The Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne celebrated the ordination of two new permanent deacons over the weekend. Stephen Fernandes and Hoa Tran were ordained to the permanent diaconate by Archbishop Peter A. Comensoli at St Patrick’s Cathedral on Saturday 11 March, with family, friends, and a large number of parishioners from the men’s local communities gathering for the joyful occasion. Also joining the ceremony were a number of fellow deacons and priests of the archdiocese, and Auxiliary Bishops Terry Curtin and Martin Ashe.

In welcoming, Archbishop Peter expressed his gratitude for all who’d gathered for this ‘happy occasion’, saying, ‘may this be a good expression of our local church in all its variety’. With the ordinations of Stephen and Hao, there are now 22 men serving as permanent deacons within the archdiocese. Their role is to assist parish priests in duties such as proclaiming the gospel and preaching, conducting baptisms, weddings, and funerals (that are not celebrated within the Mass context), and particularly outreach work.

‘As deacons, that is, as ministers of Jesus Christ who came among us to serve, these two men are to take up their responsibilities from the heart,’ said Archbishop Peter in his homily. ‘They are to learn to serve God’s people in love and joy as stewards of God’s mysteries, in his Word at the altar, and by charity.

May you too be recognised as disciples of the Lord, who came not to be served, but to serve.’

He also said, ‘We call them ordained ministers—because they are commissioned from among God’s pilgrim people to serve God’s people, who are the Body of Christ. St Paul referred to this setting apart, this ordination, as a personal sharing in the Lord’s grace, allotted to each individually, “so that the saints together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ.”

‘Ordination is not an individual spiritual attainment, then; it is a gift shared for the sake of others. The diaconate—by the very meaning of the word—is a serving responsibility … Hoa and Stephen, in the words of Jesus, who sent out before him those he had set aside for service: be ambassadors of peace; humbly accept what is set before you; heal, always heal; and let people know that God is near to them. These are very fine characteristics for any deacon of the Lord; may they be yours.’

Bringing the richness of family life to diaconate ministry

Originally from India, Deacon Stephen, 63, is married to Liza and has an adult daughter, Irene. They are parishioners at St Anthony of Padua Parish in Melton South (and nearby St Catherine of Siena Parish in Melton). However, from 17 May, Deacon Stephen has been appointed to serve at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Sunbury, alongside newly appointed parish priest Fr Denis Stanley.

He is looking forward to continuing his involvement in Church activities and ‘being with the community’. ‘I want to share my knowledge of what I know about Catholicism now that I’ve learnt so much and have completed my bachelor’s degree in theology at Catholic Theological College,’ he says. ‘God has given me so much, so I want to give back something in some way or another.’

Deacon Hoa was born in Vietnam, the eldest of ten children, and eventually arrived in Australia in 1981 (having fled communist-led Vietnam). He met his wife Oanh here in Australia and they were married for 15 years before she passed away with cancer. He has two adult children, Nguyen and Vy, and calls Resurrection Parish Keysborough home.

He ‘hopes to do well’ in his daily duties as a deacon, and to ‘bring the word of God to life’ among those he encounters. ‘I wish to help people to know who we are and where we come from, and to help them to live more meaningfully, in the joys and sorrows of life,’ he says.

Fr Andrew Jekot, parish priest of St Mary of the Cross, Mordialloc and Aspendale Parish, has known Deacons Stephen and Hoa since they commenced their formation for the diaconate six years ago, having been director of the permanent diaconate formation program in the Archdiocese since 2015. He says, ‘The life experience of these two men, and their family lives will bring a unique richness to their ministry.’

‘Permanent deacons still live at home in their family and married life—their first sacrament is to the sacrament of marriage—so they offer something that a lot of priests can’t do in regard to having a family and that sort of perspective on life, which is a lived experience for them. That is a richness that they bring to their ministry, and these two men certainly have that.

Stephen and Hoa are very hope-filled men who are passionate about their faith and wish to live that out in this particular way of life, as an ordained clergy person, a permanent deacon.

‘I think they have a lot to offer through those gifts of themselves that they’ve presented before the Archdiocese and in their desire to be ordained.’ Fr Jekot adds that there are four men currently enrolled in the permanent diaconate formation program—‘a hopeful sign of growth in this area of ministry’.

At the conclusion of Mass, Deacon Stephen offered a word of thanks on behalf of Deacon Hoa and himself, to the many people who had assisted them in their journey, and to those gathered to witness the ordination, including friends and family, some of whom had travelled from interstate and overseas.

‘Praise be to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Together with my fellow deacon Hoa Tran, we both feel privileged to be here, with thanksgiving in our hearts for this wonderful love that you have shown to us as brethren in Christ,’ he said. ‘To those responsible for accepting us into the diaconate ministry, Archbishop Peter Comensoli, thank you for bestowing upon us the gift of being deacons of Jesus Christ. As you mentioned in the homily, a gift that is not for oneself, but for the people of God.’

Special thanks was offered to their parents, ‘for the many sacrifices they made and for bringing us up in the faith ... That initial gift of faith in Baptism eventually led us to be ordained deacons. We love you all very much.

‘I’d like to end with a gratitude and with a request from both of us, to all of you, to please pray for us, that we might bring Christ’s love to all those we meet. God bless you.’

A recording of the Ordination Mass can be viewed here.