New deacon Br. Athanasius, FHS, hopes to preach Gospel through example

Br. Athanasius Fornwalt, FHS, receives the Book of the Gospels from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted during his diaconal ordination Mass. As a deacon, Br. Athanasius will be a minister of the Word. (Photo courtesy of Catholic Media Ministry)
Br. Athanasius Fornwalt, FHS, receives the Book of the Gospels from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted during his diaconal ordination Mass. As a deacon, Br. Athanasius will be a minister of the Word. (Photo courtesy of Catholic Media Ministry)

LAVEEN — Br. Athanasius Fornwalt, FHS, spent his Thanksgiving break during his last semester at Catholic University of America being ordained a deacon at St. John the Baptist Parish in Laveen.

The ordination was significant not only for Br. Athanasius, but also marked the first ordination for the newly instituted Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit. It was also the first ordination to take place on a Native American reservation in the diocese’s history.

“It’s very special for the Native community that the diocese would decide to ordain a man on a reservation. The first Catholics in the diocese were Native American,” said Fr. Antony Tinker, FHS. As a public association of the faithful, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted serves as the friars’ superior, but Fr. Antony acts as a proxy as “community servant” for the group.

“We’re not even six months old, and we already have a new deacon in our community,” he added. “It’s a sign of how quickly the Lord is moving in our community and the relationship we have with the Diocese of Phoenix.”

Bishop Olmsted lays hands on Br. Athanasius, ordaining him to the transitional diaconate. The ordination was the first for the newly established Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit and the first in the history of the 47-year diocese to take place on a Native American reservation. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)
Bishop Olmsted lays hands on Br. Athanasius, ordaining him to the transitional diaconate. The ordination was the first for the newly established Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit and the first in the history of the 47-year diocese to take place on a Native American reservation. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

In his homily, Bishop Olmsted recalled Pope Francis’ words to the college of cardinals the previous weekend. The pontiff noted that polarization and exclusion are considered the only way to resolve conflicts and those with the “status of stranger” quickly become enemies.

“As someone who has recently immigrated to Arizona himself, Br. Athanasius … can more easily understand why many immigrants feel the pain of isolation, and why the Church feels compelled by Christ to reach out in solidarity with them,” the bishop said.

Referring to the community, Bishop Olmsted said the friars’ experience of belonging to God and to each other through consecrated fraternity helps them to deepen their gratitude for the love of Christ. At the same time, they must be ready to pay the price of “not belonging to whatever is foreign to God and His Kingdom.”

“The truth … sets us free from the deceptions of the evil one, free to worship Him without fear, free to bear witness to the love of Christ, who for the fallen world is a sign of contradiction, free to reach out in charity to those who feel isolated, lonely and likely do not belong,” he said. “Br. Athanasius and all you who are my brothers in the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit, please know that I rejoice that you belong to the Church in the Diocese of Phoenix. I also rejoice that all of you gathered at this Mass today belong to the Church in the Diocese of Phoenix and I rejoice that you do not belong to the world that rejects Christ.”

Br. Athanasius graduates from CUA this December with a Master of Divinity and will serve as a deacon with the diocesan Native American Ministry before he’s ordained to the priesthood with other transitional deacons for the diocese on June 3 of next year.

“The primary thing is to serve in the liturgy, and to preach, to feed the people with the Word of God,” said Br. Athanasius after the Mass. “I hope to help develop more of a Christian presence on the reservation.”

The morning of his ordination, Br. Athanasius said he prayed before the statue of St. Francis of Assisi which was holding the Book of the Gospels.

“Francis showed us a rule of life is to know the Gospel. Francis was a servant and Francis preached the Gospel, first of all with his life,” he reflected. “It’s a call for me as a Franciscan to become more like Francis by becoming more like Christ.”