One year away: Bishop ordains seminarians to diaconate prior to priesthood

Deacon Scott Sperry, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares and Deacon Keith Kenney pose for a photo after the May 26 ordination. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Deacon Scott Sperry, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares and Deacon Keith Kenney pose for a photo after the May 26 ordination. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted ordained two men as transitional deacons during the live televised Mass May 26 at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral. It’s the last formal step before priestly ordination, which God-willing, will be June 7, 2014 for Deacons Keith Kenney and Scott Sperry.

Their pathways to the seminary varied, but a common love ultimately brought them to their ordination day, the bishop told them.

“At that moment that you surrendered to Love, that is to God, you discovered the adventure of holiness,” Bishop Olmsted said. “And, as they say, the rest is history.”

The adventure of holiness, the bishop said on the Feast of the Blessed Trinity, led both of them to enter more deeply into loving communion with the One God in three Persons. He expressed gratitude for their gifts of mind and heart that allowed the seminarians to “navigate the rigors of priestly formation” for so many years.

It was during the Easter Vigil 12 years ago that Deacon Sperry first thought about the priesthood. The Our Lady of Mount Carmel parishioner remembers taking pictures from a pew as his dad was entering the Catholic Church.

“It was during his confirmation specifically that I knew the priest was doing something beautiful and God was calling me,” Deacon Sperry said.

He returned home after a semester studying biology and chemistry as a pre-medical student — not the most fulfilling career choice, he said — and began attending daily Mass. The future priest also took community college classes and helped with Kairos retreats for Seton Catholic Preparatory High School students.

Deacon Kenney also found himself involved with leading faith formation prior to entering the seminary. Only he was at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish. The future priest had a delivery route that took him right by the Phoenix parish.

“Rather than sit in traffic where I’d get frustrated, I started to go to daily Mass,” Deacon Kenney said.

He also began working with young adults and found that he loved and looked forward to each ministry with which he was involved. Becoming an altar server at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral furthered his discernment.

This summer, Deacon Kenney will have his hand in even more ministries. He’s assigned to the cathedral where he will take on typical deacon roles including baptisms, graveside funerals, assisting at weddings and preaching at English and Spanish Masses.

It’s also important for transitional deacons to spend time working in the diocesan tribunal and financial offices, he said. It gives them some experience with the procedures of both offices before becoming priests.

“I’m really envisioning myself doing those things a priest does,” Deacon Sperry said.

He’s been practicing vesting and preaching in the seminary as a deacon would and said it felt meant to be. His father, Don, also thinks his son is ready to be a priest.

Bishop Olmsted said the grace poured out during their ordination would enable them even more to offer their lives in service of others. He also addressed them as “my sons,” the same phrase that was used in previous years when the seminarians were raised to the instituted ministry of lector and acolyte.

“That’s always such a huge moment for me,” Deacon Kenney said. “It just solidifies that there’s a lot of love there.”

He acknowledged that it is a sacrifice to lead a life of celibacy — something both transitional deacons vowed during their ordination — but it’s already a fulfilling choice long before his priestly vows. The love and support of the bishop plus fellow deacons and seminarians help.

Although Deacon Kenney has been “pretty sure” about his priestly vocation the whole way through, the newly ordained transitional deacon said it’s a real confirmation to hear that echo from other sources say, “Yes, I see a vocation.”

Fr. Paul Sullivan, director of vocations for the diocese, is one of those sources. He described this period as an exciting one because the future priests are already living the promises of obedience to the bishop and vowed to pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily with and for the Church. It’s in this final year of preparation that the seminarians put the final touches on their practicum classes.

Mark Lane, a parishioner at All Souls Parish in Englewood, Co., is excited to see Deacon Kenney advance in his formation. The newly ordained deacon has served at his parish for the last two years and considers Deacon Kenney a holy man who is comfortable telling the truth “in and out of season.”

“His mind is a sponge when it comes to very effectively evangelizing without putting people on the defensive,” Lane said. ✴