Detroit deacons celebrate more than a millennium of service to the local Church

Permanent deacons and their wives gather Oct. 29 at Sacred Heart Major Seminary for a special Mass with Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron celebrating milestone anniversaries of their ordination. In total, 50 deacons celebrated 1,150 years of ministry to the faithful of the Archdiocese of Detroit. (Photos by Gabriella Patti | Detroit Catholic)

Fifty deacons and their wives celebrate special jubilee Mass with Archbishop Vigneron on Oct. 29, reflecting on ministry

DETROIT — Deacon Edward Swartz, 88, said his pastor was the first to give him the idea of becoming a deacon.

He wasn't quite sure how to respond — literally.

“The pastor of the church came up to me one day, and he said, ‘You know Ed, you’d made a good deacon.’ And my response was, ‘What’s a deacon?’” Deacon Swartz laughed. “I think the diaconate is very important to the Church, and there are many men who are called to it. I think with our shortage of priests, it’s a good thing that we have deacons.”

One-thousand, one hundred and fifty years of service to the diaconate was celebrated Sunday, Oct. 29, at Sacred Heart Major Seminary as 50 deacons and their wives gathered for a special Mass with Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron.

The archbishop blessed and thanked the deacons and their wives for their service and ministry of charity to God's people.

“We are, I hope, aware of some of the graces that God has worked, the Holy Spirit has worked, in the lives of our jubilarians and their service of Christian charity,” Archbishop Vigneron said in his homily.

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron accepts the gifts during a special Mass honoring deacon jubilarians and their wives Oct. 29 at Sacred Heart Major Seminary.
Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron accepts the gifts during a special Mass honoring deacon jubilarians and their wives Oct. 29 at Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

The diaconate ministry of charity is intimately connected to the Church's relationship to God, our creator, the archbishop added — an insight that could be found in the Mass readings.

“While love of God is the highest obligation of the human person, love of neighbor is integral to this divine love,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “There is no real love of God without love of neighbor. God’s own name is compassion.”

In the Gospel reading (Matthew 22:34-40), a scholar tries to test Christ by asking: “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Christ answers definitively, Archbishop Vigneron said, further highlighting the importance Jesus places on the ministry of charity.

“Jesus knew clearly that he was being tested, and he speaks very forcefully; no sidestepping the test,” Archbishop Vigneron explained. “(He said), ‘You shall love the Lord your God, and you shall love your neighbor.’”

The Gospel passage helps to underscore the important role of the deacon, Archbishop Vigneron added.

“Our jubilarians' ministry of charity is a share in the very ardent love that burns in the very heart of Jesus,” the archbishop said. “Charity is so much at the very heart of who Jesus is.”

"Charity is so much at the very heart of who Jesus is," Archbishop Vigneron told the jubilarians.
"Charity is so much at the very heart of who Jesus is," Archbishop Vigneron told the jubilarians.

Following Mass, the jubilarians, fellow deacons and their wives gathered for a time of fellowship and dinner to celebrate their years of service.

In reflecting on the 40 years since he was ordained, Deacon Swartz said that one of the biggest blessings to his diaconate was his wife, Mary Lou, who passed away in 2009.

“I think the biggest blessing for me was the help that my wife gave me when I even decided to become a deacon because I had to prepare before that,” said Deacon Swartz, who served at several parishes, including St. Teresa of Avila in Warren. “My wife and I had eight children, so it was a big change.”

Deacon Tom Thomas, also celebrating 40 years, said that at 81 years old, he continues to minister from home to God’s children after spending time in 12 parishes over the last four decades.

Deacon Edward Swartz (far right) and Deacon Tom Thomas (second from right), both celebrated 40 years as permanent deacons in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Deacon Edward Swartz (far right) and Deacon Tom Thomas (second from right), both celebrated 40 years as permanent deacons in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

“I'm not in favor of making life at one parish because you learn more when you meet different people,” Deacon Thomas said. “In my 40 years, I have done a lot of mingling with a lot of different people, and I enjoyed it.”

Like Deacon Swartz, Deacon Mike Smith (30 years) was also asked by his parish priest to consider the permanent diaconate. Today, he serves at St. Hugo of the Hills Parish in Bloomfield Hills.

“I am so grateful for the love of the people,” Deacon Smith told Detroit Catholic. “We like to help others, but they, in turn, help us, and I think that’s been a big blessing for me.”

Deacon Jubilarians 2023

45 Years

  • Deacon Patrick Bruen
  • Deacon Robert Fitzgerald
  • Deacon Harold Goodhue
  • Deacon Gary Pardo
  • Deacon Raymond Gabel

40 Years

  • Deacon Daniel Hurley
  • Deacon Joseph Lennon
  • Deacon Truman Stevens
  • Deacon Bill Stimpson
  • Deacon Edward Swartz
  • Deacon Thomas Thomas

35 Years

  • Deacon Ronald Cook

30 Years

  • Deacon Daniel Darga
  • Deacon Joseph Iskra
  • Deacon Kenneth Nowicki
  • Deacon John Santeramo
  • Deacon Michael Smith
  • Deacon Don Sobolewski
  • Deacon Johnny Vanneste

25 Years

  • Deacon Patrick Conlen
  • Deacon James Ward

20 Years

  • Deacon Robert Ervin
  • Deacon Luis Flores
  • Deacon Marc Gemellaro
  • Deacon John Liddle
  • Deacon Gerald McGowan
  • Deacon Edwin McLeod
  • Deacon Mark Redwine
  • Deacon John Thompson

15 Years

  • Deacon Thomas Carter
  • Deacon David Fleming
  • Deacon Jack Gardner
  • Deacon Kurt Godfryd
  • Deacon Daniel Gonos
  • Deacon William Kolarik
  • Deacon Michael Lang
  • Deacon Robert Maher
  • Deacon Stephen Talbot
  • Deacon Lawrence Toth
  • Deacon Ronald Vader

10 Years

  • Deacon Leon Rodgers
  • Deacon Marc Rybinski
  • Deacon Matthew Wisniewski

5 Years

  • Deacon Hector Anaya Bustos
  • Deacon Regis Buckley
  • Deacon Tommaso Caporuscio
  • Deacon Donald Esler
  • Deacon Jefferey Loeb
  • Deacon Leo Maciolek
  • Deacon Gregory Willoughby


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