In his final minutes as a lay Catholic, seminarian John Nahrgang smiled in anticipation of the big moment. That would come immediately following the proclamation of the Gospel at the May 28 televised and livestreamed Mass at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, when a chair was placed at the foot of the altar and Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted ordained Nahrgang — a convert to Catholicism — a deacon.
Men who are ordained to the transitional diaconate are one step closer to their ultimate calling to serve the Church as priests. Providentially, Nahrgang’s ordination to the diaconate took place on Ascension Sunday, when the Church recalls Christ’s words to His disciples that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit and become His witnesses to the world.
“You, my son, have been waiting for this day of ordination for several years,” Bishop Olmsted said. “Now the waiting is over — from this day forward, you will be a public witness to Jesus Christ in communion with me and my successors.”
Bishop Olmsted also pointed out the many ways deacons serve the people of God: baptizing, preaching, witnessing matrimony, bringing Communion to the dying and leading the rites of burial, among other duties. Nahrgang professed his commitment to celibacy and his willingness to “maintain and deepen a spirit of prayer appropriate” to the transitional diaconate and to faithfully celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours.” He also promised obedience to Bishop Olmsted and his successors.
The bishop reminded Nahrgang of St. Paul’s words, that Christ humbled himself, “becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” The power received upon ordination, Bishop Olmsted said, “is not something anyone deserves but rather a gift of God for the sake of serving others.”
Nahrgang then prostrated himself on the floor at the front of the cathedral in a sign of his total surrender to God. The choir led the congregation in a singing of the litany of the saints and at its conclusion, the Pontifical College Josephinum seminarian knelt before Bishop Olmsted who laid hands on him, ordaining him. He was then vested with the deacon’s stole and a gold and red dalmatic.
Throughout the remainder of the liturgy, Dcn. Nahrgang took on his new responsibilities: preparing the altar as well as accompanying Bishop Olmsted as he incensed the altar, the Paschal candle and the congregation. He also chanted the “Go forth the Mass has ended” at the conclusion of the Mass.
“It was such a joy to watch,” said Fr. Paul Sullivan, vocations director for the Phoenix Diocese. “Dcn. John is proof that the Lord is taking care of us.” There are currently about 30 men preparing for priesthood for the diocese.
Afterward, a long line of the faithful stretched through Smith Hall as friends, family and parishioners lined up to receive Dcn. Nahrgang’s first blessings. Among them were his parents, Cindy and Jim Nahrgang. Cindy said she was moved by the ceremony, especially when they brought forth the gifts of bread and wine and Bishop Olmsted touched their hands.
“We feel really blessed that John has found a vocation that he’s so dedicated to and he’s totally happy,” Jim said.
Dcn. Nahrgang said the experience of participating in the Mass as a deacon was both powerful and surreal. At the moment of ordination, he said he felt keenly the spiritual fatherhood of Bishop Olmsted and the power of the Holy Spirit flowing from him.
“I felt an overwhelming sense of joy and gratitude for the gift that ordination is. It’s not something I earned — it’s something I received by God’s grace and love.”