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Nine men to begin service to God’s people as deacons in the archdiocese

Nine men from the Omaha archdiocese will begin their lives of service to the Catholic faithful and others in need as Archbishop George J. Lucas ordains them as permanent deacons during a 10 a.m. Mass May 1 at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha.

The event will follow COVID precautions along with seating at 50% capacity. It will be livestreamed at vimeo.com/event/848605.

“Deacons are ordained to be near and close to the poor and suffering and to bring the Gospel to places where it seemingly doesn’t exist,” said Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor for the archdiocese and director of the permanent diaconate.

“They also have a dual role of assisting and animating the lay faithful to exercise their baptism (within) their parishes” and they are encouraged to “think beyond parish boundaries” for other opportunities to minister, he said.

Deacons assist at Masses; preside at baptisms, weddings and funeral services; visit the sick, homebound and imprisoned; help with baptism, marriage preparation, religious education and Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes, and lead Communion services and liturgies of the Word, among other things.

“The deacon is called to minister in the person of Christ the Servant,” Deacon McNeil said, imitating Jesus’ ministry of love and service, and “by ordination, is given the sacramental character of Christ, who made himself the ‘deacon,’ or servant of all.”

Deacon McNeil said this year’s candidates are well catechized, selfless people, who are willing to make sacrifices for the Church and the lay faithful.

Every other year, a new diaconate class begins a formation program, attending monthly classes from September through May. They are ordained four years later.

The Catholic Church re-established the role of deacon in 1968 in response to the Second Vatican Council. This year, the permanent diaconate program in the archdiocese celebrates 50 years since its establishment in 1971.

Currently, 220 permanent deacons exercise their ministries in parishes and communities across the archdiocese.

“Deacons are the servants of the bishop … united in a sacred bond in their ministry of service,” Deacon McNeil said.

Profiles of the men to be ordained this year are below.

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RAMON CONTRERAS LEMUS

Parish: Assumption-Guadalupe, Omaha.

Family: Married 33 years to wife, Maria Ana; two sons, three daughters.

Profession: Driver (hazardous materials).

Activities/Ministries: Lector, extraordinary minister of holy Communion (EMHC), choir member, Christian Catholic Family Movement-USA, Nocturnal Adoration Society of the Most Holy Sacrament, marriage preparation.

Wife’s ministries: EMHC, Christian Catholic Family Movement-USA, Nocturnal Adoration Society of the Most Holy Sacrament, marriage preparation.

Couple’s ministries: Christian Catholic Family Movement-USA, marriage preparation.

About the call to the diaconate: “After getting involved in parish activities, deacons and parish priests started to notice, and after about two years of continuous ministry and fidelity, around 2011, the first suggestion took place, but due to frequent movement of pastors, there was no pastoral support until … Father (Carl) Zoucha, and by suggestion of Father Anthony Weidner in 2015 I finally submitted my application, which was accepted by Archbishop George J. Lucas.”

Plans after ordination: “To share the love of God with my wife, my children, my family members, my community of faith and all my neighbors to whom I am sent to minister, as well as to be at the immediate orders of my bishop and my pastor, so help me God.”

STEPHEN DORAN

Parish: St. Margaret Mary, Omaha.

Family: Married 35 years to wife, Sharon; five sons; six grandchildren.

Profession: Neurosurgeon.

Activities/Ministries: Co-founder with wife of Seeking Truth Catholic Bible Study, bioethicist for the Archdiocese of Omaha, author/speaker on Catholic bioethics, marriage retreats, member of the Archdiocese Review Board.

Wife’s ministries: Co-founder and teaching director, Seeking Truth Catholic Bible Study, spiritual director and retreat leader, weekly program on Spirit Catholic Radio, Scripture commentary author, instructor for the permanent diaconate formation program, speaker for local and regional conferences and parish missions, lector.

Couple’s ministries: Seeking Truth Catholic Bible Study, marriage retreats.

About the call to the diaconate: “I first heard the call to the diaconate about seven years ago. I believe the diaconate is the pathway the Lord has chosen for me to bring Christ to all, especially to those in need of healing. I also believe the permanent diaconate is my pathway towards personal holiness, drawing me into the heart of Jesus and sending me out as a missionary disciple. Through spiritual direction, along with prayer and discussion with my wife, Sharon, I was able to discern and affirm this desire to serve the bride of Christ, the Catholic Church, as a permanent deacon.”

Plans after ordination: “As a permanent deacon, I desire to bear witness to the truth of the Gospel in all settings: my home, my parish and my work as husband, father, grandfather and physician. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, I hope to be a conduit of both physical and spiritual healing to my patients. I anticipate continuing in my role as the bioethicist for the Archdiocese of Omaha, providing consultative and teaching services that address the biomedical moral challenges in our society. Over the past 10 years, the study of Scripture has been transformative in my life, and I look forward to continued service with my wife as Seeking Truth Catholic Bible Study brings God’s Word to those who desire to deepen their faith through the study of the Bible.”

