Bishop Schlert Ordains Three Transitional Deacons for Diocese

Deacon candidates, from left, Giuseppe Esposito, John Maria and Zachary Wehr take a moment to pray together before their ordination at the Ordination of Deacons May 19 at the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown. (Photos by John Simitz)

By TAMI QUIGLEY Staff writer

Giuseppe Esposito, John Maria and Zachary Wehr took the next step on their journey to the priesthood when Bishop Alfred Schlert ordained them to the order of deacon May 19 at the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown.

“Most people around the world this day are celebrating the royal wedding – but we in the Diocese of Allentown know better,” said Bishop Schlert, referring to the royal nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

“We have far more to celebrate than the marriage of the royal couple – we have God’s beautiful gift to us in the Diocese of Allentown: Giuseppe Esposito, John Maria and Zachary Wehr. Gentlemen, congratulations, and I think we should all show our appreciation of the great gift you are to us,” he said, leading a round of applause.

Bishop Schlert was for the first time ordaining prelate and principal celebrant of the Ordination of Deacons during which he ordained Esposito, 36; Maria, 50; and Wehr, 27, transitional deacons.

As transitional deacons, they will administer the Sacrament of Baptism, preside at weddings and rites of Christian burial, assist a priest or Bishop at Mass, proclaim the Gospel, and deliver homilies.

The ordination commenced with a public request from Monsignor David James, Diocesan vicar general and director of the diocesan Office of Vocations, for Bishop Schlert to ordain them. When the Bishop asked about their worthiness, Monsignor James replied, “I testify that they have been found worthy.”

After accepting the candidate, the Bishop asked for the approval of the assembly, which it granted with its applause.

The men stood before the Bishop, who questioned them on the Office of Deacon before they declared their intention to be ordained to the diaconate and fulfill its duties. They each knelt before the Bishop and placed their hands between his, promising respect and obedience to their ordinary (Bishop of the Diocese), and perpetual celibacy.

Esposito was vested with the proper stole and dalmatic by Deacon Noe Ramirez de Paz, transitional deacon from the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina.

Maria was vested by Deacon Rick Lanciano, chair of the theology department at Berks Catholic High School, Reading, who serves St. Ignatius Loyola, Sinking Spring.

Wehr was vested by Deacon John Hutta, transitional deacon in the Diocese of Allentown.

The men prostrated themselves before the altar, symbolizing their humility and dependence on God’s grace during the Litany of Supplication (Litany of the Saints). Then Bishop Schlert laid his hands on their heads, signifying the conferral of the Holy Spirit and the commission to service.

Bishop Schlert presented the Book of the Gospels to the new deacons, indicating their ministry of preaching and teaching the Gospel message.

At the Kiss of Peace, all deacons present offered the fraternal kiss of peace to the newly ordained as a sign of welcoming into the Order of Deacon.

Addressing those gathered before the Mass drew to a close, Bishop Schlert said the new transitional deacons were three distinct men from three distinct areas of the Diocese who took three very different paths to their vocation. “Only God could have orchestrated all that.”

“God has called each of us to love and serve him,” Bishop Schlert said.

The Bishop welcomed family, friends, relatives, clergy, religious sisters and seminarians to the liturgy, especially Monsignor Michael McGee, chair of Systematic Theology Department and full professor of systematic theology and sacred Scripture at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia.

“You parents know at a certain point you have to entrust the life of your children to others, usually when they go to kindergarten. It’s the same for a Bishop, entrusting our young men to a seminary,” Bishop Schlert said, voicing thanks for Monsignor McGee and St. Charles Borromeo.

“It’s up to all of us to identify and encourage vocations in the men and women we see in our parish community.”
Bishop Schlert said the day’s first reading (Acts 6:1-7b) describes how the first deacons were selected, and the second reading (I Timothy 3:8-10, 12-13) describes the qualities deacons should have. “There’s such a richness in that.”

“Now you are not only hearers of the Gospel, but also its ministers,” Bishop Schlert said. “The Church calls on you to be just that, in service to God and his holy people. Effective in action, gentle in ministry, constant in prayer – that’s the job description for the three of you for the rest of your lives.”
Bishop Schlert expressed thanks to the newly ordained’s parents, siblings, family, friends, formators and fellow seminarians.

“I especially thank the families of these fine young men, because no vocation grows in a vacuum. Thank you for the sacrifice and joy you experienced in giving your sons to the Church.”

“The holy Church prays for you that you may be servants to all, especially the afflicted and the poor; preachers of the Gospel of Christ; and stewards of his mysteries,” Bishop Schlert said.

“The whole Church prays for you … it is a great celebration for all of us.”

“In God’s providence and good order, may what we begin today lead to priestly ordination next year,” Bishop Schlert said.

