Strangers to friends to brothers

Students gather for Deacon Formation Program

Front: Sister Margaret Ann Andrako; Leonard Mier, Chicago; Andrew Gill and Robert Jones, both Pittsburgh; Robert Knapp, Passaic; Joseph Lavinio, Stamford; Father John G. Petro; and Professor Sandra Collins. Middle: Father Stelyios Muksuris; Patrick Cullen, Phoenix; John Reed and Anthony Blair, both Passaic; Jonathan Dean and Gregory Gath, both Phoenix; Ryan Liebhaber, Passaic; and Father Donald Bolls. Back: Father Robert M. Pipta; John Harden and Richard Ballard, both Passaic; Lawrence Hruska, Parma; Richard Terza, Passaic; and Timothy Belke, Phoenix.

From June 18 to July 1, 16 men from six different eparchies gathered at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of SS. Cyril and Methodius in Pittsburgh, Pa. to continue their study and formation for the diaconal ministry. This two-week intensive is an integral part of the Deacon Formation Program. The program, co-directed by Father John G Petro and Father Robert M. Pipta, prepares men to serve at the Holy Table, to proclaim the Word of God, and to serve the needs of the Byzantine Catholic faithful.

The deacon students come from all walks of life. They span several decades in age. Many of them are married or engaged. Combined they have a total of 51 children and 23 grandchildren. Among them is a major in the U.S. Army, an FBI agent, a correctional psychologist, a diocesan administrator, a mechanical engineer, a pharmaceutical researcher and a stay-at-home dad.

Each day of formation begins around 7:30 a.m. and ends after 9:30 p.m. During this time, the candidates pray the Divine Office, celebrate the Divine Liturgy, receive instruction in Byzantine Catholic theology, study Sacred Scripture, practice preaching homilies, and learn how to serve as deacons at the Liturgy. One of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of the formation is the fellowship the candidates have with each other. Most of the men had never met each other before arriving at the Seminary. Now they have become friends, or to be more accurate, brothers.

During the remainder of the year, the students continue their education through personal study and pastoral formation at their local parishes. They meet regularly with a spiritual director and a mentor, and they take part in a yearly retreat.

This is the deacon students’ third year in the four-year program. As they complete the next two years of the program, some will receive the minor orders of candle-bearer, lector, cantor, and sub-deacon. When their formation is completed, they will be ordained as deacons and assigned to serve at parishes around the country.

Preparing for diaconal ministry is hard work. It takes a strong commitment, a dedicated prayer-life, and a continual pursuit of holiness. The deacon students are grateful for the continued support, sacrifices, and prayers of their families, their parishes, their bishops, and the staff of the Byzantine Catholic Seminary. Please keep these men in your prayers as they continue their journey to the diaconate.

Speaking on behalf of Father Robert, co-director, and Sister Margaret Ann Andrako, administrative assistant, Father John noted: “This is another exceptional group of men who are offering their lives and their talents to the service of our Church. During this twoweek program, their wonderful and lusty participation in the liturgical services of our Church, their assiduous involvement in their classes — nine hours per day! — their hearty appetites and even their after-hours dedication to their on-going cultural formation was truly noteworthy. Our Church will be blessed by their ministry.”