MARK HOYLE

Parish: St. Patrick, Fremont.

Family: Married 32 years to wife, Therese; two sons, two daughters.

Profession: Maintenance manager, St. Patrick Parish and Archbishop Bergan Catholic Schools, Fremont.

Activities/Ministries: Youth and adult formation, EMHC, lector, adult server, parish council, annulment sponsor, marriage preparation, Knights of Columbus member, other committees and Bible study groups.

Wife’s ministries: Youth formation, EMHC, marriage preparation, Bible study groups.

Couple’s ministries: Sacramental preparation (previously).

About the call to diaconate: “In the past four years of formation I have developed a more intimate relationship with Christ Jesus and the desire to serve the Church as God wills and the Holy Spirit guides me. As an acolyte (previously in the Lincoln diocese) I loved helping the priests at the altar and felt called to pursue the diaconate after I moved to the Omaha archdiocese.”

Plans after ordination: “I am very interested in continuing my ministry in adult formation and catechesis, evangelization and bringing the love of the Father as he sends me.”

LIBRADO MAIZ-CERVANTES

Parish: Divine Mercy, Schuyler.

Family: Married 19 years to wife, Dilcia Maiz; eight children.

Profession: Truck driver.

Activities/Ministries: Sacristan, lector, EMHC, pre-baptismal class, marriage preparation, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

Wife’s ministries: Lector, EMHC, sacristan, pre-baptismal class, marriage preparation, RCIA.

Couple’s ministries: Marriage preparation, RCIA, pre-baptismal class.

About the call to the diaconate: “It all began in the year 2000 when I took a spiritual retreat led by Jovenes para Cristo (Young Adults for Christ). At that moment, I felt a very deep presence of God … that changed my life. After (being) part of the group for five or six years, some of the group leaders encouraged me to join the diaconate formation program. At first I thought it was not for me and I did not listen to them. A few months later, that idea got my attention and I increasingly became curious and I decided to ask (my parish priest) what the diaconate was about. To my surprise, he was so happy that I asked him that he helped me get into the diaconate program. I was in formation for 18 months when my daughter Elizabeth was born. By then, my new pastor asked me to leave the program because my children were too young: Felipe was two, Daniel was 4, and Judit was 6 years old. I felt really devastated because I really wanted to be a deacon. I had to accept what the pastor told me. Then, new priests, Father Gerry (Gonderinger) and Father Jairo (Congote), came to the parish and they encouraged me to try again. I’m very grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to enter the diaconate formation again. I currently feel blessed and excited about my upcoming ordination day.”

GONZALO JOSE PALMA-PRINCE

Parish: St. Peter, Omaha.

Family: Married more than 13 years to wife, (Lourdes) Adriana Vazquez; two sons.

Profession: Logistics supervisor, ConAgra Foods.

Activities/Ministries: Catechism for confirmation class, helping with Hispanic Ministry.

Couple ministries: Will begin assisting with marriage preparation.

About the call to the diaconate: “About seven years ago I was sitting at Mass and I saw the eyes of the priest with so much love for the Holy Eucharist, that I really want and desire that love for myself and have the capability to share (make disciples) so everyone will experience the fullness of God’s love.”

Plans after ordination: “Taking part in catechesis for confirmation classes, helping with Hispanic ministry and starting a Bible study.”

JOHN PFLUG

Parish: Christ the King, Omaha.

Family: Married 34 years to wife, Sue; two sons, six daughters; eight grandchildren.

Profession: Financial services.

Activities/Ministries: Youth ministry, St. Vincent de Paul Society, pastoral council, Catholic coed over-30 soccer.

Wife’s ministries: St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Couple’s ministries: St. Vincent de Paul Society.

About the call to the diaconate: “As I look back, this journey has been longer than I realized at first – but that is a story I will tell to those who ask. The heat really got turned up on my call when I started working with the teens of the Archdiocese of Omaha about 15 years ago and started attending the Franciscan University Steubenville conferences with them. The presence of the Holy Spirit was so magnified I could no longer deny or try to avoid what the Lord was asking of me – to serve his Church in a more formal and deliberate way. I guess you could say ordination into the permanent diaconate puts an exclamation point at the end of the previous sentence and this one.”