Principal concelebrants were Monsignor Gerald Gobitas, diocesan chancellor, secretary of the Diocesan Secretariat for Clergy and rector of Holy Family Villa for Priests, Bethlehem; Monsignor James; Monsignor Francis Schoenauer, rector of the cathedral; and Monsignor Daniel Yenushosky, pastor of Holy Trinity, Whitehall and vicar forane of the Lehigh Deanery.

Also, Father Thomas Bortz, pastor of St. Ignatius Loyola and vicar forane of the Berks Deanery; and Monsignor Magee.

Monsignor Victor Finelli was master of ceremonies. Deacon Hutta assisted.

Lectors were Sister Mary Jo Ely of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM); and seminarian Juan Eduardo Rodriguez.

Gift bearers presenting the offertory gifts were Justin Esposito, brother of Deacon Esposito; James Maria, son of Deacon Maria; and Emily Wehr, sister of Deacon Wehr.

Music for the liturgy was provided by the Allentown Diocesan Choir, directed by Beverly McDevitt, director of music at the Cathedral. John DeAngelo was cantor.

The Knights of Columbus provided an honor guard.

Deacon Esposito will serve his transitional deacon year at St. Catharine of Siena, Reading; Deacon Maria at the Cathedral; and Deacon Wehr at St. Jane Frances de Chantal, Easton. These assignments began Tuesday, May 22.

Deacon Esposito

Deacon Esposito, parishioner of the Cathedral, attended the former McAdoo Catholic Elementary School and graduated from Marian High School, Tamaqua in the year 2000.

He is the son of Joseph and Debra Esposito and has a younger brother, Justin.

Deacon Esposito earned a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy from St. Charles in 2007 and obtained an associate degree in nursing from Lehigh County Community College in 2011.

While working as a registered nurse, he completed a bachelor of science degree in nursing in 2015 from DeSales University, Center Valley. He received a master of divinity degree from St. Charles in 2018.

“I’m excited to commit my life in serving Christ and therefore all the people who make up the Church. I’m eager to proclaim God’s word, preach and baptize,” Deacon Esposito said.

Deacon Maria

Deacon Maria, parishioner of St. Ignatius Loyola, attended Garfield Elementary School, Pittston and graduated from Pittston Area Senior High School. He earned a bachelor of science degree in economics from Pennsylvania State University in 1989.

He is the son of Theresa Maria, Pittston and the late Cataldo Maria. Maria is also the father of James Maria and father-in-law of Abby Maria. He has a brother, Carl Maria and sister, Annette Gromelski.

Maria earned a master of arts degree in theology from Augustine Institute, Colorado in 2014. He will complete work for a master of divinity degree from St. Charles in 2019.

“Our day of ordination was overwhelming in its grade and beauty. I felt the power of the prayers, love and support of my family and friends, and all those gathered at the Cathedral, the people of God in the Church at Allentown,” said Deacon Maria.

“It was special to share the moment with my friends, Deacons Giuseppe and Zach, including the ‘butterflies’ we all experienced getting ready for the Mass.”

“Most of all, I am grateful for the blessing of Bishop Schlert, whose genuine and warm demeanor brought me great peace,” Deacon Maria said. “I’ll never forget the feeling of lying prostrate before the altar, as we prayed the Litany of the Saints.”

“I’m excited to begin my deacon parish assignment, serving the people of the Cathedral Parish of St. Catharine of Siena in Allentown.”

Deacon Wehr

Deacon Wehr, parishioner of Holy Trinity, attended schools in the Whitehall-Coplay School District and graduated from Whitehall High School in 2009.

He is the son of Dennis and Kathleen Wehr and has a younger sister, Emily. Wehr is also the grandson of Linda Wehr and Paul Mikulcik.

He studied history and secondary education at East Stroudsburg University before entering St. Charles Seminary in 2011.

Wehr earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 2014 and a master of divinity degree in 2018. He will complete a master of arts degree in theology in 2019 from St. Charles Seminary.

“This past weekend has been absolutely amazing. It is hard to put into words the feelings and emotions surrounding ordination,” said Deacon Wehr. “It was certainly a grace-filled moment that brought about a sense of peace that only God can provide. I am still blown away by the fact that God has chosen me to be more closely configured to Christ and to now serve his people as a transitional deacon.

“I am also very lucky to have Giuseppe and John as my classmates. What an honor it was to be ordained with two great men who I call my friends and brothers.

“I am also blessed to have had the opportunity of being part of the first group of men ordained by Bishop Schlert. Bishop Schlert’s genuine love for Christ and the Church is a great inspiration for all of us who are discerning a vocation to the priesthood.

“His prayers as well as his words of support and encouragement were a great source of strength for me as I approached ordination to the diaconate.

“I am excited to embark on the next leg of this journey and cannot wait to see what God has in store.”