In the papers: a look at the deacons of Erie

  Photo: Andy Colwell/Erie Times News

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Deacon Ron Fronzaglia began his homily Sunday with a pop quiz.

The retired teacher and principal asked members of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in McKean to list priorities in their lives.

“Is prayer one of your priorities?” Fronzaglia asked. “Is going to church one of your priorities?”

He told more than 100 worshippers at the 10:30 a.m. Mass that “God is first in our lives.”

Sharing Christ with people is a reason Fronzaglia became a deacon. More than 18,000 men are ordained as these ministers in the Catholic Church in the United States. The Catholic Diocese of Erie has 63 and is recruiting for the next class.

The permanent diaconate was a ministry of the early church that was reinstituted by the Second Vatican Council. U.S. bishops began ordaining permanent deacons in the early 1970s, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“It didn’t come back to the diocese of Erie until a little more recently,” said the Rev. Mark Nowak, director of the permanent diaconate for the diocese.

He said Bishop Donald W. Trautman, who became Erie’s bishop in 1990 and retired in 2012, began ordaining deacons here. The number has held steady, Nowak said.

Of the 63 deacons in the Erie diocese, 56 are active here, three are active in other dioceses and four are retired, an official said.

Current Bishop Lawrence Persico said deacons and their work in the realm of charity are very important in the diocese.

“I’m pleased with the program,” he said.

As fewer men become priests, the idea of deacons taking on more roles has to be looked at, Persico said. But he pointed out that deacons can’t do everything a priest does, such as celebrating Mass and hearing confession.

Persico also said a deacon’s primary vocation is to his marriage, his wife and family, and that has to be considered.

Most deacons are married and have families, Nowak said. Some work full-time jobs outside the church.

Deacon Timothy Good, 58, a married father of two and grandfather of one, is at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Greene Township. He’s also a chiropractor in Erie.

“My major vocation is serving my patients,” Good said.

He said many know he’s a deacon, and although he doesn’t preach at work like he does at church, faith is part of his job. He wears a small wooden cross on a chain around his neck.

His St. Boniface ministry includes adult education.

Nowak said deacons usually get two assignments from a bishop. One is to a parish, where they assist the priest, help with Masses, preach, and perform baptisms and marriages. The other is a diocesan assignment, perhaps working in prison, nursing home or hospital ministry.

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