Three Phoenix seminarians are one formal step away from priesthood following their May 31 ordination to the diaconate.
Their ordination was carried live from Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral via the televised Mass on AZTV 7/Cable 45, Immaculate Heart Radio 1310AM and YouTube. The diaconate year marks the first of the Church’s clerical states and the final year of preparation for men discerning priesthood.
The three men, deacons Sheunesu Bowora, Ryan Lee and David Loeffler, began discerning their religious vocations at different points in life. Dcn. Bowora came to the Diocese of Phoenix from Zimbabwe to study at a nearby aviation school, Dcn. Lee entered the seminary after graduating from Northern Arizona University and Dcn. Loeffler entered a seminarian formation program while studying at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
“Their gifts are as diverse as their background,” said Fr. Paul Sullivan, director of the diocesan Office of Vocations.
He highlighted Dcn. Bowora’s gift of joy, Dcn. Lee’s gift of compassion and Dcn. Loeffler’s gift of insight and ability to share the faith. The men will serve local bilingual parish communities during their summer assignments in the Diocese of Phoenix. They will preach, assist in liturgy and baptize children.
“What unites them is their having encountered the Lord in their lives and their conviction that He is calling them to serve the people of our diocese,” Fr. Sullivan said.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted had similar words for the seminarians during the televised ordination. He reminded them, on the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, that they arrived at this day because of the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He said it was that divine love that spoke to their heart and awakened a desire to seek love and to give it in return.
“At the moment that you surrendered to love, that is to God, you began to walk in freedom, a freedom that only God can give,” the bishop said, “a freedom that allows you to accept the invitation of Jesus, the Eternal Son of the Father: come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
The feast of the Most Holy Trinity is also a day when the Gospel reading issues anew the missionary mandate the Lord first spoke to the apostles, the bishop said.
“May these words, dear sons in Christ, always thrill your hearts.”
Dcn. Loeffler has been thrilled with the idea of evangelizing as a priest most of his life. His dad, Mike, recalled his oldest son showing an interest as early as age 2 and offering pretend Masses at home with vestments by third or fourth grade.
“I see the seminary as polishing up the rough edges, always working toward perfection,” Mike said.
Dcn. Loeffler said he has always loved the Mass and often said that teaching people to pray the Mass will be among his greatest joys as a priest. He said that his time at Franciscan University allowed him to meet “the Bride of Christ — that is, the Church — in full splendor,” noting his encounter with people of all ages, religious from different orders and liturgical prayer in the various rites.
Dcn. Loeffler’s father noted his son’s level of compassion, understanding and joy that stems from learning and spreading the Word. His son had a chance to preach at his home parish of St. Paul June 1 and looks forward to more practice.
He’s also eager to continue to be surprised by God’s creativity. Hearing how He works in the lives of others taught the newly ordained deacon to delight in God’s handiwork and remind him that he is a minister of His work.
“Whatever good I may say or do, it is He who works through me,” Dcn. Loeffler said.
Dcn. Lee credited the exemplary love of his parents for fostering his priestly vocation. He saw how they lived to serve their three children. He credited the past year, especially, for a deeper understanding of the image of Christ the servant that a deacon, and God-willing, a priest, wholly embraces.
“I’ve always wanted to be a father, servant, counselor and teacher,” Dcn. Lee said.
He is eager for the final academic year, too, because he envisions himself being a big brother to fellow seminarians studying at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. His mom, Rita, could easily see him embracing such a role.
Her son is already a co-big brother — alongside his twin — to the family’s only daughter. Beyond that, she has seen his deepened understanding of theology throughout formation and ability to easily explain the simple parts of the faith, the complex questions and everything in between.
She pinpointed a key moment during the 98-minute ordination Mass. It was when the three young men prostrated themselves on the main aisle of the cathedral.
“I think the most moving, dramatic moment is seeing your son giving himself face down, totally to the Lord,” Rita said, noting it’s an unusual and humbling act of servitude.
Dcn. Bowora’s dad, Cris, flew in from Canada for the ordination and said he was overjoyed to witness the latest step in his son’s calling. Some of his relatives sang and danced in a semicircle during the reception.
“It’s nice having a young boy grow up in the ways of the Lord and dedicated his life to it like the early apostles,” Cris said.
As for the newly ordained deacon himself, he’s eager to share the truths of the Church with others who may not fully realize God’s personal love for every person.
“Even though I’m still a sinner and a human being, I can still do His work,” Dcn. Bowora said, “God is the one who is doing the work here.”
He was eager to preach and preside over a baptism because “that has an effect on someone’s soul.”
Dcn. Bowora said it’s a great feeling to finally be able to give back in a more concrete way after so much support during eight years of formation.
In closing remarks of gratitude during the ordination, Bishop Olmsted acknowledged the support of families, priests, parish leaders and Serra Club members who actively support vocations in the Diocese of Phoenix.