Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted ordained two seminarians to the transitional diaconate May 30, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Phoenix.

Prior to the Mass, Dcn. Anthony Dang and Dcn. Harold Escarcega expressed separately to The Catholic Sun that they most looked forward to being “conformed to Jesus Christ.” Ordination to the diaconate — like all ordinations — leaves an imprint and is a particular conforming to Christ the Servant (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1121).

This is the final step before they would be ordained to the priesthood, most likely this time next year.

“The grace that God pours into your hearts today will enable you, even more than before, to pour out your lives in service of others,” Bishop Olmsted said in his homily. “So, strive each day to do the will of God gladly, and to serve the people with the same love you have received from the Lord.”

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According to the same paragraph in the Catechism, a deacon assists the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, baptizes, blesses marriages, proclaims the Gospel, preaches, presides over funerals and dedicates himself to the “various ministries of charity.”

In his homily, Bishop Olmsted noted the appropriateness of the celebration occurring on the feast of the Trinity.

“At the moment that you surrendered to love — that is, that you surrendered to God — you began to walk in a freedom that allows you to accept the invitation of Jesus (cf. Mt 4:19), ‘Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men,’” he said. “As you have followed Jesus, He has led you to discover to ever greater degree the love of the Father and the Holy Spirit, and, not only to discover this mystery, but to enter more profoundly into the loving communion with the Blessed Trinity.”

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted ordained Anthony Dang and Harold Escarcega to the transitional diaconate May 30, 2021, at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Phoenix. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

Dcn. Dang, a Tempe native who grew up attending Resurrection Parish in Tempe, was having doubts about his faith until his family got in a serious car accident his freshman year of high school. His father, grandfather, sister and one of his brothers were all injured, and he prayed the rosary for their healing every night. Eventually, they all recovered and came home, but by then, Dcn. Dang was already in the habit of praying the rosary daily.

“One day in my sophomore year of high school, I was praying my rosary as usual, and I heard a voice saying that I should enter seminary. After I finished praying the rosary, I tried to push that idea to the back of my head and forget about it,” Dcn. Dang recalled. “Throughout high school, I just couldn’t forget about it.”

He eventually attended a day of discernment retreat at Mount Claret Retreat Center during his junior year in high school. After that, he felt a peace and decided he wanted to enter seminary. Dcn. Dang attended the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, for his undergraduate degree, then attended St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver for his theology courses.

The most challenging aspect of seminary, he said was “trying to allow myself to surrender to God and realize I’m not in control.”

Dcn. Dang will serve at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral over the summer, and at Assumption Parish in Denver while completing his studies at St. John Vianney.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted ordained Anthony Dang and Harold Escarcega to the transitional diaconate May 30, 2021, at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Phoenix. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

Dcn. Escarcega, also attended St. John Vianney with Dcn. Dang. Prior to that, he completed his undergraduate degree at Theological College at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., following one year at the Josephinum. What drew him to discern the priesthood was experiencing Jesus in the liturgy and in Adoration.

“Good liturgy just draws you into the reality of what’s happening in front of you. I think that there really is a beautiful peace that the Lord is very pleased to give in your heart,” Dcn. Escarcega said.

A musical person, he joined the schola at St. Joan of Arc Parish in Phoenix. At the same time, he began going to perpetual Adoration at St. Bernadette Parish in Scottsdale every day.

“There was a deep grace to just be drawn more and more to encounter the Lord in the Eucharist there in adoration. I really couldn’t end my day without going to adoration, and it was usually at least for an hour,” Dcn. Escarcega recalled. “It was in the silence of that prayer along with just that prayerful encounter at the liturgy that really helped me.”

Dcn. Escarcega will serve at St. Henry Parish in Buckeye over the summer, then Christ the King Parish in Denver while completing his seminary studies.

Dcn. Andrew Gilliland, a permanent deacon at St. Anne Parish in Gilbert who was a volunteer with the Life Teen at Resurrection when Dcn. Dang was in junior high school, vested the latter during the liturgy.

“As he grew up and he discerned his vocation, we used to talk quite regularly about discernment of vocations and I got to know him and his family really well over quite a number of years,” said Dcn. Gilliland, who hadn’t even begun discerning his own vocation at the time. “What an amazing privilege for me to see this day come for him, and not just in a way of watching him grow into his vocation, but to be able to share that connection, both in being from the same parish, being close friends, being brothers in the diaconate and, now with great joy, looking forward to his priestly ordination.”

Vesting Dcn. Escarcega was Dcn. Peter Auriemma, a permanent deacon at St. Bernadette who was in formation and attending St. Joan of Arc when he met the former.

“I had been praying for Harold since the first time he actually even spoke about entering the seminary,” he said. “It’s an amazing blessing to follow a young man on his journey and see him develop, see him grow in his vocation.”

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted ordained Anthony Dang and Harold Escarcega to the transitional diaconate May 30, 2021, at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Phoenix. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

‘The Lord forges brotherhood’

Dcn. Ian Wintering, who will be ordained a priest June 5, expressed joy at being able to proclaim the Gospel for the ordination of his friends whom he’d known since entering seminary.

“It’s really amazing to finally have people that are ordained that I grew up with,” he said. “It’s just been really cool to see them grow and to see the Lord work in their lives over this time.”

Dcn. Micah Flores, who was ordained a transitional deacon Feb. 13 of this year for the Archdiocese of Denver and serves at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Longmont, Colorado, traveled to see his seminary classmates ordained, describing his relationship with them as a “brotherhood.”

“Through all of those experiences, the Lord forges brotherhood together and forges truly special relationships. So, when one of us is ordained a deacon or a priest, then it’s only fitting to come out and to share that experience with them,” he said. “They truly have a heart for the people and a patience and a goodness that arises from them, and I’m just pumped for them to be in ministry and to be preaching and to be serving the people of God.”

Diocesan Vocations director Fr. Paul Sullivan, who also serves as rector of Nazareth House Seminary, said it was a “joy” to have seen Dcns. Dang and Escarcega grow.

“It’s just a joy to see how much the Lord has done over the years in their lives and their formation,” he said, “not only as the Lord forms them in the priesthood, but as he forms them in who they are as Harold and Anthony.”