Wyoming’s booming diaconate

This year, the Diocese of Cheyenne ordained a record number of deacons — and, in a rare exception, one of the youngest in the country.

From the Billings Gazette: 

As the faithful in St. Mary’s Cathedral knelt in their pews, Michael Martinson was facedown before the altar.

Martinson lay, and the faithful prayed, all through the singing of the Litany of the Saints. To Catholics, lying prostrate symbolizes the unworthiness for the office of deacon and the candidate’s dependence upon God and the community to be successful.

Martinson, 34, was the only deacon ordained on Tuesday at St. Mary’s, but only because of a technicality. Martinson is one of 17 permanent deacons to be ordained this year, the largest number in the history of the Diocese of Cheyenne, said Vernon Dobelmann, a deacon himself and the diocese’s director of pastoral ministries and superintendent of Catholic schools. The class was about twice as big as past classes, he figured.

The other 16 were ordained in May, before Martinson had turned 34. A deacon must be 35, but the bishop has the authority to dispense a year, which happened in Martinson’s case. So Martinson’s ceremony was scheduled shortly after his 34th birthday.

“Seventeen deacons, for any diocese in this country, is a very large class,” said Bishop Paul Etienne of the Diocese of Cheyenne, which covers the entire state of Wyoming. In fact, Etienne was recently teasing the cardinal archbishop of New York that he had ordained more people for the local church this year than the cardinal had.

“It’s a really unique blessing for the local church. God works how and when he will, and thankfully, these guys have responded,” Etienne said. “We as a church will benefit from this ministry.”

The record-breaking class comes at a time when polls suggest fewer Americans are identifying with a particular church and that only 25 to 30 percent of those who call themselves Catholic participate on a weekly basis, Dobelmann said.

“I think this says the exact opposite,” said the Rev. Tim Martinson, Michael Martinson’s younger brother who was ordained as a priest two years ago. “There is an excitement and an enthusiasm and a desire to answer the call that God is calling us to do and to spread the gospel message. That’s what these deacons have done and are going to do the rest of their lives.”

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