Plans after ordination: “I will serve at the desire of the Archbishop. Which I anticipate, to begin, will be to serve at my home parish of Christ the King in the way my pastor determines will best serve the people of Christ the King, both in the church and outside the church, both Catholic and non-Catholic, as the permanent diaconate is really a call to service. I would like to continue to be involved in youth ministry and help with St. Vincent de Paul and other ministries helping the poor and forgotten of our society, but I also feel a call to be involved in some type of healing ministry.”

GILBERT SNODGRASS

Parish: St. Patrick, Fremont.

Family: Married 33 years to wife, Sandy; one son, two daughters; three grandchildren.

Profession: Quality manager at Becton Dickinson, Columbus.

Activities/Ministries: LifeTeen sponsor, distribution of Communion to the homebound, Knights of Columbus member, Oasis Prayer and Healing Ministry.

Wife’s ministries: Religious formation teacher, LifeTeen sponsor.

Couple’s ministries: Vocations committee, Hope of the Poor.

About the call to the diaconate: “In the late 90s, I recall Father Owen Korte asking/telling me I should consider the diaconate. At the time, I thought I was too young but the seed was firmly planted. Many of the current deacons in our parish also suggested that I consider diaconate. In 2004, I made a CEC (Christians Encounter Christ) retreat weekend that reignited the fire of the Holy Spirit. I was invited to join a CEC men’s group where we encouraged each other each week in prayer, study, and Christian action. Several of these men also encouraged me to consider diaconate. Even though this was a desire, my work travel and time away from home wouldn’t allow the needed availability for diaconate studies. After a significant work change, I found myself working locally again and home every night. With all obstacles removed, I completed the applications and was accepted into the program in 2017.”

Plans after ordination: “In our large parish, there will be many new opportunities to serve. I especially look forward to serving at the altar, preparing and giving homilies, and performing baptisms, as well as praying and assisting at the Oasis Prayer and Healing events. Sandy will continue to teach 2nd grade religious formation. We are prayerfully searching for other ministries to serve our community and parish. We have especially enjoyed traveling with parishioners to Mexico City, where we help them engage with the city’s poor and forgotten at women’s shelters, on the streets, and in one of the city dumps.”

PABLO TOVAR

Parish: Divine Mercy, Schuyler.

Family: Married more than 24 years to wife, Claudia.

Profession: Cargill beef plant employee, Schuyler.

Activities/Ministries: Sacristan, RCIA, marriage preparation, catechist for 2nd and 5th grade faith formation program, coaching altar servers, leader of the parish’s Charismatic Renewal Movement group El Buen Pastor, prison ministry in Columbus.

Couple’s ministries: EMHCs, members of the charismatic renewal.

About the call to the diaconate: “I felt God’s call to the diaconate when I had a more profound encounter with the Word of God through the Charismatic Renewal Movement. At the time, I did not know how to respond to his call until Father Jairo Enrique Congote started a vocational group at Divine Mercy Parish in 2016. So, I felt that God opened the door for me to enter the formation process for the permanent diaconate. In this way, each weekend of formation, the Lord prepared me to serve God’s people. The words that impacted me the most from Scripture were: ‘Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’ (Mt 28:19).”

Plans after ordination: “Evangelize the people of God, making an effort in my homilies when I preach. As a permanent deacon, I will have the opportunity to serve God’s people by baptizing infants and teaching parents and godparents about the duties of our faith, and encouraging them to live our faith from our baptism with the anointing and grace of the Holy Spirit. Also, to take advantage of the opportunity to celebrate the sacrament of marriage with couples and helping married couples know the family’s value as Jesus Christ shows it through his love and mercy. And, of course, being obedient to the priests as I serve God’s people.”

BART ZAVALETTA

Parish: St. Vincent de Paul, Omaha.

Family: Married 10 years to wife, Erin; three sons, one daughter.

Profession: Theology teacher.

Activities/Ministries: Parish – Hispanic Ministry, Rite of Christian Initiation of Children (RCIC); School – discipleship and spirituality programs, student service programs, March for Life, retreats.

Couple’s ministries: Marriage preparation, a possible health and healing ministry.

About the call to the diaconate: “I feel called to the diaconate because of a profound zeal to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles and to consecrate myself to the service of Christ and the Church. I feel particularly drawn to the re-evangelization of our youth and young adults. With so many of them abandoning the faith in their early adult life, I have long sensed a call to step in and join the effort to keep them rooted in the Church.”

Plans after ordination: “As a deacon, I will be humbled to serve as a conduit for the graces that God wishes to bestow upon the Church through the sacrament of Holy Orders, especially for the young people he places in my path. I also plan on consecrating my diaconal ministry to St. Joseph so that with his courage, humility and unwavering faith, I might help form missionary disciples, inspire vocations, serve at the altar, preach the Gospel, offer spiritual direction, and someday perhaps even witness the marriages and baptize the children of my former students.”