired by Pope Francis to want to serve the poor. The parish which I minister out of, St James’s, is a Salesian parish and a very, very poor area and my ministry will be twofold – to serve the poor through the parish and also to serve the poor though education.’